Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos: 10 Things We Learned
The Broncos' 31-point victory over the Raiders marked the second-largest margin of victory over their division rivals since they both started playing each other in 1960. The last time the Broncos defeated the Raiders by this large of a margin was in 1962.
The Broncos had their most complete game of the season, and after the start of the second half, it was never a question as to who would win this game.
The Broncos outscored the Raiders 27-0 in the second half. They outgained the Raiders 111-0 in the passing yardage department in the third quarter. The Broncos had 11 first downs to the Raiders' zero in the third.
What more did we learn about the Broncos following their demolition of the Raiders in Week 4?
Peyton Manning Is Still Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning went 30-of-38 for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.
Is it true Manning may not have as strong of an arm as he had pre-neck surgeries? Probably.
But as he showed in the Pittsburgh game, and as he showed yet again Sunday versus Oakland, Manning is still the best in the league at slowly and methodically picking apart a defense.
Manning threw a variety of screens, passes to the flats and crossing routes to dissect the Raiders defense.
Unlike previous games versus the Falcons and Texans, Manning wasn't under any pressure from the Raiders defense. Manning wasn't sacked a single time, and Peyton shredded the Raiders defense all game long.
The Broncos Offense Is at Its Best When It Plays Methodically
The Broncos passed the ball and ran the ball effectively.
Willis McGahee had his 32nd 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in the NFL for active players. McGahee ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
McGahee ran the ball with his typical style of running. His ground and pound resulted in Denver constantly moving the chains and in the play-action and passing game being successful. McGahee's longest run of the day was only 24 yards, but he averaged nearly six yards a carry.
As I mentioned in the previous slide, the Broncos ran a number of screens, plays to the flats for the halfbacks and crossing routes that consistently moved the Broncos down the field. I can't recall Manning ever truly throwing the ball down the field for more than 20 yards, outside of his touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen in the first quarter.
The Broncos operate best when they play at a slow and methodical pace. This game versus the Raiders further illustrated that.
Ronnie Hillman May Have Cemented His Role as Denver's Backup Running Back
Hillman didn't have a magnificent game versus the Raiders, but he did have a hard-earned 31 yards on 10 carries to go along with two receptions for 32 yards.
Knowshon Moreno was deactivated for a second straight week, and although Lance Ball did continue to receive his normal amount of reps, Hillman received more touches than Ball.
It's clear the Broncos are grooming Hillman to be McGahee's backup this season. Hillman showed off some of his playmaking ability when he had a 12-yard run for a first down with about eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on a designed run to the left of the offensive line. It resulted in the Raiders' defensive players overpursuing, leading Hillman to improvise and cut to the right where he would gain a first down and make something out of nothing.
It wouldn't shock me to see Moreno deactivated for a third straight week at New England in Week 5, and Hillman once again in the backup running back role after his performance versus the Raiders.
The Broncos' Main Competition Are the San Diego Chargers
I stated that it was laughable to think that the Chiefs would win the West this year. They just lost, 37-20, to the Chargers in Week 4, in a game that was more of a blowout than the score indicates.
The Raiders proved today why they will be playing for third place in the division with the Chiefs. They were simply dominated by the Broncos, in a 37-6 drubbing that demonstrated just what the pecking order really is in the AFC West.
Come Week 6 in San Diego on Monday Night Football, we will find out who truly is at the top of the food chain.
Champ Bailey Is Still One of the League's Best
It's hard to grade defensive backs, considering the stats that truly indicate just how good they are are considered "advanced stats," and they're not readily available unless you work for Stats Inc.
Having said that, through four games of this season, although I don't know exactly how many receptions or receiving yards Champ Bailey has given up to opposing receivers, I do know one thing—Bailey is still one of the top cornerbacks in this league.
When you go week in and week out, and you barely hear a peep out of Bailey, that's a good thing. That means he is shutting down the receiver he is covering.
I think the only play where I remember Bailey really being mentioned in Sunday's game was on a deep pass up the middle of the field to Denarius Moore in the second quarter that resulted in an incomplete pass.
That is the typical highlight of a Champ Bailey game.
Bailey may never have another season where he has 10 interceptions, but the fact of the matter is, he still blankets receivers as well as he ever has.
It may not be flashy, but he's consistent.
When the Broncos Aren't Playing Elite Quarterbacks, They're Pretty Solid
The Broncos defense have had their fair share of struggles with elite quarterbacks.
Although it wasn't Palmer's fault the Raiders lost, Palmer isn't exactly an elite quarterback—or even close to it.
The Raiders were missing their top receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey, due to a concussion, and the Raiders really could never move the ball down the field.
The Broncos harassed Palmer with pressure all game long and prevented the Raiders from putting one in the end zone.
When the Broncos aren't getting torched by elite quarterbacks, their defense actually looks good when up against quarterbacks that aren't exactly the best of the best.
When the Broncos Aren't Dropping Passes, They Look Like an Elite Team
Again, I don't work for Stats Inc., so I don't know how many dropped passes that the Broncos had Sunday.
What I can confidently tell you is that they didn't have as many dropped passes as they had in their last two games versus the Falcons and Texans.
Whether that's because Atlanta and Houston have two of the fiercest defenses in the NFL and know how to intimidate opposing offenses, I'm not sure.
But the Broncos' receivers Sunday didn't drop many passes. Manning spread the ball around the field, and was rewarded by his receivers. Eight different Broncos receivers caught balls Sunday. Demaryius Thomas went over 100 yards today, and Eric Decker caught his first touchdown pass in ages.
When Denver's receivers don't shoot themselves in the foot, they look like an elite group.
The Broncos Run Defense Is Good
As simple of a statement as that is, it's true.
The Broncos shut down the Steelers' rushing attack in Week 1, they shut down Michael Turner in Week 2 and although Arian Foster ran it somewhat well in Week 3, it's not as if he gashed the Broncos defense. If anything, it was more Matt Schaub and the passing game that gashed the Broncos defense, than Foster himself.
Which brings me to Week 4. Darren McFadden, one of the better running backs in the NFL, was held to 34 yards on 13 carries by the Broncos' run defense.
Despite starting defensive tackle Ty Warren being lost for the season, the Broncos' collection of defensive tackles in Mitch Unrein, Kevin Vickerson, Justin Bannan and Malik Jackson have held up so well to the point that the run defense is actually one of the better units on the team.
Who would have thought that before the season?
David Bruton Is a Playmaker
Although it was said by the commentators that David Bruton wouldn't be credited with the blocked punt of Shane Lechler inside Oakland's 20-yard line because the ball actually progressed from the initial line of scrimmage, it doesn't take away what the play demonstrated—that Bruton is a playmaker on special teams.
He may never be a starter on the Broncos defense, he may never be known outside of the Denver Broncos fanbase, but every time this guy is on the field, he seems to make plays.
Who does that remind you of?
None other than Keith Burns. Burns made a living for the Broncos as a special teams ace for 14 years.
Bruton could easily make a living for the Broncos as a special teams ace if he continues to make the kinds of plays as he made versus the Raiders Sunday.
The Broncos Are a Good Team, but Are They Elite?
The Broncos defeated the 1-2 Steelers, 31-19, in the opening week, lost two straight games to the league's best by a combined total of 12 points and defeated the lowly Raiders in Week 4 by 31 points.
The question isn't whether the Broncos are a good team, the question is, "Are they an elite team?"
The Broncos head to Foxboro for a Week 5 matchup with the defending AFC champions, the New England Patriots. They then head to San Diego for a Week 6 matchup. Four of Denver's next five games are on the road.
Over the next month, we'll find out if the Broncos truly belong in the company of elite teams.