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5 things to watch for in the Broncos’ finale with the Raiders

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How the Denver Broncos can finish on a high note and also take down the hated Oakland Raiders in the process.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos
Drew Lock has a chance to really build some buzz heading into the offseason.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe we’re already reached the end of the Broncos 2019 season. Things didn’t always go as hoped, but even with three different starting quarterbacks and a litany of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, Denver has a chance to finish 2nd in the AFC West with a win over the homeless Raiders.

Here’s what I’m looking for today:

Defense

1. How will the run D hold up?

2. Will the rush get home?

Jon Gruden’s offense is a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery this season. If you dial it way back to week 1 of this season, the Raiders looked like they’d have issues at receiver after Antonio Brown forced his way out of town before the opener. The Raiders have responded to that by building their attack around a grind it out attack with a ball control passing game.

One of the issues with this 1990 style of offense is how inconsistent relying on a ground game can be when it isn’t spearheaded by Lamar Jackson. So it goes with the Raiders. Reports emerged Friday that suggest the Raiders’ rookie first rounder won’t be able to play against the Broncos. He’s officially listed as doubtful. This could be huge as Gruden’s run game has really fallen off since Jacobs started collecting a variety of ailments at the beginning of the month.

Even without Jacobs, look for Gruden to try and manage the down and distance with a ground attack. Over the course of the season, Oakland’s run the ball on 60% of all their first and 10s but turn into a pass first team on second and especially third down. When it’s effective early, Carr is given situations where the quick passing game can keep the offense on track to convert, if the Broncos’ front can stuff the run early it’ll force Carr out of his comfort zone.

The Broncos rush defense had issues the last time these two played, and they’ve fallen off since Wolfe’s injury.

When the Raiders do drop back to pass, the Broncos’ secondary will need to keep clamps on the outlet passes or Carr will be content to check it down all day. If they can prevent this, it’ll give Von Miller and the pass rush a chance to make plays. Denver’s veteran linebacker made it clear that they need to get home when the opportunities arise.

It looks like Richie Incognito may not be able to play, and both Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson were limited in practice last week. With the Raiders’ interior line all facing health questions it could present some chances for Dre’Mont Jones and Shelby Harris to make noise.

Dre’Mont had a strong game last week against the Lions’ offensive line. Can he do it again?

At the end of the day it’s probably more important for the Broncos to force Carr to play his B-game and convert long yardage situations, but to do this Denver’s battered front will need to outlast the Raiders’ tattered interior.

Offense

3. Could the line hold up?

4. Does Scangarello attack the edges?

5. Can Lock finish on a high note?

The battle between Maxx Crosby and Garett Bolles could turn into one of the biggest X-factors when the Broncos have the ball. While the Raiders’ 4th round rookie has only recorded one sack since December started, he has 33 pressures on the year, which leads the team.

Denver’s former first round bust has a real opportunity to finish his season on a high note heading into the offseason and quiet the talks in Broncos’ Country that Elway needs to address the left tackle position. If he struggles, it could cause issues across the line as it looks like both Jake Rodgers and Austin Schlottmann will start on the right side. Neither looks to have an easy a time as last week’s Lions’ game because Maurice Hurst, Clelin Ferrell, and Johnathan Hankins will all play.

The Raiders’ defensive line presents a number of issues Detroit’s did not.

While Raiders fans have seemed to cool on Hurst over the course of his sophomore campaign, the former Wolverine is second on the team in pressures by Sports Info Solutions’ charting and is an integral part of their run defense. This is an area where Oakland’s stats don’t tell the whole story.

While they’ve had some issues stopping the run, their front is built like a fan: it’s solid in the middle but gets softer as you move away from the center. It would make a ton of sense for Scangarello and Munchak to try and attack the edges, which makes this another instance where Bolles could have a noticeable impact on the offensive output.

At some point, the Broncos will probably have to pass. As has been the case for the entire month of December, Lock will be the biggest thing to watch for. While the Raiders’ defense has nothing like the personnel Kansas City did, Paul Guenther’s scheme will present a couple of similar challenges.

First and foremost, Guenther brings a variety of blitz looks into every game and will mug the line of scrimmage with his stack backers. He doesn’t always send extra rushers after the passer, but on passing downs Lock will need to determine where the heat could come from and adjust accordingly.

Guenther will mix in some blitzes to try and confuse the rookie when the Raiders are sure Lock is passing.

If Crosby and the rush can’t get home, Guenther will need to get creative to protect the Raiders’ overmatched secondary. According to DVOA, the Raiders have been one of the three worst teams in the league at slowing down boundary receivers. They also struggle at stopping deep passes, especially the deep middle.

Depending on the confidence Scangarello and Munchak have in the offensive line, the gameplan could look a lot like the Houston game. Passing early and often before Oakland can adjust. I would be surprised if Courtland Sutton did not have a big day. He should have plenty of chances to finish strong. Don’t be surprised if Tim Patrick also has a couple big plays.

Final Thoughts

The way the Broncos have performed since Lock took the reigns of the offense has made it hard to get too caught up in their overall record. Yes, Denver will finish with their first back-to-back-to-back losing seasons in my lifetime, but win or lose they’ll already finish with a winning record to close the season.

Add in the fact that multiple games were essentially coin flip finishes and that they have a young roster and the cap and draft capital to add starters in the spring and the future looks bright. There’s a reason plenty of 2020 excitement has already started to kick off.

It’d look even better with a win though, so let’s hope they get it done to finish 4-1.