This Sunday the Oakland Raiders will be going up against long time rival, the Denver Broncos. The Raiders lead this series overall with a record of 53 wins, 39 losses and 1 tie. The Raiders hope to make that 54 wins this Sunday, but the Broncos will do their best to keep it from happening. The Broncos, though they took the AFC West by tie breaker last year, had some weaknesses which they needed to address in the off-season.
The first of course, was at QB. Although Tim Tebow managed to get them to the playoffs, they knew they could never win consistently with him as QB running the gimmick offense they conjured up to best utilize his only real talent, running the football. That issue was addressed with the signing of Peyton Manning during the off-season. And although the Broncos are just 1-2 coming into this week’s game, you can already tell that the QB position has had a huge upgrade. Now don’t misunderstand me here, I am not ready to declare Peyton Manning the savior of the Broncos, there are still glaring questions as to how he will stand up to the rigors of the season after having had 3 neck surgeries and not playing football for so long. And he is obviously not the same Peyton Manning who had the Colts in the playoffs year after year, but they now have a QB who is probably the smartest QB in the game, and can still throw the ball pretty well all things considered.
The second weakness the Broncos had last year that I will mention was their run defense. They addressed this issue in the draft, with their first pick being Derek Wolfe, DT out of Cincinnati. While some were surprised at this pick, Wolfe has shown that they did their homework when deciding upon him solidifying their front 4 on defense. They also selected Malik Jackson out of Tennessee in the 5th round. It looks like they did their homework on him as well as he really impressed during training camp, but is still a work in progress at this point.
The other area that needed some work was their secondary. With Champ Bailey getting older and Brian Dawkins retiring, this was another area they needed to address. They did so in FA by signing Tracy Porter who had previously been with the Saints. Now lets take a look at the match-ups between the two teams.
Peyton Manning’s blindside guy, Ryan Clady, had a remarkable rookie season giving up only .5 sacks, but has not done anywhere near as well since. In fact, clady has given up 16.5 sacks in the past 2 years, and last year had 12 penalties as well. Denver’s pass protection is not where it needs to be, but is not terrible. Their run blocking on the other hand, is pretty good. The Raiders’ offensive line is changing scheme this year and is very much a work in progress. Although the overall talent of Oakland’s offensive line is better than Denver’s, they are still going through growing pains in the new scheme.
Denver brought in Joel Dreesen from the Texans, and Jacob Tamme from the Colts during FA to upgrade the tight end position. They also have second year tight end Julius Thomas. Tamme is their pass receiving threat, and Manning is somewhat comfortable with him having played with him prior to getting injured. Tamme is Peyton’s go to guy when it comes to tight ends, but he has failed to provide the consistency they would like him to have. The Raiders have Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon. Myers is the most all around tight end of the three, with Ausberry being more of a receiving threat and Gordon being the best blocker of the three. The Raider tight ends have combined for more receiving yards than any other unit on the team, and are more than adequate at blocking.
Aside from FA pickup Brandon Stokely, the Broncos are fairly young at WR. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are both in the 3rd year, and backups Andre Caldwell and Matt Willis in their 5th year. Decker has turned out to be a pretty good possession receiver, and is much more on the same page as Manning than Thomas, who is much more of a big play threat, but is still having timing issues with Peyton. The Raiders are even younger at WR. The starters, Moore (in his 2nd year) and DHB (in his 4th year) maybe young, but have proven to be excellent receivers. Unfortunately, DHB will not play after suffering a neck injury and concussion in last weeks game against Pittsburgh. Undrafted Free Agent Rod Streater will likely get the nod in place of DHB, with 5th year veteran Derek Hagan handling the slot. With DHB out for this game, this match-up changes to slightly in favor of the Broncos.
The running game was Denver’s strength last year, but part of that was because of the running threat posed by now NYJ Tim Tebow. Still Willis McGahee is an excellent RB, but is questionable at best for the game Sunday. Lance Ball will likely get the nod and is no slouch by any means. Behind Ball is rookie Ronnie Hillman, and Knowshon Moreno. Moreno is their 3rd down back and has flashed in the passing game, but leaves much to be desired when rushing the ball. At Fullback the Broncos have Chris Gronkowski (brother of Rob Gronkowski) who is an adequate blocker, but not much more. The Raiders have one of the most electric running backs in the league in Darren McFadden, but the depth behind McFadden leaves much to be desired. Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson both have great speed, and have the ability to take it to the house, but both have had issues holding onto the ball. At fullback the Raiders have probably the best duo in all of football. Marcell Reece is not only a very good blocker, but the wide receiver turned fullback is a nightmare to linebackers and safeties when used in the passing game. Back-up fullback Owen Schmitt reminds me very much of Jon Ritchie. He is an excellant blocker, and a threat on the fullback screen.
As was previously mentioned, the Broncos brought in a huge upgrade a QB during the off season by signing Peyton Manning. While Manning certainly is not back to his pre-injury form, he is still the most cerebral QB in football today, and is getting more and more comfortable with the offense and his new teammates day by day. Yet he can still be rattled, as we saw against Atlanta when he threw 3 picks in the first quarter. Carson Palmer has had a very good year so far despite the Raiders’ 1-2 record. He leads, or is tied with Manning in every passing category. However, this game is being played in Denver, and this will limit some of what he can do in the no huddle offense with all of the crowd noise.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Derek Wolfe has made a big impact on their defensive line, however, aside from Elvis Dumerville, the rest of the defensive line has not yet reached its potential. The Raiders’ defensive line has really gelled this year and aside from some missed tackles against Reggie Bush, has been extremely stout against the run. With the addition of Andre Carter who was just signed, the Raiders now have the pass rushing expert they have been lacking to make the defensive line complete. While we have yet to see how much impact he will be able to make with just a few days practice before the game, he will at least provide some quality fresh legs for the Mile High Stadium altitude.
With MLB Joe Mays looking to be out with a one game suspension for his hit on Matt Schaub last week, Denver will go with Wesley Woodyard, Keith Brooking and Von Miller at Linebacker. Though Brooking is somewhat a drop in talent at MLB, the strength of the Broncos defense is in their Linebacking corps. Raider 4th round pick Miles Burris has been a pleasant suprise after being pressed into a starting role with the injury to Aaron Curry. Philip Wheeler has been better than expected and Rolando McClain has really started coming into his own this year. The Raiders’ Linebacking corps still has some improving to do however, especially in terms of pass coverage.
Tracy Porter has come in and done an excellent job at corner for the Broncos, and though Champ Bailey is getting up in years, he still is one of the better corners in the league. Their Safeties, Mike Adams and Rahim Moore have done a good job as well and Denver’s secondary is pretty solid. With injuries to both starting corners, the Raiders are left searching through second and third stringers to fill in. Huff and Branch are the lone bright spot in the Raider secondary, but they can’t make up for the glaring holes at corner.
Britton Colquitt and Matt Prater are both very good, but the Raiders have, hands down, the best kicking duo in all of football.
Denver returners Lance Ball and Eric Decker have had some electrifying runs, and will definitely present some issues for the Raider coverage team. With the loss of Jacoby Ford, and D. Moore’s hamstring injury, the Raiders have had to scramble to find quality kick returners, and to no avail.
John Fox is a very experienced, defensive minded Head Coach who is extremely smart, and knows not only his limitations, but his teams’ as well. While Dennis Allen has most of those attributes, he lacks the experience, this being his first year as a Head Coach. In a few years, this advantage will likely go the other way.
The Raiders want very much to win this game and take a 2-2 record into their bye week. It comes at the perfect time for them, as they could possibly get 3 or 4 starters back from injury after the bye, and just in time for Atlanta in week 6. The key for a Raiders victory is to get an early lead, win the time of possession battle, to put pressure on Manning, and disrupt his timing by jamming his receivers at the line. This is a winnable game for the Raiders, now they must go out and take it. Go Raiders!!!
Peace out RaiderNation!!
Questions? Comments? Email me at OldTimer@silverandblackdaily.com