This week's game against the Raiders is pivotal to the rest of the Broncos' season.
The Raiders like coming to Denver. The past two years, the Raiders have come on the road into Denver and beaten up on the Broncos. Last year, coming off of a beat down by Peyton Manning in Denver (again), the Broncos (8-5) at home faced a dismal Raiders team (4-9).
If they could have taken care of the struggling Raiders, led by JaMarcus Russell, they may have gotten into the playoffs by winning two of the remaining three games of the season.
But it didn’t turn out that way.
The Broncos were beaten by a 10-yard touchdown pass by Russell to Chaz Schilens with 35 seconds remaining. In last season's home contest, the Raiders running backs chewed up 241 yards. The Raiders leading rushers Michael Bush and Darren McFadden ran for 133 yards and 74 yards respectively. Stopping the Raiders on the ground remains a key priority for the Broncos this week as well.
For the Broncos' season, this game is pivotal. This game is the first game against a divisional rival and it comes at a time, almost midway through the season, when the team needs to step up and make a point that they are a competitor in the AFC West, or else this season may be termed a “rebuilding” year.
The Raiders are indeed a run-first offense and the Broncos need to focus on stopping their dynamic attack on defense. It was painful to watch last week as former San Diego Chargers running back, LaDainian Tomlinson punched in two runs for touchdowns last week in the fourth quarter. The Broncos defense allowed 129 yards on the ground against a feisty Jets offense, which must improve this week.
Though their record may not reflect it, the Raiders are a very good team, one which cannot be overlooked. This week Josh McDaniels pointed out: “Coach (Tom) Cable really does a good job of getting them ready to play on the road,” and admitted last year’s failures, “They certainly out-played us, out-coached us, out-schemed us, out-adjusted us last December when they beat us here the last time we played them.”
The Broncos need to be ready to play another physical, pound-it-out type of football team in the Oakland Raiders.
Injuries, though, have plagued the Raiders this season, specifically at quarterback. Bruce Gradkowski has been out with a shoulder injury that has made it difficult to throw the ball, and Jason Campbell had a meniscus injury, which may possibly sideline him this week. If neither Campbell nor Gradkowski are able to go, it is possible that Kyle Boller may, by default, get the nod at quarterback from Raiders’ coach, Tom Cable.
The Broncos defense have also struggled with injuries of their own. However, with the shortage of linebackers, the Broncos went into a 4-3 formation on defense for many of their plays, which worked to some extent.
An encouraging note for the Broncos this past week was that the Broncos as a team rushed for 145 yards by committee. Knowshon Moreno returned to the lineup and averaged four yards/carry. Tim Tebow was the talk of the town when he rushed for 23 yards on six carries from the Wild Horses formation and scored his first NFL touchdown.
If only for pride and swagger this game is important for the Broncos. With the Chargers losing to push overs like the Rams, Seahawks and Raiders, the division is up for grabs. No team has stepped up (all teams in the AFC West lost in Week 6) and emphatically taken lead yet.
If the Broncos put out a dominant showing, it may signal the beginning of a new reign in the AFC West. However, a loss against the Raiders would be a major setback to any of the progress they have made so far.