Broncos vs. Raiders part one this season promises to be full of intrigue, even if the teams don’t appear to be evenly matched on paper.
The Broncos suffered a huge loss this past week, placing left tackle Ryan Clady on injured reserve, while the Raiders are coming in confident after a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, boasting the top running offense in the NFL while leading the league in sacks.
Losing Clady and facing the team that leads the league in sacks is definitely not a great omen for the Broncos, but I think there’s more to those numbers than meets the eye.
Through two games this season, the Broncos have beaten the last two Super Bowl Champions handily, and appear to be firing on all cylinders even without star pass rusher Von Miller and cornerback Champ Bailey.
As well as the Broncos have played, it’s no surprise that they are favored to beat Oakland on their home field in prime time, but it won’t come without a challenge (as it never does)…
Here are what I believe to be the keys to victory for the Broncos on Monday Night Football:
1. Establish an Early Lead
This seems overly simple, but you are playing the team that leads the league in sacks and rushing yardage, so trying to slow play this game will play to their strengths.
The Raiders want to run the ball because Terrelle Pryor hasn’t proven himself to be an upper-level signal caller yet. The Broncos would be wise to get the Raiders on their heels and playing from behind, because that’s definitely not going to be their strength as a running team.
The Broncos have scored 90 points this season, and just 24 of those have come before halftime. For a point of reference here, the Broncos have scored as many points in the second half (66) as the Green Bay Packers have in two games combined. Obviously the Broncos have things figured out once they come out of halftime, but that shouldn’t be tolerated all season long.
Denver has the firepower offensively to be able to put up at least 21 points per half, so they should make it happen at some point.
2. The Blind Side
Chris Clark is the new blind side protector for Peyton Manning, and about 48 percent of Broncos country is freaked out about that (in unrelated news, 64 percent of stats are made up). I would be among the 52 percent that is NOT freaked out about Clady being placed on season-ending injured reserve with a Lisfranc sprain.
It’s not the fact that I’m not worried about losing a star player. Any time you lose a guy like Ryan Clady, who is arguably the best in the NFL at his position, it’s not a good thing.
Clady being out is a setback for the Broncos, but it’s not going to derail their Super Bowl hopes.
Chris Clark is a guy who not many in the public know about, but he’s a guy the Broncos really like and have confidence in. He practiced with the starters all offseason and through the second pre-season game before Clady returned from offseason shoulder surgery.
It’s the fear of the unknown that is freaking everybody out, but Clark is going to have to really step up his game. The Broncos will utilize Joel Dreessen and the other tight ends as well as running backs to help that edge protection, so we’ll see how that affects the offensive gameplan.
3. Let the WRs Dominate
The Broncos will always have the edge in the WR vs. DB battle in any game they play. They need to really exploit the Raiders’ secondary this week, but don’t be over-confident.
So far this season, Peyton Manning has done a great job of taking what the defense gives him, and that strategy can’t change even when you’re playing an opponent like Oakland, who is a vast underdog.
Sometimes Manning will force throws he doesn’t need to when he knows he has a big edge, and the Broncos SHOULD take their shots against the Raiders, but getting Thomas, Decker, and Welker (as well as Julius Thomas) the ball in space is more important than trying to force something that isn’t there.
4. Keep the Ground Game Working
In 16 games last season, the Broncos had a 100 yard rusher in five games. Two of those five games were against the Oakland Raiders, and the Broncos had a different 100 yard rusher in each of those games.
Both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno ran for over 100 yards against the Raiders, games the Broncos won by a combined score of 63-19.
Knowshon Moreno is having a heck of a string of games dating back to last season when healthy. In his last six regular season games, Moreno has rushed for six touchdowns and has three 100-plus yard games.
The Broncos shouldn’t force the running game, but they need to find ways to make it work and use the pass to set it up. As effective as the Broncos’ passing game is, it’s a shocker that the running game hasn’t been a free for all whenever the Broncos choose to use it. Hopefully as the season progresses, that will become more the case than not.
5. Keep Forcing Turnovers
The Broncos’ defense has done a great job in the absence of Von Miller and Champ Bailey of forcing turnovers, picking off six passes, forcing a fumble, and blocking a punt in the first two games.
The Raiders have a young quarterback, a pretty inexperienced offensive line, and a young punter. I’m not saying they are going to be more prone to blocked punts than other teams, but you never know.
One of the most deflating things for a road team is not only turning the ball over, but watching the other team capitalize on your blunders. If the Broncos can continue to make plays on the ball like they have been, it’s going to be a long season for opposing teams.
Razorgator has tickets available for Sunday afternoon’s game for as low as $74 so make sure to take advantage while you can!