The Week 10 matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos has the potential to be a lopsided contest very early. However, even the winless Raiders can expose some of the Broncos' deficiencies with some clever game-planning.
The Broncos were embarrassed last week by the New England Patriots due to some shrewd scheming and great execution on behalf of the players. The usually poised Peyton Manning was seen with a look of disappointment and despair in the midst of a 43-21 loss.
Manning studies the game in the film room meticulously. During the game, he’s constantly flipping through notes to catch up to what opposing defenses are doing from play to play.
The Patriots decided to give Manning too much to study with very little time for preparation, which should be part of the Raiders' plan Sunday.
The objective is concise and clear, but how can the Raiders apply the pressure?
According to Ben Volin of the The Boston Globe, New England combined a lot of game plans and rolled them into one unpredictable rotation of defensive schemes Manning didn’t have the time to pick apart:
And Belichick reached deep down into his bag of tricks for this game. Patrick Chung, who usually comes off the field in passing situations? He played 66 of 80 snaps and did a pretty nice job covering Julius Thomas and Wes Welker.
Rob Ninkovich, the team’s best healthy pass rusher? He dropped into zone coverage on a half-dozen snaps and snagged a game-changing interception.
Browner covering the slot? That was a new one.
It kept Manning guessing, and unable to get into a rhythm, despite the gaudy-looking stats.
Manning studied the still photos on the sideline, but it was pointless. He wouldn’t see the same looks for the rest of the game.
The concept seems fairly simple, but the players must execute their irregular assignments or risk getting annihilated by an offensively explosive team.
Khalil Mack Blitzing
Denver’s rushing offense is 27th in the league, averaging under 100 yards per game. Oakland won't have to crowd the line of scrimmage to shut down running back Ronnie Hillman. However, the Raiders can be aggressive with pressuring the pocket by randomly using their most talented young player in blitz schemes.
Khalil Mack’s ability to shed blockers and his solid tackling is the highlight of his rookie season thus far. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver can get creative, using the coveted first-round pick to shoot gaps and athletically outmaneuver Denver’s seemingly impenetrable offensive line.
Linebacker Akeem Ayers played in his second game for the Patriots and was able to sack Manning with quickness and instinct—qualities Mack has shown in the first eight games of the season.
Ayers lines up right over Ryan Clady one-on-one, standing upright.
Clady is in his pass-protection stance with his back foot firmly planted behind him, anticipating the pass rush from Ayers.
Ayers sidesteps and uses his quickness to find an opening in Denver’s line protection. Clady is planted on his heels and unable to tie up the blitzing linebacker.
Ayers finds a hole, and Clady is too slow to track him down or hold him from shooting the gap.
Ayers accelerates and sacks an immobile and unsuspecting Manning.
Mack has the physical capabilities to emulate what Ayers did on select plays to keep Manning off balance. Between Oakland’s talented linebackers Sio Moore and Mack—the two can create havoc against bigger offensive linemen who lack the quickness to keep up with the shiftiness of an agile linebacker.
Pro Football Focus writer Eli Nachmany ironically compared Mack to Von Miller when used as a 4-3 outside linebacker:
The Raiders have switched between the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, but a dose of irregularity could benefit Mack in the same fashion Miller has flourished within Denver’s defense.
Target T.J. Ward
T.J. Ward was brought in to strengthen Denver’s defense, but the safety is a liability in coverage.
|T.J. Ward in Coverage|
|Receptions Allowed||Yards Allowed||Touchdowns Allowed||Missed Tackles|
|Pro Football Focus|
Lately, quarterback Derek Carr has utilized tight end Mychal Rivera as a reliable target in the passing attack. Rivera caught two touchdown passes against the Seattle Seahawks and was the leading receiver in receptions and yards in Week 8 against the Cleveland Browns.
The former sixth-round pick isn’t a polished player, but receiving tight ends have posed a major problem for the Broncos defense in recent weeks.
|Tight ends against the Denver Broncos|
Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates are exceptional talents, but New York Jets rookie tight end Jace Amaro recorded 10 catches for 68 yards with a touchdown in a competitive game against Denver in Week 6.
The added incentive to increase Rivera’s role on offense is Nate Irving’s injury. According to Mike Klis of the The Denver Post, Irving will be replaced by Steven Johnson at the middle linebacker position.
Johnson hasn’t played since Week 6 and should be tested in coverage on shorter routes. Denver’s struggle to cover tight ends and a depleted linebacker corps could result in a productive day for Rivera and Oakland’s offense.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics are provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).