I don't care who you are — when the Raiders are good, it makes being a football fan and a fan of this matchup, that much more compelling.
Every hero needs his nemesis and vice versa. Dating back to their first meeting in the old American Football League, back on October 2, 1960, Broncos-Raiders has been one of the marquee rivalries in professional football.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-get-si-subscription-with-... The vitriol and passion has died off somewhat over the last 13 years, because Oakland hasn't been able to muster a season over .500. But with the NFL's best young quarterback and arguably the best offensive line in the game, they have begun to turn the corner.
Oakland is re-learning how to win.
They might be 6-2, but they haven't beaten a team with a winning record. By the same token, however, the only team currently above .500 the Broncos have defeated are the Houston Texans.
Translation; both the Broncos and the Raiders still have a lot to prove.
Yes, the Broncos are the defending World Champs. But that was so last year.
With a new quarterback, C.J. Anderson on injured reserve and a defense missing several key pieces, there are still many unanswered questions about the 2016 Broncos. This AFC West showdown on Sunday Night Football should offer some clarity on where these two ball clubs currently stand.
What will it take for the Broncos to come out on top? Let's get to the keys.
Will The Real Trevor Siemian Please Stand Up?
No matter which way you cut it, Trevor Siemian has exceeded expectations. Because the Broncos are so talented across the board, and accomplished as a team, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Siemian is only in his second year.
In seven career starts, he's 6-1. On the surface, that's a record to get hyped up about. However, when you dig a little deeper, you realize that Siemian still has a long way to go.
And that's okay. Rome — or Denver — wasn't built in a day. You've heard that one before, right?
Cliches are cliches — and spouted regularly, especially in football — because they're true. We can't expect a player starting just his eighth NFL game to resemble Peyton Manning in his prime.
But we can expect him to show improvement on a week-to-week basis. For the first quarter of the season, we could see and measure Siemian's growth as a quarterback with each passing game. Ever since he injured his left shoulder, however, he's been in a kind of QB limbo.
The best he's looked since Week 5 at Tampa was in Week 7 vs. Houston. But the Broncos rushed for 190 yards that day, which goes to show just how important a viable running game is to a young signal-caller.
Siemian's best individual performance came in Week 3 at Cincinnati, where he passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns. That was seemingly an outlier.
For Siemian to be successful, the opposing defense must fear the running game, or at least fear the threat of the running game. Last week vs. San Diego, the Broncos managed just 57 rushing yards, putting the onus on Siemian.
So far, we've seen that Siemian hasn't been able to shoulder the load of said onus. However, in the most hostile of hostile environments — the Black Hole — Siemian needs to prove that he can put the team on his back.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1724089-inside-the-matchup-bronco... Earlier this week, his teammates voted him a team captain for the second half of the season. That distinction was marred, somewhat, by Head Coach Gary Kubiak publicly criticizing Siemian for the first time this year. Kubiak's remarks came on a question asking why he decided to go for it on fourth down, rather than attempt a 65-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.
"I spoke with Trevor during the game; he has to give us a chance to make that play," Kubiak said. "It’s fourth down. It’s not like a miss right there does us any good so give us a chance to make that play, so that’s what I was trying to talk to him about after the play.”
Kubiak didn't necessarily rip his young QB. But he did make it clear that he was disappointed by certain aspects of Siemian's performance in Week 8.
If Siemian is a competitor, which I believe he is, Kubiak's words will fire him up. That's a good thing. Most NFL coaches are very savvy when it comes to their public remarks. There's a reason Kubiak chose that place and time to take the gloves off, so to speak.
With half a season in the rearview, Kubiak wants to see improvement from his second-year starter. Some of the small things Siemian can do to improve include pushing the ball down the field, trusting his Pro Bowl receivers more, and stop being afraid to challenge the defense.
When it's 3rd-&-7, Siemian can't throw a three-yard checkdown. He has to try to pick up the first down. Now, that doesn't mean he should throw into coverage. But it does mean he has to read the field better and have confidence in his teammates at the skill positions.
"He has seven starts under his belt and there’s going to be eight more big ones coming up here so he’s got to keep improving.”
I agree with Kubiak. Siemian has been in the midst of some real, live NFL bullets. And he's done a lot of good things, but he has to consistently show improvement.
Will Siemian rise to the occasion in the Black Hole? We'll know soon enough.
Offensive Line Must Step Up
On this week's edition of the Huddle Up Podcast, Luc Polglaze and I discussed Denver's O-line in depth. As a football coach and a scout, I asked Luc what it's going to take for the O-line to turn the ship around and whether we should just come to terms with the fact that this is as good as they're going to get as a group. You can listen to the episode for his answer.
But it's a fair question. After two very strong games to open the season, the Broncos O-line has been the epitome of inconsistent. Untimely holding calls, poor communication, a lack of execution — so far it's been a very unfunny comedy of errors for Clancy Barone's group.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1721491-is-matt-paradis-the-nfl-s... Center Matt Paradis has been the one player exempt from criticism. He remains Denver's beacon in the storm.
Inside, guards Max Garcia and Michael Schofield have shown a penchant for taking one huge step forward, then two back. The problem is that everything Gary Kubiak wants to do as an offense hinges on the O-line executing.
When the rushing attack fails to average more than three yards per carry at home, that's on the O-line. When Trevor Siemian is consistently getting hit on three and four-man rushes, that's on the O-line.
The Broncos offense is ranked in the bottom third of almost every major statistical category in the NFL. And I hate to say it, but that's on the O-line.
The best running backs in the league are able to create at times even when the O-line isn't opening up holes. But C.J. Anderson is gone and now Devontae Booker, a rookie, has to run behind this unit. Unless they show some major improvement, that doesn't bode well for Booker and the Broncos rushing attack.
Oakland fields the No. 28 rushing defense. The last time the Broncos faced a sub-par rushing defense (Houston, Week 7), they ran for almost 200 yards. But that was at home.
If Denver's O-line can gather themselves and refocus this week, they have a great opportunity to get back on track. Oakland is ripe for exploitation on the ground. And Booker has recovered well from his shoulder injury this week.
But Mack, Irvin, and the entire Oakland defense is struggling immensely to pressure the QB. They have just 11 sacks on the season. If Denver allows Oakland to pressure Siemian with a four-man rush, this game could go very badly.
But if Denver's O-line can play up to their talent level, Siemain could pick apart Oakland's 27th-ranked passing defense and Booker could run for big yardage. Denver's offensive fortunes rest on the O-line. However they perform, so goes the entire offense.
Put Derek Carr On His Back
Denver's 26 sacks through eight games are most in the league. But Oakland's offensive line are as good as it gets. They've allowed only nine sacks on Derek Carr — that's about one sack per game allowed.
When Denver was tasked with taking down Cam Newton and battling Carolina's O-line in Super Bowl 50, most pundits predicted the matchup as the unstoppable force falling short against the immovable object.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1723921-evaluating-denver-s-3-mid... We know what happened. It was open season on Newton and the Broncos defense did it again in Week 1, sacking Newton three times and hitting him incessantly.
The last time the Broncos faced the Raiders, they sacked Carr three times. He finished with a 41.3 completion percentage. But they still won the game, thanks to Khalil Mack's extraordinary performance against then right tackle Michael Schofield.
This time around, however, the battle will go down in Oakland. The Raiders have the homefield advantage and it's up to the Broncos defense to wrest it away.
Halfway through the season, Carr is in the MVP conversation. He's thrown 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He's been absolutely phenomenal and is slinging the rock as well as anybody in the NFL right now.
But he's yet to contend with a pass rush as ubiquitous and relentless as Denver's. Oakland will try to counter Denver's aggression with their running game. And they could have some success — Denver is ranked No. 24 against the run.
Oakland will run some screens and some slant routes. They'll try to keep Carr's drop-backs short. But if Denver can limit the running game on first and second down and force Oakland into 3rd-&-long situations, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will feast.
Carr has been very efficient this year and he's protected the ball well. But as we've seen in the past, when put under pressure and hit consistently, he has a penchant for turning the ball over.
With how good Oakland's O-line is, it's easier said than done. But expect the Broncos to bring the pressure and blitz Oakland's young gunslinger regularly.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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