KUSA—This game may define the 2017 Broncos more than any other.
Win and the Broncos would go into their bye week not only 3-1, but with quality victories against the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, who posted 13-3 and 12-4 records last season.
The Broncos would be looking like a playoff team again.
Lose and the Broncos would be 2-2 and in trouble as a string of road games await shortly after their bye week.
The Broncos would be looking like good, but not quite good enough team again.
So, yes, it’s a big game beyond the usual significance of a home division game. Here are 9 keys to the Broncos defeating the Raiders today at eventually to be renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
1. No turnovers
This was our top key for the game last week at Buffalo and unfortunately for the Broncos it was dead-on. The Broncos lost because they committed two turnovers – and essentially four – and the Bills didn’t have any.
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian threw two interceptions and the Broncos also messed up a fake punt from their own 31-yard line, and Von Miller’s unsportsmanlike penalty turned a punt into a field goal.
2. Play well, Trevor
The Raiders don’t have a very good defense, ranking 26th in yards allowed, although they are better when it counts, ranking 15th in scoring. As good as the Denver defense is, the Broncos go as Siemian goes. He played well in the first two games. He made a couple too many mistakes in the third game.
3. Break out Demaryius or Emmanuel
The Broncos are paying a combined $19.35 million to their top two receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders this season.
Neither has a 100-yard receiving game. Sanders has already had multiple just-miss big plays. Thomas has been decent but has yet to score a touchdown.
It’s time for one or both to have a monster game.
4. Block Khalil Mack
Two years ago, Mack sacked Brock Osweiler five times in the second half. Mack beat right tackle Michael Schofield for four of those sacks. Schofield is gone, but Mack clears likes coming from that side so he will be lining up against his former teammate, Broncos right tackle Menelik Watson, more often than not.
Broncos’ running backs and tight ends will be giving Watson some help.
Mack was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season, edging the Broncos’ Von Miller by one vote. Miller had 2 ½ more sacks than Mack and is a better all-around player. But Mack’s Raiders had three more wins than Miller’s Broncos.
Thus, the individual award went to the best player on the better team.
5. Bring heat on Derek Carr
Anyone who saw the Raiders fold after Carr went down with a season-ending broken leg knows how valuable the quarterback is to their team.
Carr gets rid of the ball quickly, but on those throws when he wants to go deep to Amari Cooper or wait for tight end Jared Cook to clear the second level, the Broncos pass rush must hurry.
6. Double Amari Cooper
He’s not having a good year, but with leading receiver Michael Crabtree not expected to play because of injury, there’s no sense taking chances on Cooper breaking out.
7. Find rushing groove
Second-year running back Devontae Booker is expected to play in his first Broncos game of the season, after missing significant time with a fractured right wrist. Booker will try to fit in with an already efficient running back duo of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who only combined for 17 carries last week, but for 92 yards.
8. Outfox Jack
Broncos’ rookie coach Vance Joseph is a thinker. He’s getting good at thinking a couple plays ahead.
His decisions haven’t always worked out, though. See the fake punt on his side of the 50 last week in Buffalo.
Raiders coach and former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio made some heady gambles last year that helped Oakland pull out a game or three.
9. Adjust to the Beast Mode and speed mode
Marshawn Lynch hasn’t been the Beast Mode, yet, as he’s rushed for 76, 45 and 18 yards in three games since he came out of retirement. But the Denver defense should still bring a gang-tackle mentality, just in case.
After Lynch, the Raiders have nice speed complements in Jalen Richard and Cordarrelle Patterson, a kickoff returner/receiver who also has six rushes for 67 yards.
Oh, and Brandon McManus touchbacks might be the answer in neutralizing Patterson as a kick returner.