Broncos-Raiders Preview: Keys To Victory For Denver in Week Three

Sayre BedingerSenior Writer ISeptember 24, 2009

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 20:  Running back Correll Buckhalter #28 of the Denver Broncos rushes for a 45 yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 20, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 27-6.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the Denver Broncos (2-0, first place AFC West) will make their annual trip to the "Black Hole" to take on the Oakland Raiders (1-1, second place AFC West) who are playing their third straight divisional opponent.

This game, although not hyped much by the national media, is a huge game for both teams and their fan bases, who are both beaming with optimism and confidence. The Broncos have enjoyed a thrilling, one of a kind victory as well as a dominant performance, and the Raiders have been on either side of two close, hard fought games.

This is a fairly new rivalry for most in the Broncos' camp, and head coach Josh McDaniels thinks it is going to be a lot of fun.

“It means a lot to us. They are our—if you want to call them arch rival or what you want to categorize them as—but we get to play them twice a year. I think there are a lot of players on our team that are very familiar with their players. Sure, that is the same on their sideline and then their coaching staff.

We have got a guy or two from that organization here now. It is special when you get to play these division games early in the year on the road against a team that historically, you are no supposed to like. We know that, and they know it. It will be exciting for us to go there and meet the challenge."

A lot of fans will discount either teams statistics heading into this game simply because of the rivalry, but the facts are too difficult to ignore.  The Broncos are superior statistically in every major team category.

Offensively, the Broncos average over 100 more yards per game than the Raiders, 86.5 more yards through the air, and 23 more rushing yards.  The Broncos also have a higher points per game average, third down conversion percentage, and lead in time of possession.

Defensively, the Broncos have allowed over 100 fewer yards per game in their first two games, 54.5 fewer passing yards, 55 fewer rushing yards, and 10.5 fewer points per game.  They also allow opponents a third down conversion roughly 27 percent of the time whereas Oakland's opponents convert on third down 37 percent of the time.

This is an intense rivalry, and statistics have a very long time to change throughout the course of this year, but at this point, it is hard to ignore given the fact that each team has played two teams with bottom 10 defensive units.

I have no doubt that the Raiders will bring their "A" game to the Colosseum on Sunday afternoon, but the rivalry did lose a bit of luster when Mike Shanahan left town.  It was my understanding that the rivalry between the Broncos and Raiders became heated when Oakland fired Shanahan and despite Al Davis' desires for Shanahan to not coach the Broncos, he went ahead and did so anyway.

Now that the Shanahan saga is over, new head coach Josh McDaniels has changed the culture in Denver, and the players are buying into his methods.  Perhaps the most underrated move made this off-season by any NFL franchise was McDaniels luring Mike Nolan to be the Broncos' defensive coordinator.

Nolan has brought credibility to the most surprising defense in the NFL, which is currently the number one defense in terms of points allowed at 13 over two games.  His blitzing schemes are complex, and the beef up front has gone from lean to mean in seemingly no time.

Similarly, the Raiders have made some very solid additions to their defensive front in free agent acquisition Greg Ellis and blockbuster trade acquisition Richard Seymour.

Here are what I think are some of Denver's keys to victory when they head to Oakland for this week three rivalry contest.


1.  Running the Ball and Stopping the Run

The Raiders' biggest strength is clearly running the ball, and how could it not be?  They took Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and got a steal in 2007 in Michael Bush.  They also have Justin Fargas, who may be the most complete overall back on the team's roster.

All hands are expected to be on deck for the Raiders this week, and they are facing stiff competition in Denver's revamped run defense.  The Broncos added a bunch of pieces this off-season to beef up their front line, and so far the new group has done a tremendous job, allowing only 140 yards rushing over the first two games of the season.

If the Broncos can take away the big play from the Raiders run game, they will force the game over to JaMarcus Russell, and as many Raider fans will tell you, they have not done the greatest job of keeping their defense off the field so far this season.

It is absolutely critical for the Broncos to maintain their gaps on defense and keep the blitz packages surprising for the Raiders.  As long as the big play is eliminated, the Broncos should be able to keep the Raiders offense off the field.

It is also key that the Broncos run the ball effectively.  Correll Buckhalter leads the AFC West in rushing yards so far this season, and is second among starting running backs in yards per attempt at 7.2 yards per carry.

The Broncos would also love to see rookie Knowshon Moreno find a groove. After a disappointing game one we saw significant improvement against Cleveland last weekend.  Denver needs to get Moreno more involved in the offense, and now that he is fully healthy, it seems as though they will.


2.  Broncos Pass Defense vs. JaMarcus Russell

As was one of the keys against Cleveland and Brady Quinn, the Broncos need to force the issue with Russell, who is not nearly as athletic as Quinn.  Russell has outstanding arm strength, and has proven over the first two games that although his completion percentage is the worst in the NFL, he is capable of leading his team down the field when it matters.

Still, Russell has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for the Raiders.  He is extremely inaccurate unless the receiver is wide open, and unfortunately for him, the Broncos are tops in this division and third in the NFL overall in quarterback sacks.  They are also going to be without veteran lineman Robert Gallery, and will have to count on second year player Mario Henderson to keep JaMarcus's blind side clean.

The Broncos need to put pressure on JaMarcus Russell, and it would be smart to attack from the left side with Elvis Dumervil, similar to the approach they took against Joe Thomas last week.

The oft-penalized Cornell Green is really no match for the quicker Dumervil, and if Dumervil can provide consistent pressure, the Raiders drives will be derailed by sacks and holding penalties.  This is a matchup the Broncos really need to take advantage of.

Of course, along with pressure comes poor decisions by the quarterback, and Russell can ill afford to make mistakes against Denver's secondary which is veteran laden, very athletic, and very smart.


3.  Kyle Orton's Efficiency

Orton has the 11th best quarterback rating in the NFL so far this season, and has yet to turn the ball over.  His fourth quarter quarterback rating of 152.1 is the best in the NFL, and he has done a great job so far for the Broncos.

The Raiders will be his toughest test of the season so far, as they have a very athletic group of linebackers and a defensive backfield that is underrated.

Nnamdi Asomugha leads a group that includes Chris Johnson, Michael Huff, controversial rookie Michael Mitchell, Hiram Eugene, and Tyvon Branch.  Each and every one of these players has one common denominator: speed.

The Broncos counter with a top tier group of receivers and tight ends led by Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall, who oddly enough are being outdone by the elders at the receiver position.  Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney lead the team in receiving, and Tony Scheffler provides a mismatch at the tight end position.

Unlike Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton does not seem to force the issue to his receivers and simply takes what is given to him or throws the ball away.  The Broncos have not been stellar offensively in the first half of games, and Orton needs to get on the same page as his receivers. 

If the first key can prove true and the Broncos are able to run the ball effectively, all Orton will have to do is make good decisions with the ball and continue his solid but not spectacular play.


Here is my positional breakdown of the two teams

Quarterback:  Broncos

Running Back:  Raiders

Wide Receiver:  Broncos

Tight End:  Raiders

Offensive Line:  Broncos

Defensive Line:  Push

Linebacker:  Broncos

Defensive Backs:  Broncos

Special Teams:  Raiders

Coaching:  Broncos

Advantage:  Broncos


As is common in these matchups, this game could be won in the early stages based on momentum and whoever can quickly establish the most consistent run game.  I think the Broncos have the decided advantage up front offensively, and both defensive fronts have played well this season.

This should be another exciting chapter in the Broncos-Raiders rivalry.


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