The Oakland Raiders (3-9) have lost 5 games in a row, and the only thing keeping them from the AFC West cellar are the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, if the Raiders were in any other division, excluding the AFC South, they would be at the bottom of the barrel. In fact, they are ranked below the aforementioned Chiefs (2-10) and just above the horrible Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) in the AP Pro32 Power Rankings at number 31.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the Denver Broncos (9-3), who are riding high on a 7-game winning streak. The Broncos, who rank 4th in those same power rankings, have already clinched the division. They didn’t even have to break a sweat to do it. With Payton Manning on their team, and the Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders in the division, it’s a mystery why it’s taken even this long. The Broncos and Raiders will be in prime time tomorrow, facing off against each other. According to SportsBetting.ag the Bronco’s are favored by 10 1/2 points coming into the Thursday night contest. And to be honest, the Raiders are lucky to be that close coming off of another bad loss with a short week to prepare for the best team in the division.
So, that being said, can the Raiders beat the Broncos tomorrow night? Let’s take a quick look at what the Silver and Black has to do in order to upset the 2012 division champs. We’ll start with the offensive side of the ball, then move on to the defense.
Get Darren McFadden established early: Very few running backs in the NFL can turn the corner the way D-Mac can. That is very true in the literal sense on the field. It was also becoming apparent that he was turning the corner in a more figurative sense as well when he injured his ankle versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9. Raider’s owner Mark Davis had gone to the coaching staff and asked them to talk to McFadden (as Hue Jackson did) and find out what plays he wants to run, and feels most comfortable and effective doing so. It looks like former and current Raider’s offensive coordinator Greg Knapp took it to heart and began calling more power running plays.
The result was an increase in productivity by the oft-injured former number 1 pick (4th overall) of the Raiders in 2008. So what Knapp needs to do is use McFadden early and often. Run him to the left, run him to the right, run him up the middle. Anything to chew up clock while moving forward, and giving Manning less time on the football field. He can’t hurt you from the sidelines.
Hit your tight ends in the red zone: It is well documented that opposing tight ends have given the Broncos fits this year. The Raiders need to take advantage of that. Especially when they’re close to the endzone. Brandon Meyers has 69 receptions already this year, but only 4 of those have resulted in a touchdown. That ratio needs to go up this Thursday. David Ausberry is also one heck of a weapon that has yet to be properly utilized. He’s big, strong, and fast. And he’s shown that he can catch the ball when it’s thrown in his vicinity.
Catch the damn ball: There is no excuse for a dropped pass on a ball that is on your hands. Zero. None. The Oakland receivers have had too many opportunities slip through their fingers, literally. To the point that mild-mannered coach Dennis Allen benched star receiver Denarius Moore after his second drop of the game versus the Browns. There is no room for error playing against the Broncos Thursday night.
Put continuous pressure on Peyton Manning: I know, I know, easier said than done. Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston need to bring pressure off the edge. They have to live up to their enormous potential and crash down on Manning before he gets a chance to get into a comfort zone. Also, rookie defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has to find a way to disguise his defensive looks, otherwise Manning will eat this defense up alive. He needs to surprise Manning by bringing blitzes in unconventional ways. Basically, be creative.
Don’t give up the big run plays: The Raiders have enough to worry about with the frontrunner in the MVP and Comeback Player of the Year award races, without having to think about stopping the run also. That is a recipe for disaster. If you get too focused on preventing the big play in the air, it allows them to run it up the gut with every backer and DB with their head turned away from the line of scrimmage. You can’t have that happen. Everybody has to know their assignments, and follow through with them on every single play.
There is no guarantee that if the Raiders do every one of these things, that they will come out victorious. But, it will certainly make for an exciting and entertaining game if they do.