Can you feel it, Broncos Country?
We are only a few days away from the Denver Broncos season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders. After the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Detroit Lions 21-20 on Thursday Night Football, the winner of this game has a shot to take the early lead in the AFC West.
Every game matters. Especially for a Broncos franchise that has been in the cellar of the AFC West for the past three seasons. I’m on record stating it’s a must-win game for the Broncos.
Here is a deeper look at the Raiders for my first edition of the Scouting the Enemy series for the Broncos’ 2023 campaign.
2022 Las Vegas Raiders Review
The Raiders were third in the AFC West and finished their 2022 season with a 6-11 record. Two of those six wins came against the Broncos.
2023 Offseason Moves and Acquisitions
The Derek Carr era for the Silver and Black is over. He was released and signed with the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Garoppolo is now the quarterback of an offense that was 12th in the league last season, and in my opinion, presents a pretty clear downgrade for the Raiders. I’m still really not sure what they were thinking with that move, but it is what it is.
Jakobi Meyers, a long-time favorite of McDaniels in New England, signed a three-year contract with the Raiders this off-season and gives them a formidable number two receiver alongside Davante Adams.
With the departure of Darren Waller to the New York Giants (via trade), expect Meyers to get a lot of his volume given his skillset, but free agent acquisition Austin Hooper and former Notre Dame product and draft selection Michael Mayer definitely bolstered their overall receiving corps for the upcoming season.
While the Raiders were better than average offensively, their defense was one of the worst in the entire NFL last season. It’s no surprise they invested a lot in free agency to help improve it.
They made major changes to their secondary and revamped it by bringing in Marcus Epps, Marcus Peters, and David Long, Jr. Additionally, they made several large investments along their defensive line via the draft and free agency to give Maxx Crosby some help and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Raiders’ Offensive X-Factor — Joshua Jacobs
Raiders fans were holding their collective breath all off season with Jacobs holding out due to not receiving a long-term contract. They eventually brought him back in the fold on a one-year deal, so Broncos will have to find a way to stop him for at least two more games head-to-head.
Jacobs has been a tough player for Denver to handle since coming into the league in 2019. In seven career games against the Broncos, the former first-round pick has 154 carries for 721 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is averaging nearly 103 yards per game and a 4.7 yard per carry average.
If the Broncos want to win on Sunday, they are going to have to significantly limit Jacobs’ impact. Although the Broncos struggled against him last year, Vance Joseph’s defense with the Arizona Cardinals kept him in check. Perhaps he has a better formula to combat the star running back than his predecessor.
The Raiders’ Defensive X-Factor — Maxx Crosby
Crosby’s personal and football journey is one heck of a story. A fourth-round pick of the Raiders in 2019, Crosby has racked up 231 tackles and 37.5 sacks in four years. He’s a two-time Pro-Bowler and one-time All-Pro that has cemented himself as one of the best pass rushers in the entire league.
Crosby has routinely terrorized the Broncos over the past few seasons. In the last four games, he has notched 8 sacks against Denver. Denver invested heavily in the offensive line this offseason and they will have to give it everything they got to keep Crosby’s pass rushing prowess at bay. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big test for Mike McGlinchey. Expect a lot of max protections [pun not intended] with extra tight end help to chip away at Crosby throughout the game.
Two Keys to Victory for the Broncos
Establish the Run Game, Stop the Run Game
Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton has talked all offseason about the importance of establishing the running game in order to make life easier for Russell Wilson. Moreover, he has talked about how critical it is for the team to be better defending against the run than they were in 2022.
This sentiment is a long-term fulcrum for success at any level of football. Perhaps it’s a bit cliché, but Denver needs to hit the ground running and limit Jacobs’ impact on the game. If they can do that, they will have a great shot at securing a victory.
Win The Turnover Battle
One facet of the game where the Broncos have struggled lately is with the turnover battle. There’s no doubt it’s played a role in their overall demise as a team over the years. Quite simply, the Broncos have been giving the ball away too much and not taking it away enough.
If Denver’s defense can dial up some creative pressure packages and make life tough on Garoppolo, they should be able to force him into some bad decisions. I’m really excited to see what Joseph does with his wide array of pass rushers at outside linebacker. Moreover, I’m hoping to see Drew Sanders get some reps. He’s a playmaker and a turnover magnet, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he made some noise in the first regular season game of his career.