Week 5: Top 10 Broncos, Raiders to watch
The Raiders have one more game before their bye week, and it’s a doozy. The unbeaten Denver Broncos come to town Sunday afternoon, armed with the NFL’s best defense and old man Peyton Manning, who still has some magic left in his throwing arm. After playing teams with a combined 3-9 record over the last three weeks, this counts as a much tougher test. Manning has never lost to Oakland as a member of the Broncos, and picking him off now would be a shot in the arm for head coach Jack Del Rio’s club.
10) TE Owen Daniels
The veteran isn’t a top-flight receiving threat, but we’re going to keep an opposing tight end on the watch list until the Raiders figure out how to stop even an average tight end. They’ve tried everything to slow tight ends, from safeties to corners to linebackers, to no avail. Daniels has a track record as a pass-catcher despite just 61 yards this season, but that total could double against the Silver and Black.
9) FS Larry Asante
The Raiders secondary is in shambles, and Asante is the latest athlete to fill in for an injured safety. First it was Nate Allen. Now converted cornerback TJ Carrie joins him on the shelf. Asante will have to fill in well and help deep against Denver’s talented receivers for the Raiders to stand a chance on the back end.
8) CB Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos secondary is loaded, and Harris has become a real shutdown corner playing opposite Aqib Talib. It’s uncertain whether the Broncos will have him follow Raiders receiver Amari Cooper around as the Browns and Bears did in previous weeks, but he’s certainly up to the challenge. The matchup between him and Cooper or even Michael Crabtree will be key. If they can get open and make plays in single coverage, that could jump-start the Raiders offense.
7) LT Donald Penn
Denver has two outstanding pass rushers, who will rotate to each side. The Raiders have some pretty good pass protectors as well, led by left tackle Donald Penn. He’s the No. 3 rated tackle in terms of pass protection, and the more often he can handle either Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware on his own, the more help Austin Howard can be given on the other side. Penn needs to be at his best on Sunday to give his offense a chance to keep things close.
6) WR Demaryius Thomas
Thomas is the type of athlete who can make plays even when covered well. He’s 6-foot-3, 229 pounds and is an animal in the air. The Raiders rarely shadow receivers, though cornerback David Amerson has the size and speed to keep up with Thomas. He’ll have to keep the big man in front of him and prevent big plays. The Broncos running game hasn’t been consistent, so corralling Denver’s top skill play must be a high priority.
5) QB Peyton Manning
The 39-year old quarterback doesn’t have the arm strength he once had, but can dissect a defense with smarts and precision. The Raiders’ secondary is vulnerable to that skill set, especially in its injured state. Manning has been vulnerable to interior pressure. The Raiders must provide that and intensity off the edge with four or five men to make him uncomfortable, or it could be a long day in the East Bay.
4) QB Derek Carr
The second-year pro has been a steady presence on this offense, without many major mistakes despite the fact that he has been more aggressive passing downfield. He’s also performed well under pressure, a state Carr could find himself in often against the vaunted Broncos defense. He has to remain cool under fire and attack Denver’s blitz appropriately, finding a balance between taking deep shots and safe, smart routes to keep the chains moving against a Denver defense that doesn’t allow regular conversions.
3) RB Latavius Murray
The 25-year old probably had his worst game as a pro against Chicago as he was responsible for two costly turnovers while averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Murray’s confident it will be a one-time thing. The Raiders hope it is, because they need him steady and productive against a No. 8-ranked Broncos run defense, which may be the weakness of an incredibly strong unit.
2) DE/OLB Khalil Mack
Last year’s No. 5 overall pick is a powerful pass rusher who is also strong against the run. He needs to support that reputation, even against double teams. He has to get after the quarterback, possibly an objective that gives the Raiders their best chance to upset the Broncos. He has three sacks in four games – amazingly, one away from last year’s total – and could need a couple big plays in this game to help an ailing and struggling coverage unit.
1) DE/OLB Aldon Smith
The top two players to watch are Raiders edge rushers. That was by design. A devastating pass rush paves the best path to victory, and Smith should blaze the trail. He’ll frequently go against a reserve left tackle with Ty Sambrailo out, and should control his side. Smith is rounding into typical form. Smith can be a game-wrecker, but at times he’d better do it fast. The Broncos will likely game plan against him with short passes, but a batted pass or quick pressure could keep his impact high.