When the first place Denver Broncos (2-0) head to Oakland to take on the Raiders (1-1), they will do so boasting the NFL's number one defense after allowing a combined 13 points in their first two games against Cincinnati and Cleveland.
The Raiders played well against reigning division champion San Diego on Monday night in week one, but were unable to stop Darren Sproles really at all, and lost a heartbreaker. In week two, they scratched out a win against lowly Kansas City on the road with a late touchdown by Darren McFadden.
This matchup with the Raiders, aside from being one that is on the road, is very favorable for the Denver Broncos.
Oakland is not a good passing team, and quite honestly, they are just not a good offensive team, ranking 24th in scoring and 29th in total offense. Denver's number one defense was tested by Carson Palmer, dominated Brady Quinn, and they should have no troubles keeping JaMarcus Russell in a bottle.
Denver's biggest asset heading into this week three matchup is their run defense, which has absolutely mystified opposing offenses. They held Cleveland to only 56 rushing yards last week, and Cincinnati was only able to net 76 yards from Cedric Benson.
While the Broncos' defensive strength is stopping the run, Oakland's biggest offensive threat is running the ball with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
McFadden has been, to me, their most impressive running threat this season. He is fast, a good receiver, and he showed me against San Diego that he can lower his shoulder into a defender and pick up extra yards.
Bush is a powerful back inside the tackles who is deceptively fast in the open field. He does not have a great burst off the line of scrimmage, but if he can get to the second and third levels, he is hard to bring down.
Oakland's best offensive weapon is Zach Miller, their third year tight end. Miller always seems to find a way into the open field, and has some of the most sure hands in the NFL. He is a rising star in this league, and the Broncos will have the chore of defending him this week.
Defensively, Oakland has a much improved defensive line, a rising star at linebacker in Thomas Howard, and one of the NFL's best cover cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha.
Oakland's linebackers and secondary are very fast, and also very young.
So how does Denver get to the winner's circle when they travel to Oakland on Sunday? Here are some of my early thoughts as to how Denver can win this game:
1. Continue to Stuff the Run
Denver's run defense has been phenomenal this season, and it started with San Francisco in week one of the preseason. The Broncos added Ronald Fields, Vonnie Holliday, Ryan McBean, Chris Baker, and Le Kevin Smith to beef up their front line this offseason, and so far, they have done a fantastic job.
Brian Dawkins and Andra Davis have also been critical in Denver's improved run defense, which ranked among the league's worst in 2008. In fact, Dawkins and Davis have respectively led the Broncos in tackles in consecutive weeks. Dawkins had 11 stops in week one, and Davis led the Broncos with 10 in week two.
It is going to be crucial for the Broncos to give McFadden and Bush fits so as to force JaMarcus Russell to beat them on Sunday.
2. Keep the Pass Rush Strong
The Broncos have seven sacks in two games, four from converted defensive end Elvis Dumervil who is now lining up at outside linebacker.
Seven sacks may not seem like a lot to a Steelers or Ravens fan, but for the Broncos, it is a huge step in the right direction for a team that has had absolutely no semblance of a pass rush since the Orange Crush days.
The Raiders have allowed only three sacks this season, but they will be missing their best offensive lineman, Robert Gallery for the next four to six weeks. For the most part, they were able to shut down the Chargers' pass rush, and the Chiefs didn't have much luck either.
The Broncos will be the Raiders' third divisional opponent to give the Raiders' offensive line a test this season already.
Dumervil and company need to keep the heat on JaMarcus Russell, who is a very difficult quarterback to bring down due to his massive size.
3. Keep Improving Offensively
The Broncos were dreadful against Cincinnati week one on offense. They only had 10 first downs, and if not for the 87 yard play by Brandon Stokley would have undoubtedly finished week one with the league's lowest offensive yardage total.
In week two, Denver was not as hot to start the game offensively, but as the game progressed, so did Kyle Orton and the Bronco offense.
They were able to score 27 points against the Browns while racking up 449 yards of total offense including nearly 190 rushing yards.
Oakland's defense has been stingy in terms of allowing opponents to score, ranking ninth in that particular category, but they have not been shy at all about giving up yards.
In fact, the Raiders have allowed opponents a total of 44 first downs and as a result are ranked 23rd in total defense.
The Broncos' offensive line is among the best in the NFL, and when the skill players come around, this unit could be dangerous. Kyle Orton is not staggering, by any means, but he has yet to make any mistakes, and the running game for the Broncos is finally getting healthy.
Oddly enough, Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney lead this team in receiving in the first two games, which is scary for opposing defenses in a sense that Brandon Marshall has yet to fully come around, and Eddie Royal is receiving double teams more often than LeBron James.
If and when Marshall gets fully acclimated and comfortable in this offense, he will take pressure off of Royal, and this passing game just became even scarier.
Kyle Orton said on Monday that if he and his receivers could be on the same page mentally on every play, and if everybody did their job, this offense would "put up a lot of points."
Keep the Turnover Margin in Your Favor
The Broncos are +4 in the turnover margin for the first two games, so it is no coincidence that they are also 2-0.
Oakland is +1 in the turnover margin, and all three of their interceptions have come from one source: former first round safety Michael Huff.
JaMarcus Russell has thrown two picks, and has been erratic with his throws. Over the first two games, his completion percentage is the worst in the NFL at 35.2 percent, and his overall rating is an abysmal 46.6.
I will not say it is going to be easy, but if the Broncos are going to have a field day against any quarterback, it is undoubtedly going to be against the most inaccurate one in the league, or basic logic would indicate so anyway.
While Kyle Orton's completion percentage of just over 55 is not staggering, he has the 11th best quarterback rating in the NFL at 90.9 and also the 11th most passing yards at 506.
This is going to be a big game for the Broncos. Many Denver fans felt it absolutely necessary if not mandatory to start the season 3-0 before entering an eight game stretch against seven playoff teams, and they have set themselves up to do just that.
This is a very "winable" game against the Raiders, despite the fact that it is on the road in a relatively hostile environment.