Before I get too far into my predictions for the Raiders game, allow me a bit of a disclaimer. I am not the most football intelligent member of this community. I do understand the game and played in highschool. I don’t have time on Sundays to catch every game, so I rely upon the reports of others for the most part in staying current. As such, I am more prone to error than most that contribute here.
Earlier this week the Broncos suffered a devastating loss when Ryan Clady was placed on season ending injured reserve. This is probably the most significant injury the Broncos could have faced. The drop off in player quality between Ryan Clady and Chris Clark is probably the largest difference between starter and back up anywhere on the team, including the difference between Manning and Osweiler. The left tackle position is one of the three critical positions John Elway identified when he took the reigns. It went from a position of strength to a position of weakness.
Clark would not be on the roster if he were not a quality player. His two year contract extension tells us that Elway and the coaching staff have faith and confidence in this young player. He is not, however, anywhere near the caliber of player that he is replacing. Unless something really unexpected happens, the Broncos will have to account for Clark’s weaknesses the rest of the season. This will require more than a change of protection schemes. The entire offensive philosophy will be changed. Our first look at the NEW Denver Broncos will come on Monday night in front of a national audience.
DENVER ON DEFENSE
This is a week where the offense will be in transition. The defense will be tasked with winning this one as the offense concentrates on fitting Clark into the new system, or more accurately, redefining the offense to account for Clark.
Oakland is a very unbalance offense. They have used the read option to produce a top rushing offense, but have struggled mightily in the passing game. This game matches strength against strength. The Broncos have big bodies in ample supply to shut down anything inside all day long. Our line backers are quick and very intelligent. They will be disciplined at establishing the edge and reading keys in the option. Duke Ihenacho has developed into an outstanding run support safety. His read and reaction times are amazingly quick and accurate. Oakland might be the first team to gain over 100 yards on the ground against the Broncos, but it will likely take 40 or more attempts to do so.
Denver’s ability to shut down the running game will create a lot of passing situations. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they do not have the weapons to generate a passing attack. We do not need to worry about rushing the passer this week, because Oakland does not have a passer to rush. Discipline is the order of the day for the defense. Protect against the run at all times. Keep contain when Oakland does attempt to pass. Block well for the DB’s after the interceptions.
We will shut down the running attack. Oakland will eventually be forced to attempt to throw the ball. Our superior defensive backfield will dominate their inferior receivers and confuse Pryor. The net result is Oakland will face an unprecedented number of three and outs. I can easily see a game where Oakland does not generate a single first down before half time and may not convert a single third down the entire game. The Raiders may mass over 100 yards rushing, but are just as likely to fail to pass for 100. The mis-match is so significant that a shut out is not unlikely. Our defense may outscore our offense this week.
DENVER ON OFFENSE
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There has been a lot of frustration expressed over the conservative nature of John Fox. This week will drive a lot of you mad. The number one priority for this team is to keep Peyton Manning upright. Rather than change the protection scheme to give Clark some help, the Broncos are going to protect Manning by putting the ball in the hands of Monte Ball and Knowshon Moreno.
This game is not being played just to beat the Raiders, it is being played to slow down every defense the Broncos will face the rest of the year. We must have a potent rushing attack if we expect to win the Super Bowl without Ryan Clady. The detail and creativity that normally goes into finding favorable match ups for receivers is now going to be applied in earnest to blocking schemes and match ups for the running backs. Peyton Manning’s understanding of the game is going to be employed to audible from one running play at another to exploit any weakness along the line. Expect to see a lot of Virgil Green. Not only will he play TE, but he will spend a significant amount of time as a full back.
The Raiders have played good defense so far this year. We have so far struggled to establish a consistent running game. As a result, I expect to see a high number of three and outs and third and longs for the Broncos. Fox and Gase will stick with the running game throughout. The first half might prove to be painful to watch, but our infamous half time adjustments will pay dividends. The slowly played first half will give way to a very brisk pace in the third quarter, even though still run dominated.
We will be able to over commit to the running game by virtue of our defensive dominance. Our drives will primarily start near mid field. Oakland will start (and end) their drives around the 20 yard line.
Knoshon Moreno 18 carries for 95 yards 5.3 ypc
Monte Ball 16 carries for 50 yards 3.1 ypc 1 touchdown
Ronnie Hillman 5 carries for 20 yard - long of 16
Peyton Manning 22/30 no ints - not sacked - 1 TD
Final Score: Denver Offense 17 - Denver Defense 14 - Oakland Raiders 0