I cautioned it when these two teams met in Week 5 and I will do so again; the Oakland Raiders are dangerous. And they're led by a guy in Jack Del Rio who would love nothing more than to steal one from John Elway and throw a wrench in the Denver Broncos post-season plans.
The Raiders are 5-7 and the Broncos are 10-2. Del Rio's squad still has a chance to finish with a winning season and as the current No. 10 seed, they're still within striking distance of a Wildcard spot, if they can win out. That's easier said than done, facing a team built to win down the stretch, like the Broncos.
Regardless, the Raiders still have something to play for. The door has yet to slam on them. The Broncos will get Oakland's best shot. Let's get to the keys to victory.
Todd Davis Must Have The Game Of His Life
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But there's no doubt that the Broncos defense is vulnerable up the middle, and they have been all season. DT Sylvester Williams has been solid, and Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall have been tackling machines, but when teams have chosen to pound the rock inside, they've had success.
With Trevathan ruled out this week (concussion), Todd Davis will get the start. Wade Phillips is switching it up a little on gameday. Marshall, who's played the middle linebacker spot (Mike), will move over to Trevathan's spot at the 'Mo', while Davis steps in at the 'Mike'.
“I’ll be playing the ‘MO’ position," Marshall said Friday. "Todd will move into my position and I will move into Danny’s position, so I’ll just [be] playing the weakside inside linebacker. My responsibilities will change. How I play the defense will change a little bit, but it’s almost all relative, but it’s really not. It’s kind of different. It’s a little different.”
Confused? Don't be.
It's a wise choice, because Davis is a thumper and excels in the box. Where he struggles is in pass coverage. Marshall should help overcome that side of things. But if I'm the Raiders, and I know that Sly Williams is banged up and might not even play, and that an inexperienced guy is starting at 'Mike' linebacker, I'm going to commit to running the ball up the gut.
T.J. Ward will also miss this game and David Bruton is questionable. Latavius Murray has had some success inside, but Jamize Olawale or Marcel Reece would likely be the better option. It'll be interesting to see how the Raiders scheme, and if their approach changes, with all the injuries on the Broncos defensive side of the ball.
Get Up On The Raiders Early
It's important for Brock Osweiler and the Broncos offense to put points on the board early and put the onus on Derek Carr to answer. Gary Kubiak's team doesn't need to hang 38 on every opponent, but getting out to an early lead is paramount.
Against a young, risk-taking gunslinger like Carr, playing with the lead plays right into the hands of Wade Phillips' squad. Last week, the Broncos were able to get out to a 14-0 lead in San Diego and it put Philip Rivers in a precarious position. Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray were able to pin their ears back and rush the QB.
It resulted in three Bronco takeaways and four sacks. We've seen how Carr operates under pressure. He's a phenomenal arm talent and arguably the best young QB in the NFL, but under pressure, he cracks like the sidewalk. Last week, Osweiler orchestrated a beautiful touchdown drive to open the game.
But then he fell flat.
This week, consistency and ball security will be the name of the game. Don't take unneccessary risks. Play within yourself and the scheme, and for heaven sakes, don't hold onto the ball too long. One thing Osweiler learned from Peyton Manning, it seems, is to never simply throw the ball away.
Kubiak would much prefer that than a throw into coverage. This Raiders defense is ranked No. 25, but they're better than their stats reflect. They held the Broncos to just 16 points last time they met and took the ball away twice.
There's a chance C.J. Anderson will miss this game. But even if he does, expect to see the Broncos continue to establish the running game. Getting out to an early lead also allows Kubiak to lean on the rushing attack.
Take strategic shots downfield, and put points on the board early. If Osweiler and company can do that, I have a hard time seeing Carr overcome such a relentless, ball-hawking defense.
Take Khalil Mack Out Of The Game
Even though Oakland knew it was coming, losing Aldon Smith to a season-ending suspension has hurt them more than many realize. Their only dynamic pass rush comes from which ever side Khalil Mack lines up on, which is mostly the strongside, over RT, like Von Miller. Mario Edwards, Jr. has come on strong lately as well, it bears noting.
Even still, Mack has been on fire of late. He has nine sacks on the season and four of them have come in the last two games. Kubiak has to find a way to scheme Mack out of the game. Utilizing 12-personnel and double teaming him with an extra tight end in passing situations, even if it's a momentary chip to impede his momentum off the snap, will be paramount.
Mack is one of the league's best young sack artists. But he's also one of the best run-defending linebackers in the game. The Broncos will try to run away from him, whenever possible. In pass protection, however, I like the Broncos ability to match up with everyone else the Raiders rush one-on-one, although Edwards will be one to watch.
The Broncos O-line has really gelled over the last three weeks under Osweiler, because they're able to actually run Kubiak's system — and utilize all the techniques they've been trained on going back to spring. The only exception has been Michael Schofield, who happens to play right tackle and will line up, more often than not, against Mack.
Schofield has struggled of late and it is of the utmost importance that Kubiak finds a way to help him in his battle with Khalil Mack. Schofield kept Mack from sacking Peyton Manning in Week 5, but the second-year tackle won't have the benefit of that lightning quick release this time around.
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.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.