This one could be an old-fashioned knockdown, drag out fight between these two bitter division rivals. Much of that battle will take place in the trenches between the big fellas. But outside of that, there will be several specific match-ups that will decide this game.
Derek Carr vs Broncos secondary
Typically these match-ups are one-on-one situations, but in this case it’s a ‘pick your poison’ situation. They have playmakers all over the place. The group is All Pro corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Pro Bowl safety Darian Stewart, outstanding nickel corner Bradley Roby, and newcomer Justin Simmons who had two picks last year and apparently made former Pro Bowl safety TJ Ward expendable.
Last week in Washington, Carr was intercepted twice and got Michael Crabtree lit up on a long pass by the safety. He completed just 85 yards through the air prior to the final, meaningless dink and dunk drive. He won’t get any breaks from the Broncos’ secondary. He hasn’t thrown an interception against the Broncos since early 2015, but no one expected him to throw two picks last week so now he must prove that was a one-off situation.
Amari Cooper vs Amari Cooper
There has never been a more important game for Coop than this week. He leads the league with 6 dropped passes in the first three games which is twice that of the next most drops (3). Even with the above secondary, this has been and will continue to be all about Coop. It is possible Coop is having issues due to his lingering knee injury that kept him out much of camp. If you’ll recall, it was an ankle issue that had him dropping passes late in his rookie season which led to him having the second most drops in the league.
There may be some added pressure this week as well. Crabtree is questionable with a chest injury. Should he not be able to go, the Raiders will relying even more heavily on Amari catching the ball the way the former 4th overall pick is supposed to. Coming into this season all the talk was about him being more aggressive and fighting for the ball. Now they just need him to catch the ball.
Marshawn Lynch vs Brandon Marshall
Marshawn vs Marshall. The NFL leading tackle breaker vs the Broncos leading tackler. Over the first two games of this season, Marshawn had broken a tackle on half (15) of his 30 carries. That was most in the league.
While the defensive line will be trying to keep their gaps against the Raiders offensive line, Marshawn will find one and once he does, the man tasked with wrapping him up will often be Marshall.
This season the Broncos have allowed just 2.6 yards per carry on defense, which is best in the league. Much of that credit, obviously, goes to the defensive line. But Marshall is the one who must make sure all their hard work doesn’t go to waste. So far he is doing that job.
Khalil Mack vs Menelik Watson
Two years ago when the Raiders were in Denver, Khalil Mack did the unthinkable — he sacked the quarterback five times in one half of football. Over the first two games of this season Broncos right tackle Menelik Watson — formerly of the Raiders — did the unthinkable — he gave up six sacks.
This battle favors Mack considerably. Mack lined up across from Watson for three seasons in practice. Well, that is when Watson was actually healthy, which wasn’t all that often. But often enough for Mack to know his weaknesses and tendencies quite well. Mack has no weaknesses. And Watson can know his tendencies all day, but that doesn’t mean he can stop them.
Last week in Buffalo, the Broncos gave up 18 pressures on QB Trevor Siemian according to PFF. In those dropbacks, Siemian completed six passes for 91 yards with 2 interceptions and 3 sacks.
There is no way the Broncos let Watson go one-on-one with Mack for any meaningful pass blocking snaps. But that works in his favor as well. Let them double Mack. He’ll still beat a few of them while opening things up the the interior pass rush and blitzes.
Donald Penn vs Von Miller
Penn is a lot better suited for the task of holding back an elite pass rusher than Watson, but make no mistake, his task isn’t any easier. Miller has 3.0 sacks already this season and he’s coming for more. Penn allowed one of the four sacks the Raiders gave up last week. It was his second sack surrendered in his past five games dating back to last season.
For most offensive tackles, giving up two sacks in five games isn’t all that bad. Though we have come to expect him to pitch shutouts as he did for the first 14 games last season, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl since 2010. It also had him holding out for a new contract this offseason, which he eventually received. The player that earned that Pro Bowl trip and that contract will need to show up Sunday in order to keep Von Miller under wraps. Because as bad as Siemian has been under pressure this season, Derek Carr has been worse.