There can be no denying playing Paxton Lynch is laced with intentions of evaluating him for next year.
But Lynch isn’t that difficult a sell to the Denver Broncos’ current players.
The Broncos lost the first three games of their six-game skid with Trevor Siemian at quarterback and Brock Osweiler got the next three.
Regardless of whether Lynch is ready, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph has the right to try somebody else.
Lynch’s first start of the season is married to the first game called by new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who replaced the fired Mike McCoy on Monday.
Weather figures to be a factor – it’s supposed to start raining in Oakland on Sunday morning, then rain off and on during the game. Given the Broncos’ recent struggles, how can rain be a bad thing?
Here are 9 keys to the 3-7 Broncos pulling off an upset (they are 4.5-point underdogs) and defeating the 4-6 Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum (kickoff 2:25 p.m. MST):
1. Mix in a deep one
I’ve seen these scaled down offensive attacks for raw quarterbacks before. There is a ton of quick, short passes with Lynch no doubt throwing on the move. But once a half, Musgrave should order up a deep shot to Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas. Hit one – just one – and it could be the difference.
2. Rediscover pass rush against Derek Carr
The most underrated problem with the Broncos this year is they no longer bring the heat on quarterbacks as they did the previous two years. This explains why linebackers, safeties and nickel backs are having tough days covering.
The Broncos are currently tied with Cleveland for 19th in the NFL with 22 sacks.
In their two seasons with DeMarcus Ware rushing from the edge opposite Von Miller and Wade
Phillips as defensive coordinator, the Broncos were tied for 3rd last year with 42 sacks and were ranked No. 1 in 2015 with 52.
One component working against the Broncos’ pass rush is they have been trailing in games far more than in past years. When leading, the opponent is forced to pass. When trailing, the opponent can run the ball or throw safe passes.
It won’t be easy sacking Carr as he’s only taken 11 this season. Only Drew Brees (10) and Case Keenum (7) have taken less among regular quarterbacks.
3. No silly chances
When a team gets desperate – and the Broncos are in a desperate state – the tendency is to take chances that often backfire. Even if the offense with its new quarterback goes through a run of three-and-outs, don’t be afraid to punt.
4. Show some fight
Tension is beginning to snap on the practice field. Now let’s see if Aqib Talib can snatch another chain off Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree. Most importantly, the defense must dig in if its offense or special teams commits a turnover that puts Denver in bad defensive field position. A stop after a turnover is not something the Denver defense has done well this season.
5. Work Booker, Charles as receivers
If the Broncos are ahead or tied, C.J. Anderson will get the ball. But if they fall behind, it makes sense for Lynch to throw to his backs. Devontae Booker has emerged as a fine receiver out of the backfield, as he’s fifth on the team with 18 catches despite missing the season’s first three games.
Jamaal Charles only has 13 catches in 10 games.
Let’s see if Musgrave does a better job of getting Charles the ball in space.
6. Block Khalil Mack
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year only has 5.5 sacks this season. He will get his chances against converted guard Allen Barbre at right tackle, and with Lynch’s tendency to hang on to the ball longer than veteran quarterbacks.
7. Cover Jared Cook
Quality receiving tight ends have had their way against the Broncos’ defense this season. Cook is fifth among NFL tight ends with 535 receiving yards off 41 catches.
8. Have fun playing in the rain
It’s supposed to start raining in Oakland at about 8 a.m. Sunday MST. Weather can be a great equalizer for underdogs. The season may stink for the Broncos but for one day, they can have fun playing a game of football.
9. Win turnover battle
The Broncos keep leading off their weekly press release with how they’ve won a league-best 31 consecutive games when they win the turnover battle.
In turn, this means the Broncos have been losing the turnover battle lately. The Broncos can afford one turnover in the muck and if that’s the case, the defense must come up two.