Week one of the 2023 NFL season pits the Las Vegas Raiders against their AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos. Davante Adams is the best wide receiver in football and proved that by ending last season’s head-to-head matchups with Denver in walk-off fashion, scoring in overtime to notch a sweep.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves in overanalyzing 1-on-1 matchups, it’s important to remember the Broncos’ defense primarily deploys zone coverage. This is a team with a great shell coverage unit, showcasing pieces such as Justin Simmons, Patrick Surtain II, Kareem Jackson, Damarri Mathis, third-round draft pick Riley Moss, and K’Waun Williams.
Lots of cover 3, cover 6, cover 4, and even man coverage.
Las Vegas Raiders vs Denver Broncos: CB1 vs WR1
Davante Adams and Broncos CB1 Patrick Surtain II went to war twice in 2022. The veteran wideout got the better of both matchups, but Surtain certainly made it tough. Adams, a wizard with releases at the line of scrimmage, had to reach deep into his bag of tricks to educate the young corner on who the master is.
Surtain got his licks in during the first matchup. All-in-all, he covered Adams 10 times, allowing six completions and no touchdowns. The Broncos cornerback broke up two passes, directly and indirectly, causing a third incompletion. Adams’ largest play would come on a 20-yard back shoulder throw.
For their second meeting of the season, Adams had been on his film watch and made his adjustments, turning the second-year cornerbacks’ aggression against him. Make no mistake – being aggressive is what separates good from great, and Surtain is well on his way to being great. But after dropping four catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns on Surtain’s helmet, the Raiders wideout had some words for his opposition.
The Denver Broncos’ secondary
Denver’s pass defense was formidable in 2022, ranking 12th-overall in both yards and yards per game while maintaining the sixth-least passing touchdowns allowed. Broncos defensive coordinator and former head coach Vance Joseph saw his unit allow 20 passing touchdowns last season, 10% of which were attributed to Adams. The Raiders’ passing attack amassed 495 passing yards collectively, Adams accounted for 248 of those yards.
Whether or not the game plan was to feed Adams more than anyone else, he did his thing just like he always does. The Broncos soft-shoed Adams, bracketed him, rolled coverage, and sneakily passed him off to other defenders mid-play. A solid game plan for the first meeting, as they kept Adams out of the end zone and put a stranglehold on the rest of the passing game.
But in the second meeting, not much worked; the terminator mode was engaged, and Adams wasn’t having any of it. Through deciphering tendencies and style of play, the nine-year veteran found all of the spacing he needed to work with. Adams exploited each hole in the defense and “routed” everyone lined up across from him.
Week 1’s unknown X-factor
The only thing offering the tiniest amount of trepidation heading into this matchup is the relationship between Adams and his quarterback. For only the third time in his career – fourth if you count rookie year – the Raiders All-Pro pass catcher is playing with a new quarterback. We simply don’t know what page he and Jimmy Garoppolo are on.
Injury prevented the two from being on the field during the entirety of the offseason program. Luckily, they had a whole training camp together to get reps and build trust and comfort. But there weren’t very many live reps in the preseason, and no one was hitting quarterbacks in joint practice sessions.
However, Garoppolo is a perfect fit for this style of offense, and so is Adams. The complexities and nuances of timing and spacing cater to both.
Davante Adams isn’t going to line up and run by defenders consistently, but if Garoppolo can anticipate his breaks and hit him cleanly, the Raiders star receiver will have a ton of room to make things happen after the catch.
*Top Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images