The Denver Broncos host the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football to conclude week one of the regular season. The Broncos will be in their orange uniforms and fans attending the game are encouraged to don their orange duds as well. The Broncos hobbled away from a 4-12 season in 2010 and made all kinds of changes from the front office all the way down to the roster. The Raiders are walking away form an encouraging 8-8 record which was their first non-losing season since 2003. Let’s take a look at what’s to come from the highly entertaining matchup.
Broncos: Don’t expect a 42-point performance like the Packers put up on Thursday night, but expect a much more balanced offense than the Broncos displayed last year. Kyle Orton still has his receivers and now he’s got a better one-two punch in the backfield. Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee will be rolling backs meaning that whenever one is tired, the other will come in. There’s no situational back for this offense. The offensive line is much improved with Ryan Clady at 100% and big rookie Orlando Franklin learning real quick. Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton have a full year under their belts as well. The focus in camp and in practice as been converting in the red zone. Things have opened up for the Broncos downfield now that Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer with the team.
Raiders: The Raiders didn’t do much to address team needs on either side of the ball. The big free agent move that they made was to sign Kevin Boss at tight end. The big receiver from the Giants will have big shoes to fill with the team’s loss of Zach Miller. The Raiders have speedy receivers in Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford, but the team will rely on it’s heavy-duty running game to test this “new and improved” Broncos defense. Darren McFadden ran all over the Broncos last year, and he combined with Michael Bush will be a great test to start the season.
Broncos: The key to success Monday night will be stopping the run. If they can stop the Raiders ground game, they can focus on putting pressure on QB Jason Campbell. Campbell was the 10th most sacked QB in the league last season, and he was 5th in fumbles. Out of 9 fumbles, however, he only lost 1. The main thing to take away is when plays break down for the Raiders, Campbell gets frazzled. The field looks stable for the Broncos for the most part, but the question mark remains the defensive line. With Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas out, Brodrick Bunkley and Kevin Vickerson will likely start with Ryan McBean and Mitch Unrein backing them up.
Raiders: The Raiders finished 2010 ranked 20th in points allowed (23.2), 29th in rush defense, and 2nd in pass defense. As mentioned earlier, Asomugha is no longer in the secondary which is a huge plus. He was only thrown at 33 times last season. However that gave guys like Michael Huff and Stanford Routt a chance to make some plays. They had 5 interceptions and 20 pass deflections between the two of them. The Raiders were ranked 4th in sacks (47 total) last year, so the Broncos offensive line will be tested in this capacity.
Broncos: Special teams has taken on a different meaning this year with the new kickoff placement, but the rule change didn’t seem to matter in Thursday night’s game. Cassius Vaughn and Lance Ball will handle kickoffs and Eddie Royal and Eric Decker will handle punt returns. Coach Fox believes in putting his best guys out on the field at every position, so don’t look for starter Eddie Royal to be relieved of his punt return duties any time soon.
Raiders: The Raiders have one of the best players in the league in kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Shane Lechler will handle punting and holding duties. Jacoby Ford is listed first on kick returns and second on punt returns for a reason even though he’s the team’s starting receiver. Ford is dangerous in an open field.
Broncos: Coach John Fox may be new to Denver, but he’s not new to playing on a big stage. He’s preparing his team the best he can, even pushing back their practice time on Sunday to the evening just to get them used to waiting around all day to play a game.
Raiders: Hue Jackson replaces Tom Cable as the Raiders coach, and Jackson has quite the resume himself. He’s an offensive mind who has held positions with the Redskins, Bengals, and Ravens before coming to Oakland in 2010 as the team’s offensive coordinator. Jackson has worked in the NFL since 2001. Even though his team lost all of their preseason games, Raiders fans are rather optimistic about Jackson.
Prediction: Broncos – 28 Raiders – 17.