This is a rivalry that started in the days of the AFL and has been built, hit by bone crushing hit, with biannual meetings since.
Despite the rich and colorful history this rivalry has ascended to new heights in the last 15 years.
It was at this point that, the historically Raider dominated rivalry, began to turn. Shanahan was 21-7 against Al Davis and the Raiders, until Shanahan’s arrival the Raiders owned a 48-19-2 series advantage.
Shanahan is now a part of Raider Bronco history, which is in no small part due to a 31-10 beat down the Raiders put, on his Broncos, in week 12 of last year.
This was a game that saw a dormant Raider offense come to life. Jamarcus Russell was 10-11 for 152 yards and a touchdown. Yes, the same Jamarcus Russell that has thus far this season amazingly only connected on 35 percent of his passes.
Anyone hoping for the same fate this time around could be in for a long day. This is a vastly different defense then the one they faced last year.
The Broncos come into this week ranked number one in points allowed and number two in yards allowed. The big question here is the quality of the opponents they have faced.
They beat up on Cleveland last week, and by every angle it is possible to look at a football team, Cleveland looks bad.
So, is it the Broncos defense or the Broncos opponents, which are the catalyst for these eye-catching numbers?
With this question at the front of our brains, lets take a look at their numbers so far this year.
The Broncos Defense:
This unit was horrible last year and it really didn’t matter who they were playing- teams were putting up yards and points against them. The fact that they are ranked first in points allowed shows us this is definitely not the same group.
New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (I wonder if the NFL still lets him wear a suit on the sideline twice a year) has seemingly and successfully switched this team to a 3-4.
The Broncos try to confuse their opponents as to where and if the pressure is coming. They already have seven sacks this year, four from OLB Elvis “quarterback Hound Dog” Dumervil last week.
The pressure has helped force opposing quarterback’s into throwing three INT’s. The Broncos opposition is connecting on 61 percent of their passes for 5.7 yards per pass attempt and 9.4 yards per completion. These number rank around league average.
They are only surrendering 2.9 yards per rush. This number is outstanding and finds the Broncos ranked sixth in this category.
The Broncos Offense:
The Broncos are ranked ninth in the league with 4.6 yards a carry. The offensive line is solid and the Broncos have used many two and three TE sets to establish their power running game.
The Broncos have only allowed three sacks this year. They are completing 55.4 percent of their passes for a league ranked ninth 7.5 yards per attempt. This number drops dramatically, with the elimination of the Stokely miracle in Cincinnati, to 6.3 which would rank them 20th.
The Broncos have spread the ball to nine different targets. They are utilizing four WR’s, who are separated by two total receptions for the team lead.
Jabar Gaffney is averaging over 17 yards a catch while Brandon Marshal has seven catches for just 61 yards.
While the sample size is small and the quality of the opponents looming as a variable, I think these numbers give us a glimpse as to what match ups are going to decide this game.
Key Match Ups:
Raiders D-line vs. Broncos O-line
This game, like so many others in the NFL, is going to be won in the trenches. The Broncos, as they always seem to, have a good offensive line. Meanwhile, the Raiders defensive line is generating pressure on the quarterback, they have five sacks by d-lineman, and have certainly improved the run d. They are giving up 4.1 yards per carry.
If the Raiders win this match up, they will slow down the Broncos running game, while forcing them out of their comfort zone and into third and longs.
If the Broncos win this match up, they will be able to keep their entire playbook open as an option, while controlling the clock with their ball control offense.
Broncos Front Seven vs. Raiders O-line
The Broncos have been generating lots of quarterback pressure, while the Raiders have done a good job of giving Russell time.
After a stellar first half against the Chargers the Raiders run game has stalled out a bit. This can largely be attributed to the opposing teams not respecting the Raiders passing game and stacking the box.
If the Raiders win this match up, they will be able to take some pressure of Russell with a solid running game and will allow him the time to be comfortable in the pocket while he tries to dial in his accuracy.
If the Broncos win this match up, they will force the Raiders to beat them with a quarterback under pressure, and who is already struggling with accuracy and footwork.
The Raiders O vs. The Broncos D
The Raiders are going to benefit from the home crowd and their early acclimation to the intensity of divisional games. Of course, none of this is going to matter unless Russell starts hitting some passes.
All signs point to Russell having a better game, he has been inconsistent throughout his pro and college career, but part of inconsistency is that the bad stretches are not sustained either.
He will carry some of the momentum that a come from behind victory, plus a return to the friendly confines of Oakland, offers him.
With the Broncos giving up 60 percent completions this year and what will likely be a defense geared to stop the run, I expect Russell to have some opportunities to hit some open WR’s and I think he will.
Denver’s blitzing attitude will leave them vulnerable to screen passes. The Raiders have the backs and lineman to capitalize on this.
However, this is a defense that sends many looks while trying to confuse the opponents. I do not see a huge performance for Russell as this D could very well force him into a turnover or two.
The offensive line is facing a reshuffling while coping with the Gallery injury, but one of the benefits of having an offensive lineman for a head coach is that this group should be able to patch things together and do an adequate job.
The Broncos O vs. The Raiders D
The Broncos offensive line has not faced anything like the Raiders defensive line. The Raiders can send in many looks and have the depth to keep guys on the line fresh.
All three sacks the Broncos have allowed have come by DE’s, while all five of the Raiders sacks have come from DE’s. The Raiders will generate decent pressure on the Broncos QB.
The Broncos run game will not be stopped, but it will certainly be slowed.
This will force the Broncos into some passing situations, where the Raiders line has done well at getting pressure on the quarterback. This combined with the Raiders speedy pass covering LB’s could force Orton into his first interception of the season.
The Broncos have been running two and three TE sets and they use it mostly for running plays, their TE’s have six catches on the year, this will seal off the Raiders ends and limit their LB’s as they will have a TE blocking them. The Raiders will be aided here by the tackling ability of their corners and secondary.
The Broncos are going to be hurt by their lack of a big play threat and end up settling for field goals.
The Raiders are going to have a couple of game changing big pass plays and have decent success with the ground game.
Look for another hard-hitting, borderline sloppy, low scoring AFC West match up.
Raiders 17 Broncos 13