For the first time in a while, the five-time defending AFC West champion Broncos are confronting a divisional showdown game.
The Raiders are 6-2 thanks to a 5-0 record on the road. The Broncos are 6-2 because that’s what they do: This is the fourth consecutive season they’ve been 6-2 or 7-1.
Here are 9 ways (and one bonus explanation) the Broncos can fly home with a one-game lead against the Raiders, half game advantage on the Kansas City Chiefs, who defeated Jacksonville today.
1.Replace Aqib Talib
With the Broncos playing on the Superdome artificial surface next week in New Orleans followed by a bye week, expect the Broncos’ star cornerback to be out with his disc injury until the Broncos play the Kansas City Chiefs in what may be another AFC West showdown on Nov. 27.
Talib will be essentially replaced by Lorenzo Doss against the high-powered Raiders’ aerial attack.
The Raiders have two very good receivers in Amari Cooper, who will probably be picked up by Bradley Roby, and Michael Crabtree, who is a good matchup for Chris Harris Jr., which would leave Doss to stay with Seth Roberts.
2. Block Khalil Mack
The Broncos have beat the Raiders eight of the past nine games. The exception was last December when Mack beat them with a 5-sack, second-half performance.
The Broncos picked up two new offensive tackles because of that game in Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung.
3. Captain Trevor
The Broncos’ first-year playing quarterback, Trevor Siemian, did not have a bad game last week against the San Diego Chargers. But he would have, had Charger defenders not dropped multiple passes into coverage. Siemian did wind up throwing a pick six in the fourth quarter that made the game close but he also came through with several long completions, 276 yards total, in keeping the Broncos ahead on the scoreboard.
Siemian was voted team captain this week by his teammates. It’s a big game for him to show last week’s decision-making was an aberration.
4. Bring the heat on Derek Carr
The Raiders’ improving quarterback was a check-down thrower in his rookie year of 2014 when he ranked 19th in passer rating. He ranked 13th in the league last year when he threw 32 touchdown passes against just 13 interceptions. This year he ranks No. 5 with 17 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions.
He’s only been sacked 9 times, easily the least among NFL quarterbacks who have started at least five games.
The Denver Defense, meanwhile, is tied with Buffalo for the NFL lead with 26 sacks. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe must rattle Carr off his game.
5. Match Raider Nation intensity
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio will not crimp his players from playing with emotion. Oakland hasn’t played a prime time game with such consequence, this late in the season, since their AFC Championship season of 2002.
That was 14 years ago.
The Broncos have played a big game every other week since the second half of the 2011 season. The Broncos can approach this game as business as usual, provided they also play with intensity and focus.
6. The view from up there
Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will coach from the coaches box to protect his broken left rib he sustained last week during a sideline collision. Perhaps from up there, Phillips can better see where he should send his fifth or even sixth pass rusher from. Not that he’s had trouble seeing the past 1 ½ seasons from down there.
The Raiders’ defense ranks 31st in the league by allowing 410.4 yards per game. They rank a more respectable 22nd in points allowed at 25.4 points per game.
The Broncos’ offense is 27th in total offense with 326.4 yards per game and 13th in scoring with 24.3 points per – in part because they have received three defensive touchdowns.
It won’t be easy for even the great Denver D to hold the Raiders to less than 20 points. The Broncos’ offense will have to generate 21 points on their own.
8. Run the ball
The Broncos were able to run the ball against Houston, which ranks 29th in rush defense. The Raiders are 28th. Denver running back Devontae Booker will have to find the holes tonight and perhaps Kapri Bibbs will get a few touches.
9. Stay disciplined
The Raiders committed an NFL-record 23 penalties last week at Tampa Bay. Those penalties accounted for 200 backward yards – one reason why Carr was able to throw for 513. There are ebbs and flows in every game. Even if the Broncos struggle for a time, they should know the Raiders may implode at any moment.
Bonus: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Ideally, and realistically, the Denver defense forces the Raiders into two turnovers and Siemian’s offense commits none. A shortened field has helped the Broncos generate enough points despite its struggles the past two seasons.