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Play To Win The Game - What The Broncos Have To Do To Beat The Raiders


Date: Sunday, September 16, 2007

Time: 4:00 p.m. ET

Teams: Oakland Raiders (0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0)

Location: Invesco Field @ Mile High -- Denver, CO

Weather Forcast: 84 degrees, Isolated T-Storms, 20% chance of rain


The thrill of the win in Buffalo has nearly subsided as we get set for a huge AFC West match-up, and yes, all AFC West games are huge.  Simply put, last week's win won't mean a whole lot if the Broncos cannot back it up by winning their home opener against their arch rival.  Let's take a look at this game, break it down a bit, and figure out exactly what the Broncos need to do to wake up Monday morning 2-0.

1.  Re-Establish Dominance At Home -- The Broncos have always been one of footballs best home teams.  In September, they are almost unbeatable.  Since 2002, the Broncos have won nine straight home games in September, last losing to the Ravens in 2001.  Against the AFC West, the Broncos have been just as hard to beat, owning a 16-3 record against the division at Invesco.  Under Mike Shanahan, the Broncos are a solid 35-8 at home against the West.  All those trends need to continue.  Over the next 7 calendar weeks, the Broncos will play 6 football games.  5 of those are home games.  With the Broncos finishing a disappointing 4-4 at the friendly confines in 2006, it is imperative that the team get off to a solid start at home, piling up the victories before a road-heavy second half of the season.  The difference between a 13-3 season like 2005 and a 9-7 season in 2006 is winning games at home.  Creating an environment at Invesco that opposing teams are intimidated by is a key to the Broncos' success in 2007 and I look for Shanny to be aggressive right from the start to try and create some "Mile High Magic".

Invesco Needs To Intimidate the Opposition

2.  Continue The Dominance Of The Raiders -- Few things bring a sparkle to the eye of Mike Shanahan like beating his old team.  After getting fired after only 20 games, and claiming the walking corpse still owes him money, Shanahan has made it a personal vendetta to beat the Raiders ever chance he gets.  Since 1995, Shanny is 19-5 against the Charcoal and Gray, an incredible 10-2 at home.  Fact is, everyone in the AFC West is beating down the Raiders, who haven't won a Divisional game since 2004 - 16 straight.  All those trends need to continue this weekend.  As hard as it is for me to say, Lane Kiffen has this team heading into the right direction and the offense should improve as the season wears on, but their psyche is fragile.  Make some plays happen early, cause some turnovers, get a lead, and the Raiders should fold.  Allow them to hang around, turn the ball over, and fall behind and the Raiders will make it a long afternoon.   A plus working in the Broncos favor is the injury to Josh McCown.  He had a huge day against the Lions last week, but will be unable to go because of a foot injury.  That leaves Daunte Culpepper, the human fumble machine, to make his first start in a year.  That's a downgrade, folks, especially behind that O-Line.  More on that to come.

3.  When The Broncos Have The Ball -- Perhaps lost a bit in all the hoopla of last Sunday's win was the solid debut of Travis Henry.  Getting the lion's share of carries, Henry exhibited exactly what we were looking for - tough, hard-nosed running that seemed to get stronger as the game wore on.  Henry was also effective catching the ball out of the backfield which will be key to slowing down a solid Raiders pass-rush.  While the Broncos have dominated the series, statistically they haven't exactly been stellar.  It's been over 2 years since the Broncos had a 100-yard rusher against the Raiders, the last being Reuben Droughns in November, 2004.  Some of that could be attributed to a "running back by committee" approach the Broncos have used the past couple of years, but with Henry being "the man" in '07 it will be important that the Broncos dictate tempo and establish the running game as a major player.  

With Derrick Burgess and Warren Sapp leading the way, the Raiders have an above average D-Line and solid linebackers that tackle well, making big plays hard to come by.  The secondary is solid as well, led by Michael Huff and Stuart Schweigart in the back.  The Broncos need to take what the Raiders give them.  Last week was a great start, with the Broncos having a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver.  While it's been a while since the Broncos have had a running back eclipse the century mark, it's been awhile in the other categories as well.  Ashley Lelie was the last receiver to have a 100 yard day against the Raiders, doing it three different times, the last coming on Dec. 24, 2005.  Javon Walker may change that this week, but I have a hunch that one of the two Brandon's, Marshall or Stokely, could have a huge day with the Raiders rolling coverage over to Walker's side.  This is the best the Broncos receiving corps has looked since Smith, McCaffrey and Sharpe roamed the sidelines and give the Broncos 3 legitimate targets, and that's not counting Daniel Graham.

Walker Will Be Closely Guarded

Jay Cutler will have opportunities to make plays, though matching his huge day in Buffalo could be a tough task.  The Broncos haven't had a 300-yard passer against the Raiders since John Elway in October, 1997.  Almost 10 years.  To be honest, if the Broncos are having success doing what they want to do, Cutler shouldn't see many 300-yard days, and that would be just fine with me, and to Shanny for that matter.  What Cutler cannot do is to try and force the action.  His record at Invesco is 1-2, and it's not a coincidence that in the two losses he has thrown costly interceptions, two of which found their way in the end-zone.  Last Sunday Cutler threw another bad pick late in the first half whit the Broncos already in position to take the lead.  While it didn't cost the Broncos last week, those types of mistakes are often fatal in a football game, especially within the division.   All is part of the learning process, however, and while watching Jay's progress and growth I definitely need to keep the defibrillator handy.

4.  When the Raiders Have The Ball -- The stars of the past 4 seasons for the Brocnos have definitely been the defense.  The Broncos have gone 7-1 against the Raiders since 2003, with the Broncos allowing an average of 10.3 points per game over the 8 contests.  Even more impressive has been the run defense, which has allowed a paltry 66-yards per game.  In four of the games the Broncos have held the Raiders to single-digit scoring, and the Broncos have forced at least 2 turnovers in 7 straight games.  I look for more of the same on Sunday, with Culpepper being a bit rusty and the defense looking to show the home crowd that the pre-season was just an illusion.   It all starts up-front, of course, and I think we saw a glimpse of what the D-Line is capable of last week.  Elvis Dumervil is going to be a force, and I see a multiple-sack game for him on Sunday.  His bull-rush technique is right up there with the best in the game, and if he can add more moves to his stable he is going to be a dangerous pass-rusher.  The perfect player to show him those moves is Simeon Rice, who proved last week that he still has a lot left in the tank.  When he gets into football shape, watch out!  Sam Adams is still a force in the run game, and keep your eyes on Marcus Thomas, who quietly had himself a nice game in Buffalo.  Oh yeah, and Tim Crowder is healthy.  This group should be able to get to Culpepper, who isn't nearly as mobile as he once was.  Kiffen was running a lot of bootlegs with McCown last Sunday trying to protect him, but Culpepper will not afford him that luxury.  He should be a stationary target, which means a lot of screen passes and 3 step drops in order for Culpepper to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry.

Culpepper Gets The Call Sunday

The one disappointment I had last Sunday with the Defense was at Linebacker.  I thought D.J. Williams had a solid game in the middle, especially for his first full game, but I cannot be as positive about Ian Gold.  Only one tackles the entire game and at least 3 misses continues what started as a bad stretch of games last season.  Gold might be nearing the end of the rope in Denver, and this week's signing of Jamie Winborn is something to keep your eyes on.  Nate Webster is what he is on the other side, and while his energy is a positive for the D, it also gets him out of position at times.  The Raiders will probably try to use the aggressiveness of the LBs against them, running a lot of play-action and misdirection, trying to open up running and passing lanes for big plays.  The Broncos will have to be aware of the screen pass as well, with LaMont Jordan catching 9 passes last week for 89 yards.  Lane and gap discipline will be a huge key this Sunday, especially early when the adrenaline is pumping.

If the LB play was a bit of a disappointment and concern, the play of the secondary was as good as it gets.  The Bills, much to the chagrin of their fans, wanted no part challenging Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, choosing instead to dink and dunk down the field.  I don't expect the same this week, with Kiffen being a strong offensive mind who likes to attack.  The Raiders will take their shots, with the key matchup coming between Bly and WR Ronald Curry.  Curry had a huge game last week against the Lions, catching 10 balls for 133 yards.  Curry has the ability to get down-field, yet is a good enough route runner to make plays in the middle of the field as well.  That match-up will be one to watch all-day.  That said, there will be opportunities to make plays and grab some turnovers as well, with Culpepper never being known as a QB that protected the football.  The Broncos need to take advantage of those chances, and should with two of the best in the NFL at grabbing INT's on the corners.  It is looking less and less likely that Domonique Foxworth will play on Sunday due to an ankle injury, though I felt Jeff Shoate had a solid, if not spectacular game, in Buffalo.  Of course, John Lynch is John Lynch, and I am sure he'll make a big play at the perfect time.

5.  What I Think Will Happen -- Some could say that some of the luster in this rivalry has been lost.  While beating up on the Raiders sure is fun I have to admit that life is that much more interesting when the Raiders are playing well.  A small part of me wants that.  Until then, however, I'll just keep enjoying our dominance over Al Davis and his band of so-called football players.  The Broncos rarely lose at home in September; the Broncos rarely lose to the Raiders.  Two great tastes that goes great together.  While Jay Cutler is going to make mistakes I just don't feel the uncertainty about the offense that I felt with Jake Plummer at the helm.  To me, Cutler, and the offense for that matter, is more of a known commodity now.  Last week, on the road, in a tough environment, the offense went three and out times.  That's right, the Broncos, in their 10 possessions, never went three and out.  That is offensive consistency, and if the Broncos do that sort of thing every week the points will come, I guarantee it.  Travis Henry will have another big day, becoming the first Broncos RB to rush for 100 yards against the Raiders since 2004, and Brandon Marshall will continue to blossom into the stud receiver we all think he'll become.  Look for Daniel Graham to get into the action as well.

On defense, the D-Line is going to get after Culpepper and force him to make quick decisions, something he is not known for.  The Raiders will try and counter using draw plays and screens, but the strength of Culpepper's game is to try and go vertical.  Too bad for him Randy Moss left before he arrived.  Dumervil and Rice are going to have a solid day and the Broncos should get 4 or 5 sacks.  LaMont Jordan will run hard, but the Broncos should have a lead to neutralize his impact.  Turnover opportunities will be there and the Broncos need to take advantage.  
The Broncos just have too much, and have a history of playing well at home early in the season.  2-0, here we come!!!

Broncos 28 - Raiders 10

The Broncos Should Smash The Raiders....Again