As one of the oldest rivalries in football, the Denver Broncos are looking to walk away with a win against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Broncos lost the first game this season, which was also their highest-scoring output of the year.
Both teams have issues throughout, so it may come down to who can play the least sloppy football. Let's break down the key matchups of Broncos-Raiders.
Russell Wilson vs. Raiders Defense
The Raiders have used a lot of cover-1 and cover-3 this season, which are their two most used coverages. However, in the Week 4 matchup against the Broncos, Vegas used cover-2 and cover-4 as its top two coverages.
The Raiders catered it to the quarterback they were facing, as Wilson has historically struggled against those coverages, which is true this year, too. The Raiders also used cover-6 as their third most coverage in that game.
Against cover-2 this season, Wilson has a negative EPA, and against cover-4, he is under 0.25 EPA. However, cover-6 and cover-1 have been where Wilson has been the most successful on average.
Expect the Raiders to follow what they did in the first game and cater their coverages to exploit the matchup. Wilson hasn't shown the ability to play efficient football this year, especially against cover-2 and cover-4, which is why this advantage goes to the Raiders, despite how poor their defense is overall.
Broncos Pass Protection vs. Raiders Pass Rushers
The Broncos' offensive line is tied for 20th overall in pass-blocking efficiency and is likely starting its seventh different starting lineup. Injuries have created issue after issue for a unit that hasn't played well.
Maxx Crosby is a game-wrecker, and the Broncos must figure out how to limit his impact. Not only that, Wilson does as well, as he is 10th in the NFL among self-created pressures. Combined with the fifth-highest average time to throw, all of that doesn't look good for the Broncos' offense.
There are route concepts that Wilson gets the ball out quicker, which include hitches, slants, flares, and out routes. To limit the impact of the pass rushers, the Broncos' passing game should consist of concepts built on those. It can also help against the cover-2 and cover-4, but you're mainly looking at Wilson to get the ball out quicker.
The advantage goes to the Raiders here, as the Broncos' offensive line can't hold up for as long as Wilson has loved to hang onto the ball. The offensive line will fall apart if he doesn't speed things up.
Broncos Rushing Game vs. Raiders Run Defense
When looking at defensive EPAs, you want a negative number, and the Raiders allow a positive EPA against draws, inside zone, and outside zone concepts. That is good news for the Broncos, who have become a predominately inside-zone rushing team with some outside-zone mixed in.
However, the Broncos are not doing a good job executing those runs. So while the Raiders' defense has struggled to defend them, the Broncos have struggled to get anything going.
Denver has done a good job on draw plays, though the offense has run very few of them. The Broncos' second most successful run concept has been pull-lead, which the Raiders have done their best defending. Is there an advantage here? Not one bit.
Broncos Passing Game vs. Raiders Coverage
The Raiders will be without their top corner, while the Broncos will be without multiple receivers, including Jerry Jeudy. However, it is the Courtland Sutton show and he will likely find himself matched up against Rock Ya-Sin.
Ya-Sin has been having a solid season, but Sutton has had his number in previous matchups between them.
Denver will need Greg Dulcich to step up and help take the pressure off Sutton. If the Broncos call up Brandon Johnson from the practice squad, it'll be a good chance to see if he can live up to the preseason hype.
Additionally, seeing whether the Broncos can't find a way to utilize Jalen Virgil's speed more frequently will be a must. The advantage goes to the Raiders here slightly because the coverages they use work well against the quarterback.
Advantage: Slightly Raiders.
Derek Carr vs. Broncos Defense.
The Broncos have been a predominately cover-3, cover-6, and cover-1 team with their coverages. Derek Carr has done a solid job against those coverages, averaging between 0.25 and 0.55 EPA against them. He also gets the ball out reasonably quickly against cover-1, but cover-3 sees him hold the ball longer than his average, with an average time to throw over three seconds.
Carr's season average time to throw is 2.63 seconds, which is the eighth-highest in the NFL. However, against the Broncos in Week 4, he averages 2.29 seconds to throw. So Denver needs to throw more cover-3 looks his way and try to force him to hold onto the ball longer. The issue here is Denver did that in their previous game, which didn't work.
The advantage goes to the Raiders because Carr always seems to show up and play good enough football against the Broncos.
Broncos Pass Rushers vs. Raiders Pass Protection
While the Broncos had the advantage in the first game, they were essentially shut out, and that was when they were healthy. Now they are without Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb. It does look promising to have Baron Browning back, but will it be enough?
Part of why the Broncos struggled is because of how quickly Carr can get rid of the ball. It's safe to assume the Raiders will do something similar this time.
The Broncos may get their wins, but can it be consistent enough? In their first matchup, Carr was getting the ball out in under 2.3 seconds on average. Denver has to get him to hold onto the ball closer to his season average of 2.63 seconds.
Broncos Defense vs. Titans Running Game
The Broncos run defense has been hit-or-miss this season, and they ultimately faltered against the Raiders, led by Josh Jacobs. Jacobs is the type of back that can make them pay, but there is a way to slow him down.
One path for the Broncos is to follow the blueprint of what they did to slow Derrick Henry down. Play bigger on the line of scrimmage and keep the back from taking over the game. The first part is easy, but the second part requires clean execution from everyone.
The linebackers must hit the gaps hard and meet Jacobs with force. Missed tackles were an issue in their previous matchup, and they have to cut that back.
The Raiders run heavy with man concepts, which the Broncos have defended well. Can the Broncos shut down the other concepts the Raiders have had success with? That is unclear, so the advantage goes slightly to the Raiders.
Advantage: Slightly Raiders.
Broncos Coverage vs. Titans Passing Game
No Darren Waller or Hunter Renfrow does make defending the Raiders' passing game a little easier. That can be a difference and lead to the Raiders trying to force-feed Davante Adams.
Watch for Adams to be shadowed by Patrick Surtain II, who has been having a good season. Both Adams and Surtain had their wins in the previous matchup, as Adams caught five passes for over 50 yards, and Surtain had a couple of pass breakups.
Not only will Denver have to limit Jacobs on the ground, but also his contributions in the passing game. He caught five passes for over 30 yards in the Week 4 game.
Mack Hollins will go up against Damarri Mathis, who has struggled this season. That is a concerning matchup for the Broncos. Being opposite of Surtain will see you targeted, and adding in the fact that Mathis is a rookie only increases it.
There is no advantage here as Surtain and Adams are a wash, and the injuries both teams are dealing with here leave a lot unknown. Hollins is an advantage, but the loss of Waller cancels it out.
Nathaniel Hackett vs. Josh McDaniels.
Reports came out that the Raiders won't fire McDaniels because of finances, but the fact that was a possibility isn't a good sign. Hackett is also on the hot seat, and while he will likely get the season, it doesn't look good for getting more beyond that.
There is no advantage here, and both sides' coaching concerns don't deserve to be labeled as a wash.
While the Broncos' defense has done a great job for most of the season, they can't have the same collapse against the run they did in the first matchup. If they can shut down the Raiders' offense, the Broncos' offense will need to do enough.
The Broncos have a strong defense, while the Raiders are struggling throughout. It will be interesting to see whether Denver's special teams unit can have similar success as it had in the first matchup, which was the only good game from the unit all around.
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