Four Keys To Success For The Raiders vs. Broncos

With a win last week, the Las Vegas Raiders kept their playoff hopes alive. In Week 16, they must topple a divisional foe to stay alive in the playoff hunt for another week. To achieve this goal, there are four points of focus that the Raiders should put emphasis on.

After a dramatic finish in Cleveland against the Browns, the Raiders managed to keep their playoff hopes afloat. However, there is still work to be done if they wish to play deeper into January. Next up is the Denver Broncos.

Even with Teddy Bridgewater out, this isn’t exactly going to be a breeze for the Raiders. The Broncos’ defense is the strength of the team. This game will more than likely be won or lost based solely on the performance of Derek Carr and the offense. While the defense has its responsibilities, no doubt, most of the load will be on the offense. Here are four major things the Vegas squad should focus on to stay in the win column.

Making Drew Lock uncomfortable

Drew Lock will start for the Broncos while Bridgewater is in concussion protocol. This is a slight win for the Raiders. While Lock is no slouch when it comes to mobility, he’s not nearly as big of a threat on the ground as Bridgewater. Keeping Lock in the pocket should be an easier ask for the defense.

However, the Raiders secondary has been decimated by injuries and COVID-related issues. Naturally, this will make the Raiders vulnerable in the passing game. To help mitigate this issue, the defensive line has to have a big game. Forcing Lock to make faster, contested throws could pay dividends to a team that ranks dead last in interceptions.

Creating space for Hunter Renfrow

The Broncos’ defense will provide a litany of issues for the Raiders’ offense, as will be stated a couple more times. One of which is the standout rookie defensive back Patrick Surtain II. Surtain has more than proven his worth as the number nine overall pick back in spring. He’s shut down some impressive names throughout the season and has been a lockdown guy for Denver on several occasions.

With Darren Waller more than likely to miss another week of action, Hunter Renfrow will likely be the featured player out wide. After losing Henry Ruggs III and Waller, Renfrow has proven to be the best threat outside for the Raiders this year. The Broncos will know this and will likely task their prized corner with locking Renfrow out. For the Raiders to be competitive, this can’t happen. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson needs to find ways to create space on the field to get the Clemson product the ball. If not, it’ll be a long day at the office for the offense.

Being effective in the red zone

The Broncos’ defense has been stingy all year, not just with appearances but especially with touchdowns. Denver ranks first in both categories. Meaning not only will it be difficult to reach that part of the field but also to punch it home if you do get there. While the Raiders didn’t struggle with this in their last meeting, the offense is completely different now than it was back in Week 6.

One thing that is often expected of professional offenses is to be effective inside the 20-yard line. That has been an Achilles heel for the Raiders all year. It stretches back to the past couple of seasons, but we won’t get into that. As it currently stands, Las Vegas is the fifth-worst team at converting red zone appearances to touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. While that stat needs to change regardless of the opponent, the Raiders must make the most out of their red zone showings in Week 16.

Maintaining possession

It doesn’t matter if it’s Lock, Bridgewater, or Peyton Manning; if you give a professional quarterback and team multiple shots at your defense, they’ll find a hole and exploit it. The defense has played well several times this season, but the offense hasn’t done its part to protect them. It’s hard enough to keep points off the board, period. It is even harder when the offense and special teams are allowing points of their own.

Since Week 7, the Raiders offense has coughed up the ball 14 times. In five out of the seven games since the bye, they’ve turned it over at least twice. The only two times they didn’t have a turnover were against the Dallas Cowboys and The Washington Football Team. The team went one and one in those contests, but they have only won one game in which they’ve turned it over at least twice. That came Monday night against the Browns. Giving the ball back to your opponent isn’t a sound strategy to win too many games. The Raiders can’t give opposing offenses free chances if they wish to keep their playoff push alive and kicking.

Winning is crucial

Both the Raiders and the Broncos are in similar boats coming into Week 16. Both are 7-7 and on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. While the division may not be a tangible goal at this point, a wild card seed is. The Raiders hold tiebreakers with several other teams in the chase. That makes this week’s bout with Denver all that much more crucial. Especially as their last two games are against teams that are currently ahead of them in the standings, the Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Possessing tie-breakers with six of the eight wild card hopefuls would increase their odds of cracking postseason play tremendously. That number would increase to seven depending on the Chargers’ final divisional record or other wonky tie-breaker rules. The Raiders are in must-win scenarios from here on out. If they want to see games past January 9th, they have to take care of business this week.

*Top Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

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