This Monday night, after water coolers across America have buzzed about the heroes and highlights of a new NFL season, after the much-hyped New England Patriots make their debut in Miami, Bronco fans donned in orange will fill the seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It will be a full moon, and the Bronco faithful watching underneath its glow will fully expect an impressive showing from the new-look Broncos: the launch of the John Fox era in Denver, on primetime, at home, against their most bitter rivals in the Oakland Raiders.
Despite what has transpired in recent seasons within the Broncos-Raiders series, Bronco fans have several reasons to believe that the team in orange can get a win on Monday night. Here are five things to watch when the Broncos hit the field on primetime:
1) Asomugha’s Absence
With solid depth at wide receiver, Denver’s offense matches up well against defenses that rely on one shutdown cornerback to defend the pass. Now that Oakland’s best player of 2010 has taken his services to a certain “dream team” in eastern Pennsylvania, Denver should be even better equipped to create favorable matchups through the air. Nnamdi Asmougha‘s absence could also limit the extent to which the Raiders are willing to blitz Kyle Orton and put an eighth man in the box to defend the run, leaving their cornerbacks vulnerable in man coverage. If the Raiders do bring safeties down in the box, look for Orton to take some shots deep at Brandon Lloyd one-on-one on the outside.
2) Kyle Orton’s Pass Protection
This past offseason, the Broncos brass chose to pass on re-signing the talented but oft-injured Ryan Harris at right tackle. This set the stage for second-round rookie Orlando Franklin to step up and protect Kyle Orton in the starting lineup. It will be interesting to see how Oakland tests the rookie with Pro Bowl pass rusher Richard Seymour and various blitzes off the edge. If the massive Franklin (6’6″, 316 lbs.) holds up, the Broncos have a great chance to jump out to an early lead and unleash…
3) Von Doom
By virtue (or tragedy) of the worst season in franchise history in 2010, Denver was awarded the second overall pick in April’s draft, which it invested in edge rusher Von Miller. Earlier this week, cornerback Champ Bailey called Miller’s explosiveness the best he’s seen since LaVarr Arrington. Paired with Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL in sacks the last season he played, Miller could be the difference in shutting down an Oakland offense that put up 59 points in three quarters the last time they visited Denver.
4) Touchdowns for Tebow
One thing the Broncos did do well last year was move the ball. A point of emphasis in condensed work this offseason, however, has been punching the ball in for seven points in redzone situations–a critical issue that likely cost the Broncos a few wins last year. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy may opt to employ athletic backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who is expected to touch the ball in special packages, to score touchdowns when the field shortens in Raiders territory.
In sum: this game probably means more to the confidence of a young Broncos team than it does to the Raiders, winners of seven straight division games dating back to 2009. While the play of several rookie starters (Orlando Franklin, Von Miller, Rahim Moore) still remains to be seen, this division game will come down to fundamentals of blocking and tackling and throwing and catching well. Look for Denver to try to establish an early lead, stealing opportunities from the Raiders running backs and giving more to the Broncos’ pass defense to make some big plays.