If Oakland’s going to make a push for the playoffs it must start Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
The Oakland Raiders currently sit at third in the division behind the L.A. Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, and while Oakland holds the tie-breaker with the top-ranked Chiefs, it won’t make much difference if Oakland can’t keep pace and win on Sunday against the Broncos.
A loss would send them back to the basement of the AFC West and more than likely end their chances at a playoff berth.
But come Sunday in the Black Hole of the Coliseum, Oakland has more than a fair shot to right the ship and rekindle the hopes of playing in January. And here’s how they can get it done on Sunday.
Remove Paxton Lynch’s Safety Blanket
The presence of a steady and successful ground attack is every young quarterback’s best friend. Look for the Broncos to try to provide Lynch with a similar safety net as the young signal caller adjusts into his first game of 2017. The Raiders must prevent the Broncos’ attempts at establishing a ground presence and force Paxton Lynch to pass early on.
Fortunately, if there is an area on defense that Oakland “excels” at, it is against the run. Currently ranked 19th in the league in stopping the run, Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards Jr., Marquel Lee, and NaVorro Bowman must step up and force the Broncos to become one-dimensional.
Through three games in 2016, Paxton completed 59 percent of his passes for 497 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception according to ProFootballReference.com. No doubt Lynch will be rusty on his return to the field come Sunday and although Oakland’s pass defense has been less than stellar, I believe it’s the Raiders best shot at beating the Broncos. Oakland must force the inexperienced Lynch to beat them and gamble that their secondary can make enough plays.
Pagano’s Pass Rush
As of Tuesday, John Pagano finds himself Oakland’s newest defensive coordinator. Pagano, known for is blitzing packages, needs to deploy exactly those tactics to beat Lynch. In Lynch’s three starts last year he was sacked a total of 10 times. As seen here against Atlanta, the pass rush forced the young quarterback to make a poor throw off his back foot resulting in an interception.
Also, if you watch closely, Emmanuel Sanders finds himself open on a shallow crossing route but the pass rush generated by the Falcons forces Lynch to make a poor decision with the ball. I believe NaVorro Bowman needs to be sent often to pressure Paxton since his speed is not ideal in helping cover speedy receivers like Sanders. According to NFL.com, the Broncos have given up 31 sacks on the season thus far. Pagano must utilize blitz packages to help a weak Oakland secondary and give the Raiders a shot at creating turnovers.
As seen in this video from last week, both Denver tackles Allen Barbre and Garett Bolles struggle in pass protection resulting in a quickly collapsing pocket and a sack with just a four-man rush. Oakland has to find ways to free up Mack on the outside and work one-on-one.
Raiders Must Spread The Field
Last but not least, Oakland needs to spread the field on offense. Though the Bronco’s pass defense ranks fifth in the league, according to NFL.com, it has been shaky of late. Over the Bronco’s past three games they have allowed 701 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and forced zero interceptions.
Though Denver does have stellar pass defenders like Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., and Justin Simmons, teams are finding success spreading the field and exploiting one-on-one matchups against the Bronco’s weaker defenders. Take a look here as the Bengals did just that last week.
Bradley Roby was the Denver defender who got torched for the touchdown. Later in the game, Andy Dalton would look his way again and find A.J. Green for the Bengals second touchdown of the game. Both touchdowns came against Roby, the defender with the weakest grade on the field according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Oakland found similar success last time these two teams met. Spreading the field created a one-on-one matchup for Jared Cook who should have caught a beautifully thrown ball by Manuel.
The defender covering Cook was Will Parks, a safety who has a grade of 44.7 at pass defending according to ProFootballFocus.com. Oakland needs to spread the defense and force matchups they want. Another factor to Oakland’s passing game will be the presence of Michael Crabtree who was inactive against Denver their first meeting this season due to an injury.
With the promotion of Bill Musgrave to offensive coordinator for the Broncos and the firing of Ken Norton Jr., Sunday’s game provides plenty of storylines for both sides.
Not to mention Denver starting their third quarterback this season along with the bad blood between Talib and Crabtree. With their backs against the wall, I see the Raiders winning at home. The defense does just enough to slow down the young gun under center for the Broncos and Oakland’s offense finds a rhythm both on the ground and through the air. Denver 17 Raiders 24.