It's no secret that the Raiders are implementing the Gary Kubiak's offensive system. It is in its infancy and while we saw some successes against Pittsburgh, it is clearly still a work in progress as the players grow into it as well as the team acquiring the players that function best within it.
One side effect of implementing a system that is in place with another team is that we can look at that there is now double the volume of scouting available for opposing defenses. They can now view Houston's offense in play to see how the plays are run and then view how Carson, Darren, Darrius, et al execute it and what variations or tendencies Greg Knapp has.
For the second time this year, the Raiders will play a team the week after that team has faced the Texans (Miami was the other team). This means that John Fox, Jack Del Rio, and the entire defense has been effectively preparing for 2 weeks for this game with a full-speed "Go" last week. They are already going to have a sense of how to play against the zone scheme and the backside cuts. They will have a better understanding of the play-action fake and the naked boot to pass. This may prove to be an advantage for them.
It also gives the Raiders players and coaches additional tape to see scout plays and see how they work in a variety of situations.
And it gives the fans some very interesting Prep Video. Watching how the Texans execute against the Broncos may give us an idea of how the Raiders may fare.
In the run game, the Texans were very effective, but that effectiveness waned as the game wore on. It may be that the Broncos' defensive front 7 were starting to get more of a sense of how the blocking sets up and how to attack and/or disengage as needed. Note that the Texans had a sizable lead in the second half so were going to the run more often.
Full game : 34 rushes, 152 yards, 4.5 avg
1st half : 14 rushes, 92 yards, 6.6 avg
2nd Half : 20 rushes, 60 yards, 3.0 avg
Here's a look at the Texans' rush attempts v Broncos [link]
Meanwhile DMC has a history of excellence against the Broncos, particularly at their place. Here are the stats for the last 3 games :
2010 Week 7 @Den : (W)
16 rushes, 165 yards, 10 avg, 3 TDs, 57 Long
Final Score : Raiders 59, Broncos 14
2010 Week 15 Home : (W)
20 rushes, 119, 6 avg, 0 TD, 36 long
Final Score : Raiders 39, Broncos 23
2011 Week 1 @Den : (W)
22 rushes, 150 yards, 6.8 avg, 47 long
Final Score : Raiders 23, Broncos 20
In Darren McFaddens 2 previous games at Invesco Field :
38 rushes, 315 yards, 8.3 avg, 3 TDs
Here's a view of his previous game v the Broncos [link]
So we should expect DMC to be quite effective this coming Sunday. Will he be able to replicate his previous totals and go for over 150 yards? If he can, that's an almost guarantee that the Raiders will win... (almost).
Meanwhile, the Raiders' passing game awoke against the Steelers and may be needed against Denver if Manning is able to be effective against the Raiders' depleted secondary (as expected). The Texans' may have given some indications into how to approach the Broncos in the air. After viewing some of the successes that Matt Schaub and the Texans had [link], here are some thoughts :
First, an interesting stat :
Here's the target distribution :
WR : 15 tar, 8 rec, 211 yards, 2 TD
Walter : 6 tar, 3 rec, 73 yards, 1 TD
Johnson : 4 tar, 2 rec, 72 yards, 1 TD
Martin : 4 tar, 2 rec, 20 yards
Jean : 1 tar, 1 rec, 46 yards
TEs/FBs : 12 tar, 8 rec, 76 yards, 1 TD
Daniels : 5 tar, 3 rec, 26 yards, 1 TD
Casey : 3 tar, 3 rec, 11 yards
Graham : 4 tar, 2 rec, 39 yards
RB : 1 tar, 1 rec, 3 yards, 1 TD
Foster : 1 tar, 1 rec, 3 yards, 1 TD
(1) Safety play
The safety (#26 Rahim Moore or #20 Mike Adams) vacated the deep middle several times, biting on play action or getting caught up with intermediate and underneath routes. This left wide receivers going deep; the CB expected inside support but with the safety gone, they were really in one-on-one coverage. Two big TD plays (Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter) on very similar plays.
Raiders' may be able to take similar advantage if McFadden is successful in the running game and by use of multiple underneath routes by the TE/FBs.
While the Raiders do not have a WR of the caliber of Andre Johnson, the play design can force decisions by the FS. If the FS makes the wrong decision or if the FS and the CB are not in sync, then the CB's coverage ability is not in question, but the WR can take advantage of missing coverage. The WR has to run a route to force the CB to the outside. Denarius Moore should be able to do this; Juron Criner may also potentially be able to do this.
(2) Linebacker coverage
Von Miller is a beastly pass rushers, but the Texans were able to force him into one-on-one coverage at times and this exposed his weakness. Getting a TE (or FB) out in space against them is a major win for the offense, whether by using a TE screen or by using formation to force coverage matchups. Keith Brooking is another liability in coverage, leaving the intermediate areas as big targets for the offense.
Myers (if he plays), Ausberry, and Reece should be able to duplicate--and perhaps exceed--the success that the Texans' Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham and James Casey had.
(3) Bunch Formations
The Texans' used a bunch formation (three receivers/TEs in a group) or a Stack (two receivers/TE lined up vertically) often. This caused confusion among the defense and at times the Broncos totally missed a coverage assignment. It causes problems with man coverage and allows for natural Pick plays, while it also automatically floods zones (at least the initial ones). Pass catching TEs have those nice big bodies that allows them to get off the line in this formation which means that the patterns are generally difficult to disrupt. A bunch with Myers, Ausberry, Moore or Myers, Reece, Moore could cause some matchup issues. If (say) Moore gets one or two step head start because of the traffic jam, it could lead to a very easy pitch-and-catch.
Combine this with (2) and we can see why the Texans used this so often.
(4) FB/TE position and the 3 TE set
22 Personnel means 2 RBs and 2 TEs and 1 WR. The two RBs are generally a half-back and a fullback and with only one wide receiver, this naturally sets up as run personnel. The beauty of the Texans' system and their personnel is that they will run often and successfully out of this personnel grouping; however, this is also an effective passing personnel group. The Texans will use their FB #86 James Casey similar to how the Raiders use Marcel Reece (or perhaps we should say, "The Raiders use Marcel Reece like the Texans use Casey."), by lining him up as a FB or in a TE position.
And when they line up with single back and 3 TEs, this looks like a passing formation. Each TE can line up on the end of the line or flexed away from the formation. This puts pressure on the Broncos' defensive base personnel as it spreads the linebackers out to cover. That's not what Miller or Brooking want to do.
Or they can line up with 3 TEs close in and again cause some confusion as to coverage responsibilities. With that much traffic, it's easy for a TE to get lost. Add in the ability to release McFadden into the pattern and there are great opportunities for success here.
The Texans exposed a number of deficiencies in the Broncos' pass defense. The Broncos' have a pair of excellent CBs in Champ Bailey (ageless) and Tracy Porter (seemingly revitalized after a couple of down seasons). But the real weaknesses in the coverage are in the supporting players, the safeties and the linebackers. The Texans attacked these groups by using formations and personnel to cause confusion or they ran patterns that forced the safeties to make decisions and were able to attack downfield.
The Raiders don't have the personnel like the Texans, most notably the offensive line is nowhere near the same caliber. But the Raiders may be able to use their TEs and FBs as effectively as the Texans were. In particular, this is potentially a huge opportunity for David Ausberry as a matchup problem. The Broncos will definitely gameplan for Reece and Myers is no longer a secret, so Ausberry may find himself in single coverage against the weakest coverage linebacker or even forgotten about altogether. If he can make big plays against single coverage, it will cause some problems with Jack del Rio's defense, which may then lead to some chances for Denarius Moore or Marcel Reece.
The biggest key will be if the offensive line can protect Palmer. If we learned nothing from Denver's previous game, we learned that they do not mind taking a penalty to put a helmet into the QB's helmet.