It hasn't always been pretty (in fact, it rarely has), but the Broncos are a competitive 2-1. Unlike last year's squad, which opened the season 3-0, the 2022 counterpart doesn't feel like fool's gold.
The Broncos could be a force to be reckoned with if head coach Nathaniel Hackett can get things clicking offensively. For now, Denver is a solid two-win team but needs to emerge from Vegas with a win in what is its first divisional matchup of the season.
So, how do the Broncos win at Allegiant Stadium for the first time, and snap the Raiders' four-game winning streak? Here are my keys to a Broncos victory.
The Broncos have started games painfully slow on offense, and that needs to change this week. The Raiders are a vulnerable target and just the right opponent for the Broncos to iron out all the offensive kinks, and get a nice confidence-boosting win.
That means that Russell Wilson can't wait until the fourth quarter to get cooking. On Sunday, against the 21st-ranked Raiders defense, Wilson needs to get into a rhythm early and capitalize on the opponent's leaky and banged-up secondary.
The Broncos have struggled on third down and in the red zone, and it just so happens that the Raiders have as well, defensively. Las Vegas ranks 17th in third-down defense and 30th in the red zone, relinquishing a touchdown to opponents on 80% of drives that cross the 20-yard line.
If Wilson and company can't find a way to make hay early and often against the Raiders, Broncos fans might be waiting quite a bit longer for the ideal turning point this season.
Don't Give Derek Carr Time
If Carr is given time to dropback, survey the field, and go through his progressions, he will dice a defense up. He's one of the fastest-to-throw quarterbacks in the NFL — so much so that ex-Broncos head coach Vic Fangio often complimented the Raiders' signal-caller.
Carr's security blanket — slot receiver Hunter Renfrow — has been ruled out of Sunday's action, which could mean that he'll take a beat or two longer to throw. Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero must keep his foot on the gas pedal, and continue to throw pressure packages at the Raiders.
Whether that's lining up Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory on the same side at times, dialing up a blitz, or simply guys winning their one-on-ones, the key to taking down the Raiders is confounding and harassing Carr. Get it done.
No Game Management Gaffes
Hackett, in consultation with Broncos GM George Paton, made the decision to hire veteran coach Jerry Rosburg last week to help him with game management. The proof was in the pudding in Rosburg's first game, as the Broncos were not plagued by frustrating delay-of-game penalties, and the team seemed to function more competently.
That feat can't be an outlier. Hackett and Rosburg have to ensure that in the Broncos' true revenge game against ex-head coach Josh McDaniels, this engine is firing on all cylinders. Rosburg's presence, in theory, should allow Hackett the breathing room to focus more on play-calling and in-game strategy as he also manages the game as head coach.
Hackett's play-calling has been mystifying at times, but it's mostly been refreshingly more creative than the much-maligned Pat Shurmur. One word of advice, though: Hackett needs to cut down the longer-developing drop-back passing plays, and instead, scheme some play-action passes that allow Wilson to get out on the move and utilize his athleticism.
Let's see some bootlegs and shorter drop-backs.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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