Five battles Raiders must win to beat Broncos
Raiders ready for prime time?
The Raiders are 6-2. The Broncos are 6-2. Those teams play each other Sunday night on national television. In Oakland, no less. Kick the hype machine into overdrive. This game is by far the best of the week, and means a lot to Raiders fans without many games this important on their slate. Coaches and players are rightfully trying to kill the hype and focus on football...
5. Raiders OL vs. Broncos defensive front
No team has more sacks than the Denver Broncos. No full-time, starting quarterback has been sacked less that Derek Carr. This matchup, my friends, is Kershaw vs. Bumgarner. Pass protection is the greatest key to offensive success because, with time, Carr has been able to pick teams apart. If he’s under duress, things get harder working downfield. The Raiders scheme well to keep their quarterback upright, but individual matchups on the outside, especially against Von Miller and a mix of Shane Ray and DeMarcus Ware, could be tough to handle.
This offensive line doesn’t bow to many, but this battle should be a quality showdown of the league’s top units.
4. Cooper, Crabtree vs. Broncos CBs
Top Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib will miss Sunday’s clash with a back injury. That in itself should help the Raiders passing game, though the Broncos still have high-quality cover men Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby ready to go. Roby normally plays in the slot but should move outside this week, leaving one of the Raiders receivers in a good matchup. This could be a better matchup for Michael Crabtree, who was shadowed by Talib last year but will be free of that burden Sunday.
Losing Talib doesn’t mean the Raiders receivers will win the day, but it makes things a bit easier trying to work the ball downfield against the league’s No. 1 pass defense. Most everyone has a tough time covering Cooper, who is playing better this season than he did a year ago.
3. Mack/Irvin vs. Siemian
The Broncos have a young quarterback in Trevor Siemian starting his eighth game on Sunday. He has proven cool under pressure, with 1,487 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions and five total giveaways. Raiders edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin certainly want to impact his throws or get him down before that action.
Mack is on a roll and Irvin is quick to the quarterback, and making the second-year pro hear footsteps could turn the game on its ear, or at least prevent him from going downfield much. Anything Mack and Irvin can to shrink Denver’s offensive options should give the Raiders an edge.
2. Carr vs. his inner gunslinger
Derek Carr has done a solid job knowing when to push the ball downfield and when to take what’s given. He will exploit lapses in coverage even on shorter passes to keep the ball moving downfield incrementally when the gunslinger on his shoulder wants to thread tight windows and chuck it deep. Sometimes, that devilish guy wins.
Carr has the arm to make tough throws work, with the receivers able to make plays even when they’re not exactly open. The Denver defense will exploit quarterback mistakes, so Carr must play smart even when behind to avoid costly turnovers.
1. Raiders vs. the hype
Sunday night’s game is a big one. It’s the first time since 2005 the Raiders have been scheduled for the NFL’s prime slot, and enter this AFC West clash as one of the NFL’s upward trending teams. National media loves the Silver and Black right now, especially after so many dramatic finishes.
The Super Bowl champion Broncos are on the other sideline, and are used to playing under a microscope. A win here won’t make or break a season, but would give the Raiders street cred heading into the season’s second half.
While several newcomers have played well under the lights, this is all new to the young core of draft picks who have experienced this level of scrutiny or success. How they deal with it will certainly impact Sunday’s outcome.