Much attention toward the Denver Broncos offseason moves were geared toward the offense but its Denver's third-ranked defense in the NFL that has kept the team within striking distance of front-running San Diego in the AFC West.
The Broncos (5-2) were 8-8 and out of the playoffs last year but enter Monday night's matchup against Oakland (4-4) only ½-game behind San Diego (6-2). Denver made 16 player additions in the offseason (eight via the draft and eight more in free agency); nine were on offensive and seven defensively. Three of those offensive players (tackle Ephraim Salaam, running back Clinton Portis, and tight end Shannon Sharpe) are starters and one more (wide receiver Ashley Lelie) is a key backup. Defensively, tackle Lional Dalton and safety Izell Reese are starters and tackle Monsanto Pope is a backup.
The Broncos offense has not disappointed in climbing from No. 22 last season to fifth this year. Denver's defense, however, has joined the elite status in jumping from No. 8 to No. 3, including tops against the run.
"That's something you never see," Raiders starting right tackle Lincoln Kennedy said. "Trevor is playing very well. You have to admire someone who can move from inside to outside."
The Broncos also have impressive speed at linebacker with Ian Gold, Al Wilson and John Mobley. Denver threw a wrinkle at the Raiders in last year's 23-17 loss at Denver. The Broncos often rushed two defenders and dropped nine into coverage. Quarterback Rich Gannon completed his first 16 passes of the game but turnovers and penalties ultimately hurt Oakland."It was something different," Gannon said. "We had a plan in place for it during the week. We weren't getting big throws but we were moving the chains."