Coming off an 8-8 season and highly debatable coaching change during the offseason, the Oakland Raiders learned winning is the elixir to criticism.
As Oakland narrowly defeated the Broncos, 23-20, in the thin alps of Denver, Hue Jackson secured his first victory as a head coach and with the win over divisional rival Broncos,.
Oakland improved to 7-0 over AFC West opponents, dating back to last season. The Raiders displayed batches of talent and teamwork as well as resiliency.
Let's take a look at the keys to their victory:
Rushing the Quarterback
The Raiders were able to generate an excellent pass rush often, and as a result, Denver's offensive line was scarcely able to provide Kyle Orton sufficient time to make his reads in the pocket.
As the game progressed, Orton began to develop happy feet in the pocket; a symptom of repeated and unblocked hurries and pressure from the Raiders' defensive line. Oakland also successfully was able to funnel its pass rush through numerous corner and safety blitzes as the game unwound.
Linchpin Richard Seymour had two sacks and joined five other Raiders in accounting for tackles for loss.
Oakland's fierce play calling and steady onslaught caused Orton to prematurely launch an errant deep ball towards the right corner late in second quarter, which Matt Giordano converged on for an interception
Run DMC and DHB
Darren McFadden levied his streak of three consecutive games with at least 100 yards against the Broncos, highlighted by his 47-yard run down to Denver's one yard line, which later led to the Raider's game-sealing touchdown.
McFadden finished with 150 rushing yards on 6.8 yards per carry (his second highest career total vs Denver). McFadden was also healthy enough to produce 22 carries and bailed out Jason Campbell responding to check-down for a 6-yard reception in the passing game.
The 150 yards were the most in the Raiders' history for a season opener.
Darius Heyward-Bey proved to be a surprising, and also, solid contributor as fellow wideout Louis Murphy missed the game recovering from sports hernia surgery. The No. 7 overall pick out of Maryland has long been the black sheep of the Raiders' receiving corps for his failure to adjust to the playbooks and lack of activity in Oakland's offense.
Heyward-Bey was targeted six times by quarterback Jason Campbell and compensated him by posting four receptions for 44 yards.
However, to understand the importance of DHB, you must read between the lines. Three of his catches went for first downs, while two of those catches went for fourth quarter first downs, including a beneficial 9-yard gain during Oakland's final possession.
The Special Play of Special Teams
Aside from Eric Decker's pearl of a 90-yard punt return, Oakland's special teams were semi-immaculate.
Both Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler invoked career highs in terms of net yardage at critical junctures in corresponding quarters. In the Raider's 63rd appearance on Monday Night Football, Janikowski uncorked a NFL-record tying 63-yard field goal from the Broncos logo to close out the half, putting the Raiders' lead up to double digits.
After another stalled drive with 9:17 remaining in the fourth quarter, the offense turned the keys over to special teams ace Shane Lechler, who was asked to kick from his own 23.
Usually, opposing offenses can expect to begin their drives in favorable position, normally around their 40-yard line when the kicking team is being faced with those type of odds. However, the league's most dominant punter manually reset a formally promising Broncos' drive by belting a 77-yard punt into the end zone.
Though the Broncos eventually scored, it took Denver nearly four minutes and instantaneously refreshed the Oakland offense.
The Raiders' offense did not take the field until 3:43 in the final quarter and had almost six minutes to recharge their batteries before their final possession and prepare for a potential game-winning drive. Janikowski and Lechler spoiled the Raiders, and in return, the offense rewarded them with a win.
The Raiders play at Buffalo on Sunday in Week 2.
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