Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 2:05 PM MDT
AVG. YPA (RNK)
AVG. YPA (RNK)
|5-7||Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO||10-2|
|3rd AFC West||Spread: Broncos by 7||1st AFC West|
The Denver Broncos cannot afford to look past the Oakland Raiders this week, because every single game from here on out is a must-win if the Broncos enjoy playing home games in January. The Raiders present an interesting challenge defensively, which we will cover in this preview.
With the Broncos favored heavily in this game, there might be some added motivation from the Raiders players to make a game of this one, even though they just suffered their toughest loss of the season. After all, they played the Peyton Manning-led Broncos pretty tough earlier in the season in a 16-10 home loss.
These are the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos, however, so they better come to Denver with a much different game plan to lock down a rushing attack averaging a whooping 161 yards on the ground since Osweiler took over, compared to a paltry 86 yards per game under Manning.
Strength against weakness
Here are some of the bigger match-ups in this week's game between the Broncos and Raiders that we'll need to keep an eye on.
No Fly Zone vs Derek Carr
The single most important factor in this game will be whether or not the Broncos defense can keep Carr in his midseason slump. The Raiders are 5-0 when Carr tops a 100 quarterback rating, but is 0-7 when under it. It is clear that this team is only as good as its quarterback in 2015.
In fact, in recent weeks Carr has been struggling to get points on the board. Von Miller and Malik Jackson, along with their crew on the defensive line will be tasked with generating the pressure needed for the Broncos secondary to lock down the Raiders very good pass catchers.
Keep in mind the Broncos defense is a bit wounded right now, so the pass rush is going to be more important than ever in this game. The good news is that the Achilles heel of this defense (tight ends and pass catching running backs) is not something the Raiders are equipped to exploit very well.
Osweiler vs Raiders secondary
We're starting to see two different Brock Osweiler's on the field each week. One Osweiler is cool, calm and collected and drives the Broncos offense down the field with surefire confidence and commanding throws down the field. This Osweiler scores touchdowns on opening drives.
The other Osweiler is holds the ball too long, doesn't see wide open receivers and throws into double coverage. This is bad Osweiler. The Osweiler who looks like a rookie and looks like he hasn't played in a meaningful game since Barrack Obama's first term in office.
No matter what happened on Sunday, we're probably going to see a little of both Osweiler's in this game. The key for him is to get that all important opening drive touchdown and then focus on limiting mistakes.
My biggest worry, which I began to see last week against the San Diego Chargers, is that teams are beginning to figure out what Osweiler likes to do and what his tendencies are. I saw multiple routes being jumped - almost all of which were short routes. Safe routes.
I'd like to see Kubiak and Osweiler start breaking out more consistent reads in the intermediate range, which will then keep defenders a little more honest when Osweiler wants to back to those shorter, safer throws.
Broncos rushing attack vs Raiders run defense
As I mentioned earlier, the Broncos rushing attack has really come together over the last three weeks. Right now, Ronnie Hillman is the official starter, but I would be hard pressed not to start giving C.J. Anderson twice the reps in games. The reason being is that Anderson has been back to form since the Bye week, even if he hasn't been getting the kind of carries he should be.
Since the Bye, Anderson has carried the ball just 57 times for a whooping 358 yards. Yes, that is 6.28 yards per carry. Given that over the same period, Hillman has 91 carries for just 320 yards, I just don't know what Gary Kubiak is seeing that is forcing him to limit Anderson's carries over these last six games. My math here is pretty obviously; 6.28 yards per carry or 3.52 yards per carry. Plus, Anderson is a mudder. I like mudders.
Even so, the Raiders are a bit hard to figure out on defense. The allowed 195, 263 and 109 yards rushing three straight weeks, but then followed it up over the last two weeks by allowing just 44 and 89. This is where, I think, the game will be decide. If the Broncos can establish the run, it is going to be a long day for the Raiders defense.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that the Raiders cannot win football games if Derek Carr isn't playing at an elite level. If the Broncos defense can frustrate him just enough and force a few mistakes and keep the completion percentage low, then the Raiders simply don't have enough talent elsewhere to make up for it.
For the Broncos, all Brock Osweiler has to do is take care of the football and pick up some third downs. Let C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman take care of the rest. The defense will do its part to keep the score low, which means the offense just needs to put together 3-4 good point producing drives to win this game.
It's hard to predict this game with a young, unpredictable quarterback at the helm. If I were a betting man, I'd probably take the Broncos win, but lay some dough on the Raiders to cover.