In Week 2, the Oakland Raiders travel to the Mile High City to play the Denver Broncos. The two teams finished third and fourth in the AFC West respectively in 2017. They split their matchup 1-1 last year, already making it an interesting 2018 battle. Both teams have made their share of offseason moves that could change the matchup for better or worse.
Denver Broncos key pickups
Quarterback Case Keenum, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, cornerback Tramaine Brock, punter Marquette King, edge-rusher Bradley Chubb and running back Royce Freeman.
QB Trevor Siemian, RB C.J. Anderson, RB Jamaal Charles and CB Aqib Talib.
Oakland Raiders key pickups
Head coach Jon Gruden, WR Jordy Nelson, WR Martavis Bryant, ILB Derrick Johnson, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Leon Hall, S Marcus Gilchrist OT Kolton Miller, nose tackle P.J. Hall, DE Arden Key, CB Nick Nelson, and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
Raiders key departures
FB Jamize Olawale, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, DE Aldon Smith, DT Denico Autry, ILB NaVorro Bowman, CB T.J. Carrie, and punter Marquette King.
Pass-defense vs Pass-offense
The Broncos defense, what the team is most known for, is worse in coverage after trading Talib to the Los Angeles Rams and replacing him with Brock. Chris Harris and Bradley Roby are good corners but the Broncos will miss Talib against a healthy Amari Cooper along with Nelson and Bryant. Let’s not forget Derek Carr has all-time QB numbers though his first four years despite having a bad year with a broken back in three places last year.
And he’ll be well protected as they drafted Kolton Miller at No. 15 overall. Many say he’s a project but he has to already be better than Marshall Newhouse, the O-line’s lone turnstile last year. Broncos OLB Von Miller has done his damage against the Raiders but he has not wrecked the whole game for the offense. Even with DeMarcus Ware on the other side for a couple of years, the Broncos have not sacked Carr more than twice in a game since 2014, (three times ) Carr’s rookie year. But now, the Broncos have Chubb, the No. 5 overall, to possibly change things.
Meanwhile, the Raiders adding Hurst, Key and Hall to Khalil Mack could change things. Mack did that by himself in 2015, wrecking their offense with five sacks. And the Broncos offensive line still stinks at No. 30 in pass-blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. The addition of Jared Veldheer, who had an overall grade of 54.3 in 2017 doesn’t help. He has declined over the last couple of years with injuries and missed the Broncos’ offseason program but expects to be it ready for training camp. QB Case Keenum just had his one good year of six but the NFL saw what he did against the Philadelphia Eagles’ pressure in the playoffs with the No. 13 O-line in pass-blocking efficiency. But in order to put all that pressure on Keenum, Mack has to actually be on the field.
The most questionable part of the Raiders defense, the secondary, finally looks like a solid unit. Gareon Conley, who has everything it takes to be a top CB, is now healthy after a shin injury held him back in 2017. And the 28-year old Melvin showed the same thing with a career year last year, allowing a paltry 60.3 passer rating against him. He and Conley will be matched up on Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, who haven’t done anything since Peyton Manning retired. In defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system, safety Karl Joseph figures to have a breakout season. Marcus Gilchrist looks like an insurance policy at strong safety in case 6’4”, 230-pound, uber-athletic Obi Melifonwu doesn’t work out. And while the Raiders wait for a CB3 to emerge, the Broncos are doing the same at the WR3 position.
Run defense vs run offense
The Broncos came back last year with the No. 3-ranked run defense in 2017 after the Raiders successfully ran the same play on them 10 times in a row in 2016. But Marshawn Lynch and company will be back after starting out slow and coming down the stretch on fire. Another thing to keep an eye on is the running game moves into the top 10 wherever O-line coach Tom Cable goes. So look for this to be a great battle between the two teams.
Anderson and the washed-up Charles are gone now with a talented Royce Freeman to take over. The Raiders finished No. 12 against the run in 2017 and would have been better if NaVorro Bowman started the season as a Raider. So the Raiders need to stop playing and get him signed once they give Mack his money. Derrick Johnson in the middle means a bottom-feeder run defense, ask the Kansas City Chiefs. So this matchup will largely depend on if the Raiders sign Bowman, who’s still out there with no noise coming from his camp.
You can’t tell me Keenum is a better QB than Carr following one good year after struggling for five. Carr has a great body of work for a QBs first four years, even with the bad 2017. Both QBs freaked out when under extreme pocket pressure last year but Carr’s O-line doesn’t allow as much pressure as Keenum’s does. Plus the Raiders are bringing a much improved pass-rush and draft steal and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is a Raider now.
But the Broncos are bringing Chubb into the war this year while the Raiders are bringing a rookie OT in Miller. So the Raiders’ ability to pass could come down to how well Chubb and Miller play as rookies. The Raiders have a much improved secondary coming back while the Broncos secondary to a hit. So it will be interesting to see how well both teams can throw the ball.
Tom Cable is back as the offensive line coach and Lynch is still the main running back so we should expect something good there. But the Broncos were No. 3 against the run in 2017 so this will be a strength on strength type of battle. The Broncos were pretty good running the ball themselves at No. 12 in the league, exactly where the Raiders were in run defense. But Royce Freeman is ready to carry the rock now and the Raiders don’t have Bowman.
If you’re a Raiders fan, pray that the Raiders sign Bowman first thing after they sign Mack. Those two could very well be what tips the scales in the Raiders’ favor in this epic battle.