In the preparation for the biggest game of the season so far, here are a few thoughts about the Denver / Oakland match-up.
Amari can get deep
I have enormous respect for the Denver Broncos secondary; they are a formidable unit and bolstered by talent everywhere, fantastic scheme, and a wonderful pass rush.
But I also like our guys and in particular, Amari Cooper can go deep on just about anyone. Denver's going to limit them, but the Raiders will have a one or two chances to make a play deep with Amari and they'll have to take advantage of it.
The protection has to hold up and give Derek a chance. When he sees and feels that pressure, Derek has to keep his reads on tempo and steady his feet to see the play and make the throw.
Last year, Derek had this chance, but couldn't get the throw off because of the pressure.
Later Derek had this downfield shot; his underthrown ball to Amari allowed the CB to catch up and make the pass interference penalty.
This year, Carr is really sync'd up with both Amari and Crabtree. He's putting the ball right on target and so if Derek gets this chance again, he'll make the Broncos pay.
Tipped passes and execution
Last year, the Broncos' defensive line was causing mayhem. They were pressuring Derek but when they couldn't get to him, they were filling the passing lanes and getting their arms up, ruining some well set-up plays.
Malik Jackson in particular was a wrecking ball and tipped a couple of passes that looked like they were going for big yardage.
Bill Musgrave designed some absolutely beautiful plays where they clear out an area and then run a receiver into it. But most fans never noticed them because the plays were disrupted.
If the Raiders' offense can execute, they could cause some real problems for that brutal Broncos defense.
Here's a look at 3 plays from last year that were so close to breaking for big yards.
This is a beautiful clear-out and "natural pick play" to free up Amari.
Clive Walford takes Von Miller up the seam. Amari runs a shallow crosser that's timed up to rub the defender off by using Walford and Miller. The opposite side receivers run deep and leave that entire underneath area totally vacant.
That sets up Amari Cooper running with the ball in open space.
Walford and Miller are in the middle of the field. Amari is just breaking across the field and the Inside Linebacker is trying to keep up with Amari.
Amari is going to run across, get a rub on his coverage. Crabtree is taking his defender and the safety up and away, leaving a huge underneath clearing.
Amari gets a step and is ready for the ball. If he gets it, he might be able to turn that corner and then it's a footrace down the sideline.
But Malik Jackson tips the ball into the air, Donald Penn catches it and this big gain goes for naught.
If Musgrave pulls this play out again, Denver doesn't have Malik and so there's a better chance for the completion.
Roy Helu It's a similar concept, this time to RB Roy Helu.
Clear out the backside and then throw a shallow crosser.
The backside receivers run deep to draw the defenders away. Roy Helu gets a 1-on-1 with the ILB. If he can beat the backer and get open, there will be some room to run.
Roy Helu gives Brandon Marshall an ankle breaker move and gets a couple of steps on him. He's wide open and ready for the throw.
Again, the ball is tipped and the play is disrupted, this time by Antonio Smith.
Imagine DeAndre Washington or Jalen Richard getting the ball in this position. That's a dream situation and they have an above average chance of making at least one defender miss.
In fact, it may be a contributing factor to why these guys are on the team in the first place, to make these types of plays. AND, since many GMs like to build their teams to beat Division Rivals first, this matchup of RB to LBs may be key.
Seth Roberts Her's another very interesting play, an inside screen to Seth Roberts but with similar concepts as the previous 2 plays : clear out and then cross.
Again, notice the backside routes go deep and have a deep in. That pulls the defenders up and away from the underneath area.
This screen has Seth breaking back while the WR blocks out and Rodney Hudson releases to give a block to spring Seth to the inside.
Meanwhile, the backside Guard and Tackle release downfield to lead the play.
It's like a horizontal Tunnel screen.
The play is set up, but the WR misses the block (and the CB is very aggressive attacking the screen).
Also, a DL again gets in the passing lane and forces Derek to throw around him. Derek does so, but it puts the ball on Seth's back shoulder allowing the defender to close on him.
It's a bit of a risky screen especially with how well the Broncos CBs play it, but in the right situation and against the right coverage, this could work.
Amari will draw attention
Amari was awesome last year and this eyar, he's taken a major step forward. He's absolutely frightening and there's no way that Wade Phillips is going to allow Amari to take over the game (if he can help it).
That may mean sending multiple guys to him and if so, that will set up opportunities for the other receivers. Dread Pirate may have to contribute something OTHER than a Game Winning TD.
From last year :
Amari and Seth run parallel in-cuts and then Seth breaks his route deep.
When Amari crosses the middle of the field, Denver sends 3 guys at him. That leaves Seth with a 1-on-1 (also Michael Crabtree with a 1-on-1).
Derek makes the perfect throw with just the right amount of touch and Seth makes the tough catch.
In general, Seth does some great damage when paired up with Amari and so he may have some chances for big plays this week.
DT is a fantastic talent and he has the ability to tke over a game and ruin the Raiders' defense.
Against Tampa, the approach was to take away Mike Evans. Todo that, Ken Norton put Amerson on him and had him follow Evans round the field (even before Sean Smith's injury).
This matchup of 6'3", 210lbs Amerson v 6'3" 225 lbs Demaryius Thomas could be a very good one and worthy of an NBC iso cam (hopefully).
Defending the screen
The Raiders' defense has improved significantly in defending the WR screens since the Dennis Allen/Jason Tarver days (thank goodness!)
But in 2016, the defense has been very susceptible to the RB screen. The young defensive line players have been so aggressive that they have lost track of the running back many times and this has lead to some nice plays for the opposition.
Gary Kubiak and Denver love to throw the screen to the RB and they will probably do so. If the Defense doesn't stop it, they will do it a lot more often.
Hot reads are good reads
No video because I don't want to see it again, but remember in Week 5, Denver brings the blitz, Derek reads hot, and throws to Seth. The timing on the throw is off and the ball goes right to Chris Harris for the Pick 6.
It was a terrible moment, but it was a fantastic learning experience for Carr and the WRs. Carr has been excellent taking care of the ball this year, but he still gets a bit antsy against pressure (eg., KC) and will be tested hard this week.
Derek will have to take care of the ball; more importantly, he's going to have some chances to gash the defense on blitzes. Can he (and the WRs) do it?
We can't count on Khalil to explode for 5 sacks every game, but in the past 2 weeks, both Mack and Ken Norton Jr seem to have started to make some adjsutments.
Khalil is playing even better than earlier this year and Ken Norton is scheming some things to make things esier for him.
This will be a big test because no way the Broncos are going to repeat the "Let's leave our OTs with no help against Mack all day"-blocking scheme package.
and his Run Defense
Miss you, CWood
There's no Charles Woodson to bail out the defense this year. And so it means someone is going to have to step up. In important games like this, someone on defense is going to have to make a big play.
Can Karl or Reggie get an interception? Can Denico or Bruce get a strip sack? Can Jihad or Perry cause a RB to fumble?
In 2010, the last game of the season determined the winner of the AFC West. Since then the Raiders have not been playing this important a game this late.
After this game, the Raiders have a bye and then a Monday Night game against the Texans. A win will help propel this team into a great 2nd half run.
The bye week is a great opportunity to get the defense more collected and unified. It lets some dinged up players get healthy and we should see a noticeably improved team after that.
And keep this in mind : we'll have a re-match in Denver in Week 17. That game will be on New Year's Day and may decide the Division.
This week may be the extended preview.