The Oakland Raiders find themselves smack dab in the middle of the spotlight as they square off against the defending Superbowl Champions in what will be their first Sunday Night Football appearance since 2006. Though this rivalry has never cooled down at any point in either team’s history, this is undoubtedly the most meaningful matchup the two have had in over a decade. That being said, let’s take a closer look at how these two squads matchup.
The Broncos land in Alameda County touting a top-ranked pass defense ready to do battle with the NFL’s hottest young QB and the rest of his swashbuckling crew. At present, the Broncos are giving up an average of 184 passing yards a game while Oakland is posting 285 yards in the air on a weekly basis. This is the matchup everyone will be checking for. A closer look shows what may be the key to the game, however. Oakland currently has the 8th (117 yds/game) ranked run offense while the Denver run D has fallen considerably to it’s current ranking of 23rd (117 yds/game).
What’s the best way to counteract a lethal pass rush? Run the ball and run the ball often. Though not elite, Oakland’s run by committee approach has been good enough to top 100 yards nearly every week. A combination of top tier o-line play along with a stable of speedy backs has produced great results for the Silver and Black. Even Denver’s premiere pass rusher Von Miller credited Oakland’s offensive line as the biggest in the league. Our hogs up front need to whip up that batter and serve up a fat dish of pancakes (paging Reggie McKenzie).
Given Denver’s offensive problems, Oakland should find themselves not having to play catchup in the second half—this will be a close game! In turn, this should allow the men in black to stay on the field and move the chains doing trench work. In each of Denver’s two L’s, they lost the TOP battle and came up with zero interceptions while giving up 100+ yards on the ground. No interceptions and TOP can be byproducts of a healthy ground attack and should be Oakland’s primary focus.
Kenny, are you really going to put the cuffs on the swashbuckling Derek Carr? No. He will have his chances. With Aquib Talib officially ruled out and Denver leaning heavily on Bradley Roby (last week’s AFC Defensive Player of the Week), expect Oakland to spread them out and pick up yards underneath. The Achilles heel of the Donkey Defense has to be their linebackers when in pass coverage. This should open up the flats and underneath routes for the Oakland TE’s and RB’s. With the reappearance of Mychal Rivera in last week’s game, Oakland now has a dual threat at the edges bolstered by a trio of pass catching RB’s who can turn on the jets quick.
While Denver’s pass defense may be the best in the league, they’re not infallible. The defense is currently ranked 6 best in the league in terms of points allowed. They are not as stingy as some would lead you to believe. While it won’t be easy, Oakland should feel capable of putting points up against their #1 rival. Considering that, along with the fact that Derek Carr has taken a “No Fear” approach when facing premiere pass defenders, it’s safe to say that Oakland receivers will not back down from the challenge and could find the end zone multiple times.
On the other side of the ball, Oakland has had it’s struggles. Currently ranked 27th and 28th in pass and rush defense, respectively, Oakland has relied heavily on turnovers and holding opponents to field goals. This bend don’t break approach has been good enough to yield a 6-2 record halfway through the season. What’s more, Oakland’s much maligned defense ranks 4th (+0.9) in the league. That’s two notches above Denver in 6th (+0.6). The 4th highest ranked turnover machine in the league vs. Trevor Siemian? Pffft, I’ll take that all day and twice on Sunday Night Football. Couple that with Khalil Mack who appears to be heating up and who feasted on Denver’s porous o-line last year, and I like Oakland’s chances in this game more and more. Side note: Denver’s o-line is still hot garbage.
In summary, Oakland needs to set up the pass with a healthy dose of their three-headed run game and win the turnover battle. Derek will take shots deep but will earn his money with passes underneath while eating up game clock. If the Donkey D can’t take the field, it can’t do damage. As long as Derek can continue keep the ball safe (he’s thrown only 3 picks this year) and get it out of his hands fast, Oakland has a good shot at neutralizing the vaunted pass rush. In other words, Carr needs to keep doing what he does each and every week…Pillage Just For Fun.