Raiders vs. Broncos: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Denver

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystSeptember 29, 2012

The Denver Broncos play host to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in to renew one of the AFC West’s biggest rivalries. Both teams are 1-2 and in desperate need of a win to validate big offseason changes.

The Broncos need look no further than the game film from the first three weeks to find a blueprint for defeating the Raiders on Sunday. The plan to beat the Raiders is not complicated. The Broncos need to throw the ball on a depleted secondary, stop Darren McFadden and not get fooled when the Raiders use McFadden as a decoy.

Of course, knowing what needs to be done and actually getting it done are two different things. The coaches pour over hours of game film and look at what works and what doesn’t work against a particular offense or defense. Once you know what works, you know what plays and techniques to emphasize.


On Defense

Oakland’s offense revolves around McFadden, and most of what the Raiders do directly or indirectly involves him. As evidenced in the first two weeks, if you stop McFadden you also stop Oakland’s offense. McFadden broke off a long run in Week 3, and that alone gave the Raiders a mental advantage over the Steelers.

How do you stop McFadden if he’s the key to Oakland’s offense? The three keys are: understand the blocking, be more physical and maintain gap control.


Play No. 1: Stopping McFadden

The Steelers did allow one big run, but they, otherwise, limited McFadden, and this play is a good example. The Steelers use a 3-4 defense, and the Broncos use a 4-3, so pay attention to the concepts more than the specific alignments.

The uncovered left guard is going to pull around the center and try to get the lead block on the linebacker to spring McFadden into the secondary. The left guard’s job is to hit the first defender through the hole. The right guard is going to double the nose tackle, and the right tackle is responsible for the end.

The defensive end is going to quickly step laterally, instead of directly into the block of the right tackle. The right tackle should let the end go, and instead, block the linebacker because he should know the end will be blocked by the pulling left guard.

The right tackle doesn’t block the linebacker, leaving him free to plug the running lane, as long as he doesn’t block himself by running into the mass of bodies in front of him.

The linebacker sees the gap open, steps into it and gives McFadden no place to run.

Oakland’s offensive line is having trouble blocking for McFadden, and the Broncos can take advantage of that by having the defensive front move laterally, which confuses an offensive line. In this case, the defensive ends lateral step freed up the linebacker to make the play.


Play No. 2: McFadden as a Decoy

Another way the Raiders use McFadden is as a decoy. The Raiders use the heavy set on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The defense has to expect a run first and then quickly get back in case of a pass.

The Raiders are going to score a touchdown on this play with a play-action fake to McFadden and three tight ends and a fullback running routes. The routes that are run provide Carson Palmer with a high-low concept on each side of the field along with three crossers to stretch the zone coverage both vertically and horizontally.

Richard Gordon, the tight end who is going to make the catch, fakes the block first and then runs his shallow crossing route. Ryan Mundy (No. 29) is responsible for that side of the field, but he follows the other tight end on the cross because Lawrence Timmons' (No. 94) first instinct was run, and he took two steps forward.

Mundy’s mistake results in a wide-open Gordon for the touchdown. Mundy didn’t trust that Timmons would be able to drop back in coverage in time to pick up his coverage. The panic by Mundy was caused by the play-action fake to McFadden because Timmons'’ first two steps were forward instead of back into coverage.

The Broncos need to make sure they have their assignments covered before trying to help a teammate who may be out of position. The Raiders will use McFadden as a decoy in many different ways, and if they trust their assignments, they should be able to limit Oakland’s offense much the way the Chargers did in Week 1.


On Offense

Peyton Manning didn’t have a great week in against the Houston Texans, but Oakland’s defense is very quarterback friendly. The Raiders will start safety Michael Huff and veteran special teamer Pat Lee at cornerback for the second week in a row.

Ben Roethlisberger had four touchdown passes and 384 yards against the Raiders last week and was sacked only once.


Play No. 1: Press Coverage

The Raiders might try and use press coverage against the Broncos in combination with a blitzing linebacker to try and disrupt the timing of the passing game. That’s exactly what the Raiders did on this 4th-and-1 play last week against the Steelers.

As with any 4th-and-short play, the Raiders have the box loaded and the cornerbacks are using press-man coverage on the outside. The receivers are going to simply cross, with the inside receivers trying to “rub” or “pick” the outside cornerback.

The combination of routes opens up this quick slant to Mike Wallace, and Roethlisberger simple needs to flip it to him in a hurry. This was a legal play because the outside receiver was trying to run a pattern, not simply blocking.

The defenders have to chase Wallace down from behind to save a touchdown, one the Steelers would eventually get on the drive.

When Manning has two receivers to one side and reads blitz, he can probably run a similar play. One such similar play would be the wide-receiver screen play he’s run several times already this season.


Play No. 2: Off Coverage

When Oakland’s cornerbacks are playing far off the line, Manning can simply flip it out to his receiver and let him pick up positive yardage. Eventually, the cornerbacks will have to play closer to the line, and the Broncos can then test the top of the defense. Manning can switch to this play with a simple hand signal to his wide receivers.

Combined with a poor angle from the cornerback Huff, the Steelers not only pick up positive yardage but also a first down. Notice the single deep safety who is going to have to run across the field and force the receiver out of bounds.

Once the receiver has the ball, the cornerback has to make an open-field tackle, and one misstep will be costly.

In this case, Huff steps to the inside which gives the receiver enough space to get outside and around him.

The safety eventually pushes the receiver out of bounds. If the Raiders can’t adjust to these quick-hit passes, the Broncos should give them a heavy dose of them. Oakland’s cornerbacks will eventually be forced to play closer to the line of scrimmage and will become susceptible to the long pass.

When the Raiders played off coverage against the Miami Dolphins, they were victimized by a steady diet of this type of quick pass which included short hitches, curls and screens. If the Raiders go to press coverage, the Broncos should using crossing routes and double moves.

These pass plays may seem simple because they are simple. The Raiders have so many problems in the secondary that even the simplest of plays will give them trouble. Manning should have a good day, regardless of the outcome of the game.


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