The Denver Broncos spent the first couple of days of week 10 licking their wounds, trying to figure out what went wrong against the New England Patriots. However, 43-21 was last week. This week, the Broncos are on the road again. This time, they'll travel to take on AFC West Divisional foe, the Oakland Raiders.
Last week, the Broncos failed to hit on the keys to victory. This most glaring being their inability to stop Rob Gronkowski. We also mentioned last week that eventually, the kicking game chickens are going to come home to roost. When the Broncos needed Brandon McManus to come through, he doinked one off the upright. They didn't trust him again the rest of the game.
Against the Raiders, it's not very likely that the Broncos will need to rely on the kicker to ice the game. Since Manning came to Denver, the Broncos have outscored the Raiders 134-54, through 4 meetings. That's means that the Broncos beat the Raiders by an average margin of 20 points. Manning will look to get back on track on Sunday.
Obviously, on the road, the Broncos will have to protect the quarterback, win the turnover differential, execute and establish a running game. Most of the time, that goes without saying. After focusing on the Raiders all week, here are 3 specific keys to the Broncos winning handily in week 10.
Bring The Blitz
The Raiders brain-trust decided to go with rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, to begin the season, over the veteran Matt Schaub. At 0-8, I highly doubt that they'd have any extra notches in the win column, had they started the vet. But that's neither here nor there.
Carr is the man. And as a rookie, he's performed admirably on a struggling team. On the season, he's completed 60.7% of his passes, for 1,711 yards, 11 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. He has, for the most part, protected the ball. And his TD to INT ratio is impressive, considering his situation.
He is a phenomenal arm talent. And it's my belief that eventually, Carr will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. In the meantime, he's going through the typical learning curve of a rookie quarterback. His forte, thus far, has been the deep ball and the screen game.
Although the Raiders offensive line has been putrid in run blocking, they've been stellar in protecting Carr, surprisingly. He's only been sacked 9 times, the same amount as Peyton Manning, which ranks second-best in the NFL.
It can be argued that with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware on the edges, defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, doesn't need to dial up the blitz. But on the contrary, the Broncos have the talent in the secondary to win one-on-one matchups in coverage. If the Broncos bring more hats than the offensive line can handle, and do it creatively, Carr will crack and eventually turn the ball over.
The Raiders will try to counter the Broncos aggression by sucking them in and throwing screens, both to the WR and RB. The Broncos defense, primarily the defensive tackles, will have to be alert for such screens, and swarm.
Typically, the defensive tackles are responsible for reading and covering the running back in potential screen attacks. Terrance Knighton and company must play disciplined football. If they can, Carr and the Raiders could have a very long day.
Shut Down The Tight End
All season long, the Broncos defense has struggled to contain the opposing offense's tight end. Guys like Antonio Gates, Gronkowski and even Jace Amaro, have had productive days against them. This has been an area of weakness for this defense, ever since Del Rio joined the coaching staff.
And there's no excuse for it, with how much talent John Elway has loaded the secondary with. The Broncos currently sport 3 players who have either been to a Pro Bowl, or who play at that level; Chris Harris, Jr, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.
Luc Polglaze recently pointed out the Broncos failures in defending the tight end in a film room breakdown. Using the combination of a linebacker bracketing underneath, like Brandon Marshall, or Corey Nelson, and a defensive back, like Ward or Moore, over the top, has not consistently provided a solution to the tight end. It comes down to execution, or lack thereof.
The Broncos are missing their best coverage linebacker in Danny Trevathan. He's currently on injured reserve-with designation to return, but he won't be back on the field for many more weeks. Marshall has been a revelation thus far and has really bailed out this defense. He's been great in defending the run and notching tackles, but he has to improve as a cover-man.
Mychal Rivera, the Raiders tight end, has caught 15 balls, for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns, over the last two weeks. He and Carr have great chemistry and have been the only real bright spots on offense. If the Broncos can shut down this connection, I can't see the Raiders having any success on offense.
Attack the Corners
The Raiders spent some money, over the off-season, to bring in two former San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks; Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. Neither player has been very impressive thus far. Rogers has a cumulative rating of -3.6 via ProFootballFocus, while Brown has fared slightly better with -1.2. Thye have a grand total of zero interceptions between them.
Brown has been targeted in coverage 32 times, relinquishing 21 receptions, good for 65.6 completion percentage. Rogers is allowing a completion 84.6% of the time. Combined, quarterbacks have a collective rating (QBR) of 111.4 when targeting these two players. Manning has a great opportunity to exploit them on Sunday.
In particular, I don't see anyone in the Raiders secondary who can contain the speed and quick twitch of Emmanuel Sanders. Last week, he and Demaryius Thomas each had 100+ yard games. I could see that happening again, which would extend Thomas' franchise record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games to 6 straight.
Manning has to attack these corners down-field. As solid has the Raiders defense has been thus far, they aren't equipped, from a scheme, or talent perspective, to stop the Broncos offense. Julius Thomas has been quiet, over the last few games. Like Manning, he'll be looking to dominate on Sunday too.