DENVER — There was pressure on head coach Vic Fangio to get the Broncos off to a fast start, as in no worse than 2-1.
The Broncos started 3-0. Now, after losing back-to-back games to AFC North traditional powers Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Fangio and the Broncos are seemingly confronting a must-win game Sunday against the rival Las Vegas Raiders.
Not only because the Raiders are an AFC West Division opponent, but because the Raiders have lost their leader under unseemly circumstances. The timing of the Raiders’ coaching demise was perfect for the Broncos. They must take advantage and beat the Raiders and they will if they follow these 5 suggestions:
1. Disrespect the substitute teacher
The Raiders were on a 14-season, 24-2-2 run against the Broncos until the 1977 opener when Tom Jackson, the Broncos’ wildly aggressive outside linebacker, got up from a turnover along the enemy sideline and yelled at Oakland head coach John Madden, “Take that, fat man.” Or so Madden recalled in his autobiography.
It was that type of disregard for the bully Raiders that helped the Broncos turn the rivalry in their favor. The Raiders lost head coach Jon Gruden to a forced resignation this week amid the discovery of insulting and insensitive e-mails he had written to Washington general manager Bruce Allen from 2011-18. Special teams coordinator Rich Bassacia is the Raiders’ interim head coach.
The Broncos cannot lose to a substitute teacher, no matter how qualified he may be.
2. Protect Teddy
This has been a key for going on the past three games and the reason the point continues is the Broncos’ front has not been executing the recommendation. Raiders’ defensive end Maxx Crosby, who will line up across from struggling right tackle Bobby Massie, is of special concern.
3. Pass first, then run
The Broncos have been slow starters. They have scored just 13 points combined in the first quarters of their five games – easily their least productive 15 minutes. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur tried to establish a running game early against Pittsburgh last week and got snuffed out. It makes sense to open up the offense early this week with play-action passes. And by the way, you don’t have to run first to set up play-action.
4. Two deep
The Broncos, more specifically cornerback Kyle Fuller, have been burned by the deep pass this year and the Raiders have a burner in Henry Ruggs III. Better keep safety Justin Simmons deep and maybe his partner Kareem Jackson, too. Fuller is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Ronald Darby, who returns after he missed the previous four games with a hamstring injury. Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr is known for getting rid of the ball quickly, which means Von Miller and the front will have a difficult time generating an effective pass rush. The defense in this game is about coverage.
5. Win one for Shanny
Former coach Mike Shanahan is getting honored at halftime as the 34th member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame. Shanahan detests the Raiders, going back to when he was fired by late-owner Al Davis and then was allegedly stiffed from his due pay. Can’t lose to the Raiders on Shanahan Day.