The Oakland Raiders (2-2) are gearing up to host AFC West division leading Denver Broncos. To get a closer look at the matchup, Chris McClain of Silver & Black Report caught up with Chad Jensen of Mile High Huddle to discuss the matchup. You can follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
Silver & Black Report: A lot has been made of who is actually calling the offense in Denver now with Gary Kubiak as the head coach. How has the chemistry developed betweenPeyton Manning and Kubiak?
Mile High Huddle: It's been slow. The Broncos started out the season really running Kubiak's true offense, but Manning struggled with the deep drop backs and other demands of playing under center. They met in the middle in Week 3, still focused on running the ball, but with Manning playing out of the pistol formation, which gave him more time to set his feet, make his reads and throw the ball.
They repeated that approach in Week 4 to great success. The Broncos finally broke the 100-yard rushing barrier and were more balanced in their offensive attack. Manning and Kubiak have both admitted that the offense is still a work in progress and they recognize the need for improvement.
We probably won't see this offense coalesce until at least half way through the season, which is a good thing. Under Peyton Manning, the Broncos have been known for getting out to hot starts, only to fizzle and fade down the stretch and into the playoffs. The hope is to be firing on all cylinders come December.
SBR: Former Cal running back CJ Anderson seemed to emerge as a top running back at the end of last season but seems to be struggling thus far. Why has he struggled? Will the Broncos lean towards more Ronnie Hillman as they take on the Raiders on Sunday?
MHH: Anderson's struggles have been caused by several things. One, he hasn't been healthy. He got banged up early in the preseason and the small nicks (knee, ankle) have definitely cost him some of his power and burst. The pressure of being the 'bell-cow' in the vaunted Kubiak rushing offense might have also taken it's toll on Anderson.
However, the Broncos O-line did him no favors early on in the season. The Broncos returned just one starter, RG Louis Vasquez, to the O-line starting unit this year. It's taken them time to gel as a unit, get on the same page with communication—all while learning and installing a new offense.
Last week, rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo missed the game with a shoulder. RT Ryan Harris moved over to his spot and Michael Schofield started at RT. The O-line improved. The mix-and-match aspect of assembling the right starting unit may have also set the rushing attack back, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them stick with this lineup on Sunday, even if Sambrailo is healthy.
Kubiak has stated that he is going to split carries between Anderson and Ronnie Hillman moving forward. Anderson will start, but the Raiders will get a healthy dose of Hillman, who rushed for 100+ yards last week and broke of a 72-yard touchdown run against a stout Vikings defense.
SBR: Denver's team has really evolved over the last three years or so and it appears that they rely on a phenomenal defense that is playing lights out. What makes that defense so good, and how will Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware look to get to quarterback Derek Carr?
MHH: Wade Phillips. The biggest and most influential offseason acquisition has been defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The Broncos are largely starting the same unit they did last year. Phillips' attacking 3-4 scheme, and his approach to scheming to player strengths, has unburdened this unit and has led to their dominant first quarter performance.
They're getting after the quarterback—with a vengeance. Miller and Ware have been relentless, living in the opposing backfield and it's led to many throws under duress. The Broncos have 101 QB pressures (sacks, hits, hurries) through four games. And the defensive backs are getting their hands on the ball. Finally getting Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan on the field together at ILB has also added a playmaking element that was missing last season.
Phillips' will keep the pressure on Carr all game long. Fortunately for the Broncos, because they have Miller and Ware, they don't have to blitz in order to get to the QB. Their D-line, led by Malik Jackson, have been big contributors in the pass rush, getting in the QB's face, leading to several sacks.
That doesn't mean Phillips won't dial up the blitz. He will. If the Raiders are to beat the Broncos, it will have to be because of Carr's ability to get the ball out quickly and not relent to pressure or make bad decisions. That will be a key to the Broncos defensive approach. Rattle the young guy.
SBR: Overall, how smoothly have the system changes gone in Denver after Coach John Fox was fired and Kubiak was brought in, including his replacements? What are some of the weaker spots on the team?
MHH: The defense has been seamless, but again, the offense is still a work in progress. Philosophy-wise, Kubiak has resonated with the Broncos inside the locker room. Malik Jackson talked earlier this week about how Kubiak "rejuvenated" the players and that has trickled down to every facet of the organization.
The weakness is the offensive line. They are susceptible to pressure and are still unproven in the rushing attack. The Raiders front seven, if they execute, can get in the backfield, pressure Manning and stop the run. Manning is still not totally comfortable behind his O-line. The Raiders can exploit that.
SBR: What will be the outcome of the game?
MHH: This one's hard for me, but I'm going Broncos 26, Raiders 24