Top five storylines to watch in Raiders' Week 4 matchup vs Broncos
Raiders open AFC West slate in Denver
The Raiders have several long-term goals. The first is to win the AFC West. That mission hasn’t been accomplished since 2002. The Raiders were in pole position to snap that streak, but couldn’t beat Kansas City. This year, they’ll have to conquer the NFL’s toughest division. That group includes the Denver Broncos, a team they open the AFC West slate against Sunday at Sports Authority Field. This contest will pit strength vs. strength on several occasions, which should keep things close. Starting division play off with a win would go a long way in achieving the Raiders ultimate goal. Here are five storylines to watch heading into Sunday’s game:
5. Can Amari hang on?
Amari Cooper’s slow start was a hot topic after the Washington loss. This elite talent hasn’t made the impact expected early this season, ranking No. 92 in receiving yards and No. 1 in drops. Cooper has six drops in 16 catchable passes, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, without the production demanded of a top-flight receiver. He needs to climb out of this rut on Sunday, a difficult task against a loaded, often intimidating Broncos secondary. Cooper must fare well even against top corners, an demand magnified if a chest injury prevents Michael Crabtree from playing.
4. Mitigating Miller
Von Miller is easily one of the NFL’s best edge rushers. His speed and bendability makes him elite, with as many quarterback pressures as anyone. He forces fumbles, is an underrated run defender, destroying drives with a single blow. Raiders tackles Donald Penn and Marshall Newhouse (and, honestly, tight ends and chipping running backs) are charged with slowing him down. That isn’t easy, maybe impossible. Miller is going to make plays. The key is preventing the sacks and strips that make him truly dangerous.
3. Taming Broncos ground game
A steady rushing attack is a quarterback’s best friend. Especially an average one. Bay Area native C.J. Anderson and notorious Raiders killer Jamaal Charles have aided Trevor Siemian’s quality start, leading the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run game. The Raiders were good against the run in Week 1, and a bit worse the next two weeks. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin are solid off the edge. The Raiders need more tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and the interior rotation, and proper support from the second level. Run defense is a true team effort. Discipline will be key in keeping the Broncos off schedule and putting Siemian into tough spots. That’s when Mach and Irvin can create havoc rushing the passer.
2. Can Carr be an MVP?
Derek Carr watched the last Raiders-Broncos game from home. He had just broken a fibula, leaving him helpless while an AFC West title slipped away. He enters Sports Authority Field completely healthy, though he was recently punched in the gut. Carr was uncharacteristically off against Washington, shouldering blame for that embarrassment. The Raiders struggle when he does, and Carr knows it. He’s committed to finding form in Denver, excellent Broncos defense be darned. If Carr plays like he can, the Raiders can score points against anyone and keep a team calm under pressure.
1. Will the Raiders rebound?
The Washington football club outplayed and outcoached the Raiders on national television. No one in silver and black will argue that. Head coach Jack Del Rio has been thankful that disastrous loss only counts as one. Unless, of course, the hangover lasts all week. The Raiders must put the past away to beat Denver and avoid a second loss. Seeing Cleveland or Cincinnati next on the schedule might’ve been welcome on this rebound mission. They draw the Broncos instead, an old rival with an improved quarterback and a dominant defense that smells blood in the water. Their best is required. Will the Raiders give it?