The NFL seasons kicks off for both the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos under the lights of Monday Night Football. This time slot has not been kind to the Raiders. Three times has the team been asked to open up in the late portion of the Monday night doubleheader, and each and every time it has been another check on the loss column. In fact, the Raiders have not opened a season with a win in eight years.
This time, however, the prospects of a win for Oakland sure seem a little brighter. They have beaten the Broncos the last three games at Mile High, one of them being the 59-14 drubbing last year. While this upcoming game will most likely not be as much of a cakewalk as last year's contest, let's take a look at what Oakland has to do to come out victorious this Monday night.
The biggest injury for the Raiders will not be Louis Murphy or Mike Mitchell, but the one to newcomer Kevin Boss. With Boss, the Raiders would have had a solid blocker to have in and protect them from their two biggest threats in this game: Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Boss would have been able to chip Miller or Dumervil before going out on a short route, thus helping Jared Veldheer and Khalif Barnes with their tough assignments.
The absence of Boss is going to require the Raiders to do two things. On obvious running downs, it would probably behoove the Raiders to bring in Stephon Heyer as an extra blocker (a la Khalif Barnes last year) to prevent the speedy ends from blowing up running plays in the backfield. With Heyer and Boss' replacement, Brandon Myers, blocking on the ends, I expect Darren McFadden to have wide open running lanes.
The second key is related to the first. The easiest way to neutralize the pass rush is to employ quick dropbacks and many screen passes. Instead of having Jason Campbell drop back seven steps and depend on the wide receivers getting open with long-developing routes, you can take advantage of your receivers' speed with quick slants, button hooks and screens. This way, Campbell's jersey stays clean throughout the game and control of the football is maintained via the power running game and short passes.
Screen passes to McFadden and Marcel Reece will be pivotal as well, as you allow both Miller and Dumervil to come in and simply dump it over their heads. The Raiders utilized this last year against the Broncos and worked it to perfection. Look for much of the same once again.
On defense, the key has been the same it has been every year since they made it to the Super Bowl. The mantra has to be this: Stop the run. Because of the man coverage the Raiders play almost exclusively on defense, defending runs proves to be a tremendously difficult task. The linebackers many times get engulfed by blockers, either tight ends or fullbacks, and can't get on the edges to string out stretch or toss plays.
The Raiders were without Nnamdi Asomugha is last year's matchup as well, so the secondary should not be concerning...in this game at least.
No, the final key to this game is the development of second-year player Rolando McClain. It was a trend that in all the games last year the Raiders defensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage, and opponents were not able to run the ball consistently. However, the coaches can't bank on this being the case week in and week out. If McClain has the game the Raiders know he is capable of having and he is able to shed blocks with ease and be able to get sideline to sideline, that will force the Broncos into having many obvious passing downs, thus making their offense one-dimensional and much easier to defend.
By controlling the tempo of the game on both offense and defense, the demons that haunt the Raiders in prime-time football will be exorcised.