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MHR Chalk Talk -- Week 12 - Oakland at Denver





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As I write this report, I'm battling some kind of illness that MHR's own Dr. BroncoBear needs to look into.  I seem to be suffering from something that is a cross between ebola, anthrax, and the bubonic plague.  Fever, vomiting, stomach cramping, swollen lymph glands, headache, and the worst sore throat ever.  For that reason, this is the hardest final draft I've written for MHR.  One thing keeps me from crawling into bed and resigning myself to an engagement with my Lord and Maker however...

That's right Baby....

It's time for the epic good versus evil match-up that we've all been waiting for.  Yep.  Twice a year the Heavens and the bowels of Hell open up to cast forth the armies of rightousness (the Denver Broncos) and the demons of darkness (the Oakland Raiders).  To some of the more unbalanced fans in our midst, these two games hold more significance than even the Superbowl itself.  But to all of us, something in the fabric of time, space, dimension, and destiny has gone awry if Denver doesn't manage to beat the grotesque, morbid henchmen of the dark overlord himself, Darth Al Davis.

And so dear readers, come with me into MHR's Chalk Talk this week as we break down the match-up between the angels and the demons, and see why good should triumph over evil, or (Heaven Forbid!) why evil has an apple's chance in Eden.

Read on...

oakland vs. Denver  Go to fullsize image

We've come a long way since the first game of the season, where we beat the Raiders by a score of 41 to 14.  We've taken a decent lead in the AFC West, while the Raiders have the potential to finish worse that their 4-12 record of last year the last few years.

How bad have things gotten for the Raider Nation?  Look for yourself!  Saint is a class act, and you have to feel compassion for a guy whose football world is in total collapse.  One to four days go by in between fanposts (none with recommendations), and the news just gets worse and worse (the admission that Javon Walker was a bust, and the Broncos were right / too much money spent on MeAngelo Hall /  yes, Al Davis really is the cause of the franchise deathof the Raiders).

In the meantime, while not in the La La Land of MHR stalwarts Zappa and Mike Clark heading to 13-3, the Broncos are very likely heading to the playoffs this year, and not as some wildcard team.

Yep.  Things look really nice from over here in Land.  And while I pick Denver to win this game in a big way, no good coach would look at the match-up and call this a gimee.  No really.  There are some match-up issues to look at.  (C'mon folks.  I'm trying to keep a straight face).


 There are a lot of match-ups to consider in this game.  Some are scheme related, and some are player related.  The most important ones in my estimation are below.

The Oakland Run Game vs. the Denver Run Defense

Yes, Denver run defense is improving.  Despite missing 100% of the LB starters, Denver fought of Atlanta's elite run attack.  Is the run defense coming together, or did we just have a couple of good games?  How much should we be concerned with the Oakland attack?

Jeff Legwold at the Rocky Mountain News gives this terrific insight:

Despite all the Raiders' problems, and they are many, they still are the 10th-ranked rushing team in the NFL. And that's despite their No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, Darren McFadden, having missed three games because of injury and Justin Fargas, their leading rusher, having missed two.

McFadden has the Raiders' only 100-yard rushing game of the season, 164 against the Chiefs in September. But with Fargas, McFadden and Michael Bush, Oakland can pound away at a defense if motivated to do so.

Given the Raiders' troubles at quarterback and in their passing game - it's last in the league - if they are going to move the ball Sunday, they will have to lean on those backs.

The Broncos are coming off a quality outing against the run-heavy Falcons, limiting Michael Turner to 81 yards and Atlanta to only 3.3 yards per carry overall. They did it with quality play up front, which enabled their linebackers to flow to the ball.

Legwold makes an excellent argument that the Oakland running attack is nothing to laugh at.  Whle they may rank 10th, they rank that low with the consideration that they have had their share of injuries.  I'll go a step further.

Denver's one gap defense is a work in progress, but it is not the kind of defense you want against against the zone block system that Oakland runs.  That's more cause for concern in an otherwise "easy" looking game.

The good news?  Atlanta only recently parted ways with the zone block running system, and much of their offensive line and running style still retains major elements of the zone block, and the Denver Defense did just fine.  Consider also that the ATL run attack is just plain better that Oak's.

My point is that we look good stopping the run, but not "comfortably" good.  Score this match-up for Denver, but with the caveat that there could be some disturbing undertones.

The Oakland Pass Game versus the Denver Pass Defense

Oakland has the worst pass game in the League.  Champ Bailey is questionable for this game.  My (lowly, humble) advice to Denver?  Sit Champ.  Let him rest and repair.  No need to risk Superman against the Smurfs.  As ancient and awful as the vertical pass system is, and as poor as Oakland runs it, we'll be just fine with Bly and company.

Denver's Air Force versus the Oakland Pass Defense

If you are like me, and you don't like the mainstream sports media, you're in good company.  But let's give credit where credit is due.  The Rocky Mountain News does a great job, and they're good friends of MHR.  Writer Lee Rasizer drops by to chat with Guru here at MHR, and writer Jeff Legwold puts up solid pieces at RMN as well.

Again, from Jeff Legwold:

The previous time these teams met - to open the regular season - the Broncos sent Royal after Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall, in Jay Cutler's words, "time after time."

Royal came away with 146 yards on nine catches in his first regular-season NFL game.

The Raiders since have jettisoned Hall, and with Nnamdi Asomugha likely to get Brandon Marshall much of the time, that would leave Royal working against Routt.

Routt has plenty of speed - he was timed in the low 4.3 seconds in his 40-yard dash at the 2005 scouting combine - and is a little bigger than Royal. But Royal has shown the ability to consistently make himself some space against man-to-man coverage.

Again, I'll go a step further.  As of this writing, Nnamdi Asomugha is listed as questionable for this game.  If you like Jeff's take on the match-up, imagine how much sweeter it is without Asomugha in the line-up.

Denver's Ground Forces against the Oakland Run Defense

Ten little nine little eight little running backs, seven little six little five little running backs...

Mow down the Denver running backs.  Go ahead.  Stick them all on injured reserve.  Despite Mike Shanahan's constant admonition that you just can't plug anyone into the RB spot with the high powered Denver zone block, it's getting harder to believe.  Need proof?  Denver lost starting RBs before the season began (injury, off field behavior, etc), and lost the entire string behind them as the season wore on.

No problem.  Denver brings in a cell phone saleseman, a player from another position, and some guy nobody has heard of before, and Denver rips the heart out of Atlanta.

Now that Denver seems (we hope) to have reverted back to running and west coast play (over the pass heavy version of the spread offense they've been using), I'm confident that few teams can stop the Broncos in the run.

Match-ups by Ranking

Denver on Offense -

Denver  run Off (18th) versus Oakland run Def (30th)

Denver pass Off (3rd) versus Oakland pass Def (12th)

Denver Off yards (3rd) versus Oakland yards defensed (25th)

Denver Off Pts (8th) versus Oakland Pts allowed (28th)

Denver on Defense -

Denver run Def (26th) versus Oakland run Off (10th)

Denver pass Def (29th) versus Oakland pass Off (32nd)

Denver yards defensed (29th) versus Oakland Off yards (30th)

Denver Pts allowed (27th) versus Oakland Off Pts (32nd)

The Bottom Line 

Denver is getting their act together in playcalling, and the young guys are stepping up where veteran free agents have disappointed.  The team is on the right track, but still young and still (despite a great outing of rookies against Atlanta) a team that will make mistakes.

Oakland?  Frankly, this looks like a team playing without heart.  For this rivalry to heat up again, the NFL may have to step in and force an ownership move.  Al Davis is a sick man, and both his wife and daughter should inspire little confidence given previous issues discussed at MHR in the past.

The players won't treat this game as a rivalry (that's something that fans do, and they project it on the team).  Only one person on the field has strong personal feelings about this game.  Mike Shanahan will never forget how Al Davis treated him, and will continue to beat the Raiders, and yes, probably run up the score.

Denver by a Mile High.