ALAMEDA – The Denver Broncos defense is world class, as good as it gets in most areas. That’s especially true in pass defense, where they’re the NFL standard bearer halfway through the year.
They’re a top five defense in total yards allowed and scoring. Their run defense doesn’t jive with those totals. They’re ranked No. 23 against the run, allowing 117.4 yards per game on 27.5 carries per contest.
That might be a relative weakness the Raiders could try to exploit during Sunday night’s pivotal AFC West showdown. The Raiders have run it well, especially when Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have all been healthy and running strong.
Discounting two games while Murray was out dealing with turf toe, the Raiders have 778 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 carries, a 5.08-yard average that would rank among the league’s best.
Those backs, sprinkled with some Jamize Olawale runs and Derek Carr scrambles, have been an effective tandem thus far.
“We all complement each other, and it makes us hard to game plan against,” Washington said. “Everybody has their own unique talents, and it makes us tough to stop when everybody’s running strong.”
Every Silver and Black back has the luxury of running behind an excellent offensive line that creates the space required for efficient runs.
“It starts with the guys in the trenches, the O-line, and I think we’ve done a pretty solid job opening holes and protecting our quarterback,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “And, you have to be able to run it well.
“In my opinion, you’ve got to be able to run it when you want to and this will be a great challenge. This is a really good, really good defense we’re going against this week and they make it difficult to run the ball, so that’ll be one of the key factors for us, how well can we run the ball against this team.”
Del Rio’s right. Just because the stats say something doesn’t mean running will be easy against a talented Broncos defensive front. They have some solid run stuffers, especially Derek Wolfe and Brandon Marshall.
The Raiders have been able to run effectively against everyone when all backs are right. They’ve exceeding 120 rushing yards in five of six games when Murray and the gang was healthy. A Week 4 contest against Balitmore was tough sledding against the best run defense the Raiders have faced.
Their per carry average suggests efficient running, but it’s been buoyed by longer runs. They have nine runs of 20 yards or more and several jaunts above 10. That’s a stat the entire Raiders running game enjoys.
“The offensive line has been great creating space up front, but (Running backs coach Bernie Parmalee) always tells us that the o-line can only do so much,” Washington said. “At some point you’re going to have to make a guy miss. If you can do that, it’s usually a big run. We pride ourselves on following the line’s lead and winning our one-on-one matchups to create explosive runs.”
Explosiveness and efficiency. That’s the key to a impactful run game the Raiders hope to feature against Denver.
“You always want to have a good average, so you want to make sure you’re popping off efficient runs,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “When you’re doing that, you can kind of dictate things. You always want to stay on schedule, too, with the down and distance. It’ll definitely help us, not just this week but any week.”