The Denver Broncos will look to extend their NFL record of consecutive divisional road wins this week, as they travel to take on the Oakland Raiders. A Broncos victory would extend their record to 14 straight.
For most of the last decade, and certainly since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver, the Broncos matchups with the Raiders were always circled as a 'gimme' win on the schedule. But a couple of decent drafts and a new coaching staff have the Raiders in a much better position in 2015.
At 4-0, the Broncos lead the AFC West. The 2-2 Raiders are tied for second place with San Diego. Technically, however, they're in the lead because they own the tiebreaker over the Chargers.
Oakland is coming off an embarrassing loss to the previously winless Chicago Bears. They had momentum going into Week 4 and really needed the win in order to be set up well within the AFC West, considering the Broncos were coming to town the next week.
Del Rio lost a heartbreaker to his former boss John Fox. With his former employer next up on the schedule, you can believe he's motivated to come out on top in a spite-win. The Raiders firmly believe they can contend with Denver now. We'll see on Sunday whether they're right.
Let's take a look at the 2015 Oakland Raiders and see if they can offer any prescient insight into what we might see in Week 5.
The Carr-to-Cooper Connection
Last season, the Raiders were the last-ranked offense in the NFL. The main culprit was their anemic rushing offense. Dead last. Their only saving grace was their passing offense, led by rookie quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr was the NFL's most prolific rookie signal caller in 2014, from a statistical perspective. He flashed tremendous arm talent and poise, at times. However, the coaching staff and talent around Carr ultimately limited how productive he could be.
A lot has changed since 2014. Jack Del Rio, former Broncos defensive coordinator, took the vacant head coaching job and started off his tenure in Oakland with a solid draft.
He leads all rookie receivers with 24 receptions (40 targerts), 339 yards and two touchdowns. He's in eleventh place in the NFL for receiveing yards, just behind Demaryius Thomas. Cooper's long was a 68-yard touchdown.
Carr has thrown the ball 123 times thus far. Cooper accounts for a whopping 32 percent of his targets. Michael Crabtree is Carr's next most common target, having earned 31 percent. The Raiders have climbed the charts and are currently ranked 15th in total offense as a result.
What we can glean from these statistics is that Carr is having success throwing outside. And he's more comfortable doing it. Last year, tight end Mychal Rivera was Carr's security blanket, earning 101 targets.
Rookie third round rookie TE Clive Walford, who showed tremendous playmaking ability all week at the Senior Bowl this past January, has yet to get involved in the Raiders offense. He's a tremendously gifted pass-catcher and when he does finally acclimate to the NFL, Carr will have two legit inside targets.
Crabtree can be a formidable weapon on his own, but in tandem with Cooper, these two receivers make up one of the better pass-catching duos in the AFC. The Broncos cornerbacks are coming off a bit of a disappointing game and will have their hands full with Carr and company.
Latavius Murray Keeping Defenses Honest
We talked about how poor the Raiders rushing offense was in 2014. Thanks to the efforts of Latavius Murray, they're finding success on the ground and it's helping Carr find his groove by keeping defenses guessing.
Murray ranks sixth in the NFL with 297 yards rushing and two touchdowns and has added 14 receptions on top of that. He's running well behind an offensive line that has also improved under Bill Musgrave and Mike Tice.
The entire left side of the offensive line is playing well. The addition of highly-sought after free agent center Rodney Hudson has helped stabilize a once porous Raiders O-line. They've allowed just five sacks this season.
With the exception of his 48-yard TD romp, the Broncos contained Adrian Peterson for much of last week's contenst. They'll get another tough matchup on the road with Murray and a revitalized O-line in Oakland.
Raiders Defense Still Trying To Forge An Identity
For all the improvements the Raiders offense has made in 2015, the defense has done the opposite. They've regressed. Although they were far from dominant in 2014 (No. 21), they've fallen to No. 31 in total team defense.
Their problem has been pass defense. They've been good against the run. But they're allowing an average of 310.5 passing yards per game. It's hard to sustain any kind of team success, giving up that much ground via the pass.
They have eight sacks as a team, led by Khalil Mack's three. But have managed only 59 total QB pressures (sacks, hits, hurries). Compared to the Broncos 101 total QB pressures, they've been left in the dust.
Arguably the biggest weakness for the Raiders is at cornerback. When QBs target Oakland's No. 1 corner, D.J. Hayden, they have a cumulative rating of 125.6. It gets a little better on the other side with T.J. Carrie (86.2), but it's still not anywhere close to dominant.
The strength of the Raiders defense is in their front seven. They're currently ranked three spots behind the Broncos in rushing defense, allowing 93.3 yards per game, good for No. 11.
This is a unit with a balanced mix of young talent and veteran experience. They're long in the tooth at a couple positions, but especially at safety. Charles Woodson is their best playmaker in the secondary and he's playing in his 18th season.
But the Raiders youth movement is led by Khalil Mack. With Aldon Smith joining the fold, they have two young, explosive edge players. If Smith can keep his nose clean, that will give Oakland something to build around on defense.
Gary Kubiak On The Brink Of 300
With a win in Oakland this week, Gary Kubiak would reach 300 combined wins as a player/assistant coach/head coach.
Daniels Looking To Keep Streak Alive
Broncos tight end Owen Daniels needs a catch in Week 5 to extend the NFL's longest active streak for consecutive games with at least one reception (107) by a tight end. He's currently neck-and-neck with Dallas TE Jason Witten.
Talib Fighting For King Of The Hill
With an interception in Week 5, Aqib Talib would pass Asante Samuel for most interceptions by a cornerback since he entered the NFL in 2008. Talib was on a hot streak, before turning in a stinker of a performance in Week 4.
Ware Climbing The All-Time Ladder
With a sack on Sunday, DeMarcus Ware would tie the great Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O'Neal (132.5) for eleventh place on the NFL's all-time sack list. Ware is the only player in the NFL to record a sack in each game this season.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.