The Broncos have the No. 25 passing offense and No. 29 rushing attack, but their defense compensates for a less explosive offense. Denver only allows 17.2 points per game while averaging 24.2 points per contest.
A 39-year-old Peyton Manning on the decline behind a makeshift offensive line creates advantageous matchups for the Raiders in the trenches. Bleacher Report's Cecil Lammey elaborates on the struggles in Denver:
Manning is certainly not the same player he used to be. He was never known as a scrambling quarterback, but he used to be able to buy more time with his feet. Now, Manning is more immobile than ever before and needs his feet set to throw with proper velocity.
In the Week 4 win, Manning was only sacked two times and hit three times. However, there were more than a few snaps where Manning was hit while releasing the ball. Those type of hits can add up over the course of the season.
Manning stands in a pocket that's constantly shrinking and the Raiders must attack in full throttle.
Pressure and Pound Peyton
The motive sounds easy, but there are some layers to frustrating Manning under center.
A weak offensive line usually leads analysts to believe a constant blitz scheme should keep the quarterback under fire. On the contrary, Manning has been erratic when facing non-blitz schemes through the first four games:
|Peyton Manning vs. the blitz and non-blitz schemes|
|Week||Vs. Blitz (TD/INT/Completion %)||Vs. Non-Blitz (TD/INT/Completion %)|
|Pro Football Focus|
Three of his five interceptions were forced without a blitz. Manning found ways to beat the blitz, as noted by his increasing pass-completion percentage throughout the season.
A successful four-man rush adds flexibility for the linebackers to drop into coverage and defend short throws, which Manning relies on in the passing game. The offense moves methodically and capitalizes on yards after the reception.
Manning is averaging a career-low 6.3 yards per pass attempt. Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have a combined total of 206 (YAC) yards after the catch.
Key Players: Aldon Smith and Khalil Mack
Broncos starting left tackle Ty Sambrailo will sit out with a shoulder injury, per the team’s official injury report.
Second-year tackle Michael Schofield will start at right tackle with the decision to shift Ryan Harris over to left tackle in Week 4, per Pro Football Focus.
The Raiders should find success in pressuring Manning with a four-man pass rush instead of bringing five men or blitzing as they’ve done in recent weeks.
|Broncos Offensive Line vs. blitz and non-blitz schemes|
|Week||Vs. Blitz (Sacks)||Vs. Non-blitz (Sacks)|
|Pro Football Focus|
Edge-rushers Aldon Smith and Khalil Mack have to force Manning to move in the pocket or simply hit the quarterback on every possible chance. Oakland’s pass-rushers don’t need to cross the line, but constant contact encourages more handoffs throughout the game.
In a ripple effect, the Broncos would need a breakout performance from their sluggish ground game, which is averaging 78.8 yards per game.
It’s the perfect time for Mack and Smith to stamp their arrival as a ferocious pair across from Harris, who’s ranked 101st in pass blocking among 106 offensive tackles, and an offensive lineman appearing in his second career start.
Key Player: Neiron Ball
It’s important to have an extra defender drop back into coverage to clog intermediate passing routes. That particular player must successfully cover tight ends and running backs slipping into the flat.
According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Neiron Ball has to tools to play as a versatile linebacker on both run and pass plays:
Willing to take on lead blockers and play physically against the run. Plays with toughness. Played outside 'backer in a 3-4 and 4-3 and took reps at inside 'backer. Stays square to line of scrimmage, using controlled footwork to slide along line of scrimmage. Has ability to cover man to man.
Opposing quarterbacks are gashing Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton in pass coverage. Together, they’ve allowed 364 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Lofton allows a stunning 100 percent catch percentage; he’s yet to break up a pass.
It’s time to shuffle the linebacker personnel on third-down passing situations. Ball fits the need in coverage, and he can stop the rushing attack in case Manning audibles into a run play.
Ball certainly cannot perform any worse than Lofton’s dreaded 100 percent catch percentage allowed. He’s capable of providing a surprise blitz to counter Manning’s anticipation in the pocket.
Manipulate Denver’s Pass Coverage
The Broncos field the best pass coverage in the league with three Pro Bowlers in the secondary. Safety T.J. Ward’s two sacks displays his presence as a threat in the pass rush.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave won’t find holes within Denver’s secondary by simply throwing at cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. The Raiders should force the Broncos to cover the entire field from sideline to sideline.
Two-Tight End Sets
Tight ends Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford haven’t impacted any of the first four games as supplementary factors in the passing attack.
Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree continue to carry the load in receptions, but who will step up when the two receivers struggle?
In Week 4, three of four Raiders wide receivers failed to record a catch against the Bears' low-end pass defense.
Tight end production forces Ward to step into the middle of the field to provide coverage and opens opportunities for Cooper over the top.
It also forces linebackers to cover the middle of the field as opposed to allowing the Broncos go full throttle in pocket pressure with edge-rushers DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and rookie Shane Ray.
Key Players: Roy Helu and Marcel Reece
Marcel Reece ranks third on the team in receiving yards and leads the club in yards per reception at 16.1.
Running back Roy Helu caught a touchdown pass against the Bears in his last outing, which provides a sign of encouragement for Carr in his ability to cycle through reads.
An offensive game plan designed to leak both Reece and Helu into the passing lanes neutralizes the Broncos' strong pass rush at the linebacker position.
Denver’s eighth-ranked rush defense could provide difficulties for running back Latavius Murray. Short passes are just as effective as handoffs, though, with a pair of solid receivers out of the backfield.
Manning excels at anticipating areas of pocket pressure and often finds a way to dump off passes to avoid sacks. The Raiders pass rush must provide consistent pressure or risk giving up huge chunks of yardage on the back end with a poor secondary.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton remains puzzled in solving the tight end issue and doesn’t have the linebacker personnel to cover receiving tight ends.
As a coverage and run-stopping linebacker, Ball could provide the antidote to the Raiders' midfield coverage difficulties, but Norton doesn’t seem ready to play the rookie extensively.
The absence of defensive linemen Denico Autry and Justin Ellis may also breathe life into Denver's dormant rushing attack.
TJ Carrie’s absence and Lofton’s poor coverage in the middle hurts Oakland tremendously. Manning will find the weak areas in the Raiders' 31st-ranked pass defense for the win.
Broncos 34, Raiders 20
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Week 4 statistics and play-by-play analysis provided by NFL.com.