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Scouting the enemy: Oakland Raiders

Week 5 of the NFL season showcases a handful of rivalry games on slate, but perhaps none is greater that the grudge match that the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders will have Sunday afternoon.

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders have been long regarded as one of the most historical and storied franchises in NFL History.  Five Super Bowl appearances with three victories come to mind, along with players like Marcus Allen, Ken Stabler and Tim Brown. We can never forget Hall of Fame Head Coach John Madden, who has cemented himself in the annals of football history for what he accomplished on and off the field.

Alas, the Raiders haven't been to the playoffs since their 2002 defeat in the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when they were outsmarted by their former coach Jon Gruden, whose team put up 48 points on the board in a lopsided affair that wasn't even close to being Super Bowl worthy. Since that performance, the once proud franchise has fizzled into obscurity, reaching the .500 mark twice and sporting double digit regular season losses every other season.

It is a sad state of football affairs in Oakland and it is about to get worse after the Denver Broncos roll into town and handily take care of business in The Black Hole this Sunday.

Looking back at the 2014 Oakland Raiders

The 2014 Oakland Raiders season was their worst since 2006.  They went 3-13 and ranked at the bottom of the league in offensive and defensive performance. Their disastrous start led to Head Coach Dennis Allen's firing just four games into the season, allowing for Tony Sparano to lead the team the rest of the season. Under his guidance, they didn't fair much better, but the players respected him for his efforts to keep their franchises' sinking ship afloat.

Very few silver linings could be found in their deplorable performance last year, but the play of young players Khalil Mack and Derek Carr gave Raiders Nation something to look forward to in 2015. This season, the silver and black are led by former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who quickly accepted the position as head coach for Oakland after Denver was defeated by the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.  Lets take a look at the identity of this years Raiders team.

Listed below is a comprehensive review of their recent offseason transactions:

Identifying the 2015 Oakland Raiders

Key Additions: RB Roy Helu, WR Michael Crabtree, C Rodney Hudson, NT Dan Williams, OLB Malcom Smith, ILB Curtis Lofton,S Taylor Mays

Key Losses: QB Matt Schaub, RB Darren McFadden, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, WR Denarius Moore, G Kevin Boothe, C Stefen Wisniewski, DE/DT Antonio Smith, DT Pat Sims, DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, CB Chimdi Chekwa, S Tyvon Branch.

2015 Draft Class: WR Amari Cooper, DE/DT Mario Edwards, TE Clive Walford, G Jon Feliciano, ILB Ben Heeney, LB Neiron Ball, DE/OLB Max Valles, OT Anthony Morris, WR Andre Debose, CB Dexter McDonald

Note: Every draft pick besides Max Valles (currently on their practice squad), Anthony Morris and Andre Debose made their final 53 man roster.

Summary: The Oakland Raiders lost a lot of players, but did add several good players in free agency who have assumed starting positions and look to have struck gold with Amari Cooper at wide receiver.  Mario Edwards, Clive Walford and Ben Heeney also have the ability to become very good professional players at their respective positions. One off-season won't be enough to turn the tide forward for the organization, but they are starting to develop a young corp of talent on both sides of the ball that could help them become better in the future.

Oakland's Cause for Concern:  A Defense Akin to a Shakespearean Tragedy

The Oakland Raiders used to pride themselves on putting out formidable and ferocious defenses, but so far in 2015 that hasn't been the case. The Raiders defense is by far their largest cause for concern. They currently rank 26th in the NFL in points allowed per game and 31st in regard to yardage allowed. This bodes well for the Broncos, who have struggled offensively, but have the opportunity to get the ball rolling in the right direction in that facet of their game.

DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie are their top two corners and the duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should be able to make big plays against them. Long-time veteran Charles Woodson holds down the free safety position and Larry Asante is slated in at strong safety.  Asante has been picked on game after game so far this season and has given up a lot of big plays to tight ends. Denver would be apt to take advantage of this situation and get Owen Daniels and Virgil Green in the mix vertically in the passing game to attack one of their most vulnerable defenders.

Hart's 3 Keys to Winning on the road in The Black Hole

1) Let Peyton Manning attack the Raiders poor pass defense

The Oakland Raiders have one of the worst defenses in the NFL and their passing defense is ripe for Peyton Manning to pick apart on Sunday. Their pass defense is allowing a 66% completion rate and have given up eight touchdowns this year. Opposing quarterbacks average a 96.5 QBR against them and pass for over 300 yards a game. There is no better time than now for Manning and the Broncos offense to get their aerial assault going in the right direction.

2) Take Amari Cooper out of their passing attack

Former Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper may only be a rookie entering his fifth NFL game of his career, but he certainly isn't playing like a rookie.  Through four games, the rising star receiver has caught 24 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns.  He and second-year quarterback Derek Carr have electric chemistry on the field and his ability to make the big play is something the Broncos defense will have to account for. It will be interesting to see if the Broncos choose to play Aqib Talib or Chris Harris, Jr. on him for a majority of the game.

3) Unleash the defense and get after Derek Carr

Derek Carr played very well as a rookie for the Oakland Raiders in 2014 and that trend has continued into the 2015 regular season, where he has looked like the franchise quarterback the team hoped he could become. His completion percentage is up this year and he has only taken 3 sacks in 4 games. The more time he has in the pocket, the easier it will be for him to make plays. Therefore, it is essential that the Broncos pass rush comes out aggressively, much like they did against Teddy Bridgewater in Week 4 in order to make Carr force some throws and make bad decisions.

What Their Coaches Are Saying

"They're playing really well together -- a lot of confidence. Really a star-studded group. It was a good group. The last three years, we played some great ball there, [I’ve] got a lot of great memories of us playing really well. They've taken that to a whole other level. They're really playing well." Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio on the Broncos defense

"They are very talented. When watching the film, we’re very impressed with them. I think that’s been our theme all week, just making sure we continue to grow, continue to get better, continue to execute, continue to improve all the different areas we need to improve in, and by the time Sunday comes we’re going to expect to be the best team on Sunday." Raiders Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. on the Broncos offense

What Our Coaches Are Saying

"Just great games. I remember, going all the way back to the [L.A.] Coliseum, it was one of my few games that Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager John] Elway let me start. I can't remember what was wrong with him, but no, it's a great atmosphere. Obviously going to Oakland now, it's the same way. I haven't been there in a couple of years, but I always know what the rivalry has been about. It's a great place to play. It's a good environment." Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak on memories of playing in Oakland

"I think that it goes both ways. Having two really good receivers like that—one veteran receiver that you can count on catching the ball all the time and then the rookie receiver that comes in and does what most rookie receivers don't do by playing really well. Having those two guys just utilizes his talent. He obviously was talented coming in and played well last year, but now he has two big time receivers." Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips on Raiders receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree

Hart's Prediction for Sunday Afternoon

Nothing about this game screams major upset.  In fact, all signs point to a good old fashioned Broncos beat down of their arch rival Raiders. Denver has the opportunity to storm into the Black Hole and make this weekends affair a statement game against Jack Del Rio, who mailed it in late last season knowing he had the opportunity to coach the Raiders in 2015. The defensive players he abandoned will show on the field why it was a mistake to leave them. Furthermore, Wade Phillips will show that he is a much better commander of defenses than Del Rio ever was.

Denver's offense hasn't been a finely tuned machine to date, but going up against the 31st ranked defense in the NFL should give them the opportunity to make big plays.  Manning will have his best game of the year this weekend and throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. I expect a beat down of epic proportions, with the Broncos making a mockery of one of the NFL's worst franchises.

Broncos 34, Raiders 10.