The Oakland Raiders have come into Denver each of the last four years and won.
Sunday’s game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High is Peyton Manning’s first against an AFC West rival. It’s also the return of ex-defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, now Oakland’s head coach.
Denver’s chance to end the streak of home-field letdowns comes at a somewhat critical time for the Broncos. While Sunday’s game marks just the fourth of the season, it’s also a chance to avoid entering the second quarter of the schedule very much behind the curve. New England looms the following week, and San Diego after that.
Gaining a win against a division opponent puts the Broncos at 2-2, allowing the Broncos a much more realistic chance at reaching the bye week at .500. This isn’t to say Sunday’s game can safely be considered a “should win” for the Broncos. While Oakland has looked messy at times in the first three weeks, the Raiders are also capable of generating points. Carson Palmer isn’t going to miss many throws if allowed to dictate his own rhythm, and the Raiders defense has mimicked the Broncos – adjusting during games to limit opportunities.
All that said, the key to Oakland’s success on Sunday will be the same thing that’s made the difference for the Raiders during their past four trips to Denver…an effective running game.
When Oakland has the ball:
When it comes to a stout rushing attack, consider last week’s game against the Houston Texans a test run for the Broncos. Lead by Arian Foster’s 105 yards, the Texans rushed for 152 yards in a Week 3 victory.
Enter Darren McFadden, playing the role of thorn-in-the-side…
McFadden has made a habit of dashing for green and leaving behind scores of Broncos defenders. McFadden has averaged 144.7 yards in his last three games against the Broncos, with his “worst” performance being only 119 yards. McFadden’s penchant for making mincemeat out of the Broncos D is especially worrisome with the current gaping lack of depth of linebacker.
Joe Mays is suspended for Sunday’s game. D.J. Williams is serving at least a six-game suspension, putting even more pressure on second-year stud Von Miller. The problem for Denver is there’s only one Von Miller (and his calling card is getting to quarterbacks), putting additional pressure on Keith Brooking, who will presumably “replace” Mays, and usual specialty package players Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan.
Even with early-down option Mays in last week’s game, the Broncos linebacker corps struggled against the Texans’ balanced, prolific offense.
When Denver has the ball:
Texans DE J.J. Watt terrorized the Broncos last weekend, outmuscling overmatched guard Manny Ramirez. The impact was enough to sputter Denver’s ground game, but more importantly, forced Manning out of his comfort zone and into premature throws – a lethal concoction for a timing and precision offense.
The lesson here is perhaps two-fold:
1) Protect the quarterback: Manning is getting hurried, knocked down, and sacked, and each time, Broncos fans hold their collective breath to see if he’s okay. Thankfully, he has been…so far…and here’s hoping it stays that way. Since the Broncos offensive line is what it is until Chris Kuper returns (possibly next week), protect Manning by establishing an effective ground game with veteran Willis McGahee and rookie-speedster-I-want-to-see-more-of Ronnie Hillman. This also “saves” Manning’s arm from having to throw 55 times a game.
2) Keep the defense at bay through whatever means necessary: To me, this smells of hurry-up offense, something we’ve only seen implemented by the Broncos in bits and pieces. The Raiders defense is statistically the weakest unit the Broncos have faced this season, so if executed to typical Manning perfection, a no-huddle offense could be the key to swinging the needle in the team’s favor.
Denver 31, Oakland 21
Four games, and four DHF projected Broncos wins…
With upcoming road games in New England and San Diego, Sunday’s game is the first must-win for the Broncos this season.
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