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Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders - The Edge


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Category Broncos Raiders
Points Scored 20.0 (21st) 17.7 (23rd)
Passing 224.0 (13th) 164.4 (31st)
Rushing 122.3 (9th) 130.4 (6th)
Total Offense (yards) 346.3 (11th) 294.8 (25th)


Category Broncos Raiders
Points Scored 25.6 (28th)  24.9 (26th)
Passing 193.4 (7th) 195.8 (8th)
Rushing 142.6 (30th) 145.9 (31st)
Total Defense (yards) 336.0 (19th) 341.6 (22nd)

Welcome to a Week 1 edition of The Edge, MileHighReport's in-depth look at this week's Broncos game. Each week I'll take a look at the rosters and give my thoughts on which team had the advantage in each area. I'll then give my official prediction. As always, I look forward to your feedback.

Enough talk, it's Broncos/Raiders. Who has "The Edge"?


- Quarterback
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two teams is right at the top, quarterback. Jay Cutler looks primed to have a great season after a pre-season in which the 3rd year signal caller was often dominant. Cutler led the Broncos to scores in 6/10 pre-season possessions and looks like he will take that next step up the ladder of quarterbacks in the AFC. The one thing Cutler hasn't done in his short career is play well against the Raiders, throwing just 1 TD while tossing 4 interceptions. Turnovers are the one thing that can keep the Raiders around, so Cutler will have to protect the football. The Raiders, on the other hand, are handing the reigns to JaMarcus Russell, who is essentially a rookie. He missed all of training camp last year and started one game. He hasn't looked good at any point and there will be pressure on him tonight to make something happen. I like Cutler in this matchup, both from a physical talent level, and a mental level. Russell will make some mistakes, it is up to the Broncos to take advantage.
- Running Back
This pick may surprise some of you. The Broncos have always had a solid running game and the Raiders have simply been awful for half a decade. A look at the numbers, however, show the Raiders are the better running team, and the addition of Darren McFadden could make them even stronger. The Raiders were 6th in the NFL last season in rushing yards per game, and with Russell learning on the job the Raiders are going to lean heavily on their 3-headed monster of Justin Fargas, Michael Bush and McFadden. Don't sleep on Bush, either. He is a 1st round talent that slid due to an injury. The Raiders actually did the right thing by giving Bush all of 2007 to get healthy. As for the Broncos, questions abound on the ground. Can Selvin Young be "the man"? Can Andre Hall be the tough runner the Broncos need, especially in the Red Zone? The Raiders were awful against the run last year, and nothing takes a crowd out of the game like a dominant running game that takes the air out of the ball. At this point in the season, the Raiders have more talent in their backfield, but the Broncos do a better job getting it done.
- Receiver
Without Brandon Marshall, the Broncos receiving corp is merely average, but even so the Raiders receiving corp is just plain bad. Javon Walker is still questionable for the game, though all indications are he will play, but lets be honest, Walker is a headcase. The Raiders may be forced to play the recently signed Ashley Lelie as well and we know all too well what he brings, or doesn't bring more like it. Ronald Curry is a nice #3, but he isn't a consistent threat, and again, a receiver is only as good as the guy throwing them the ball, and with a bunch of "me first" guys in the huddle life is going to be tough for JaMarcus Russell. The Broncos, even without Marshall, have Cutler throwing the ball, and while there isn't any "star factor" at receiver the Broncos do have guys that can get it done. Look for the two vets, Brandon Stokley and Darrell Jackson, to get involved early. I felt the Broncos did a great job of protecting them during the pre-season from any unnecessary wear and tear. Eddie Royal gets his first shot as well, but my expectations are reserved for rookie wide receivers. Any production we get from Royal tonight will be a bonus. The Broncos are going into the game with only 4 receivers, so the running game is going to be the focus, but I still like the Broncos group as a whole over a bunch of individuals in Oakland
- Offensive Line
The Broncos, even without Center Tom Nalen, have the advantage.  Having allowed only 1 sack this pre-season, the offensive line, though young, has proven to be talented and once again should provide Jay Cutler time to throw, and Broncos running backs lanes to run.  The regular season is a different beast, however, and the biggest concern with youth, in my opinion, are penalties.  On the road, in a hostile environment, procedure and holding penalties can be drive killers.  If Ryan Harris, Ryan Clady and Chris Kuper can avoid those types of mistakes, the Broncos will be ok.  As for the Raiders, issues abound along the O-Line.  Robert Gallery has become a full-fledged bust, and the Raiders brought in Kwame Harris from San Francisco and he has looked bad. The Raiders also start two Broncos cast offs - Cornell Green and Cooper Carlisle -- advantage Broncos.

Defensive Line
Neither team was good against the run last year, and both have a one-dimensional pass rush - Derrick Burgess for the Raiders, Elvis Dumervil for the Broncos. After that, there are questions marks. I do like the addition of DeWayne Robertson to the Broncos d-line, though I can't give the Broncos the edge without seeing 60 minutes of how the Broncos are going to use him. Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder must also play better than what we saw during the preseason. For the Raiders, Gerard Warren played well in spells last season, especially against the Broncos, and Tommy Kelly was rewarded with a big contract, and the pressure that goes with it. Tonight's game may well be won or lost by which one of these units steps up and makes plays.

- Linebacker
The Broncos biggest advantage may be at linebacker, where D.J. Williams, Nate Webster and Boss Bailey are primed to begin what is hoped to be a solid season.  Williams, fresh of signing his new deal, is ready to dominate, back on the Weakside where he belongs.  Webster plays with a lot of emotion, which serves him well, but he'll need to keep it in check and make sure he maintains his discipline, especially against the Raiders running game.  Boss Bailey should improve the run defense as well, and has the size and strength to get physical with Raiders' linemen and tight ends.  The Raiders don't have alot of depth at linebacker, but that doesn't mean they aren't talented.  Ricky Brown takes over on the strong side, and Kirk Morrison is underrated in the middle.  Thomas Howard is on of the best in the AFC, and his 6 interceptions/ 2TDs last year prove that Jay Cutler will need to know where #53 is at all times.
- Secondary
Both teams have strong secondaries, but I give the slight edge to the Broncos. Starting with Oakland, Nnamdi Asomugha has developed into a solid cover-corner heading into his 6th season. Teams learned in 2006, when Asomugha picked off 8 passes, to be leary of throwing the football his way, as evidenced by the 1 interception in 2008. On the other side, DeAngelo Hall comes in, and while there is no doubting his talent, Hall's attitude and knack for trying for the big play have been a detriment to his career. The Broncos will likely attack Hall early and often looking to get into Halls head. He is prone to get called for penalties and will bite on play-action/pump fakes. At safety, Free Safety Michael Huff moves over to his more natural position with the acquisition of former Giant Gibril Wilson. I have questions about both, especially Wilson, who benefited from an incredible Giants pass-rush last season. For the Broncos, it starts with Champ Bailey who is still the best in the game. I would doubt the Raiders will take many chances on Champ's side making his impact greater than that of the Asomugha or Hall. Dre Bly is on the other side, and while I am concerned with Bly matching up against any of the Raiders' receivers, he does have a nose for the football and isn't afraid of taking a chance. The Broncos are alot stronger at safety, with Marlon McCree and Marquand Manual, and as a unit plays alot better against the pass and run than the Raiders unit.
- Special Teams
I hate to say it, but the Raiders do have a significant advantage on Special Teams. Shane Lechler is one of the best in the NFL, both in terms of sheer power and touch, pinning teams deep with angled punts. Sebastian Janikowski is what he is, but I would much rather have a guy with the powerful leg than not. The Raiders will also have an interesting return game with McFadden and Hall. For the Broncos, there are just too many questions marks. Matt Prater and Brett Kern are, for all intents and purposes, starting their first regular season game, and the Broncos return game will take a bit because Eddie Royal is needed in the pass game. Special Team can be a great equalizer, and the Broncos have had their issues in return coverage in the past. They'll have to be careful not to allow the Raiders control field position through the kicking and return game.

Denver Broncos 24 - Oakland Raiders 13.
One thing about tonight's game that is getting very little attention is field conditions. With the A's still playing something that resembles baseball, the infield dirt comes into play. That could become a factor should either team need to kick a field goal off of it and it can also play into footing. Trying to cover receivers who know where they are going in dirt could become problematic. Weather doesn't look to be a factor(see below), so it should just be dirt, but something worth keeping your eyes on.

As for the game itself, this is a quarterback League. Ask the patriots. In games where the teams appear to be pretty even, like this one, I'll take the better quarterback, and Jay Cutler is a much better quarterback, despite what Raiders fans will try and tell you. Cutler is 100% healthy and he knows this offense. JaMarcus Russell is still trying to learn and hasn't looked good at all during the pre-season. Add to that a patchwork receiving corp and the Raiders offense is going to have to lean heavily on a talented running game. There is no way the Broncos will let the Raiders beat them on the ground. Look for the Broncos to sell-out to stop the run, forcing the game into Russell's hands. That will lead to mistakes and turnover opportunities. The Broncos, like the Raiders, will run the ball early and often as well, but the difference is Cutler can and will make plays when he needs to. Broncos get off to a huge start and finish the night in sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

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