We’re just one game into the season, but that season opener can either make a team feel on top of the world, or trying to claw their way up from the bottom. The Broncos are feeling the former and the Raiders the latter right now.
Even though the Raiders lost to one of the best teams in the NFL and the Broncos beat one of the worst, a win is a win. And after this week either the Broncos will be undefeated and the Raiders winless, or both will be back to .500. These key match-ups could very well decide which scenario we will be looking at come Sunday night.
Kolton Miller vs Von Miller
The Millers will play a major role in this game. The Raiders want Derek Carr to be aggressive and go deep. They even brought back Martavis Bryant to stretch the field. But in order to do that, Carr will need time to let Bryant and company get down the field. The rookie Miller keeping the elite Miller from destroying Carr from his blindside on the rush will be the key to allowing that to happen. And not getting Carr killed back there would be good too.
Derek Carr vs Ghosts
Last week Carr looked good early on. The first drive was great. And they were ahead at the half. They couldn’t get anything going in the third quarter, but the game was still tied 13-13 nearing the end of the quarter. Then on third and 2, Carr was sacked by Michael Brockers. And the Rams would finish the game on a 20-0 run.
When the Raiders got the ball back to begin the fouth quarter, they went three-and-out. On that third and five, Carr quickly looked for receivers, and unable to find anyone, turned and threw the ball away from a clean pocket. He was spooked and there was no one there. The same thing happened on the next third down, this time third and seven. Except this time he didn’t throw it away, he threw a bizarre lob pass right to linebacker Cory Littleton.
When he got the ball back after that interception there was just 3:15 left in the game with the Raiders down 26-13. On the fourth play, he threw a pass in front of Jared Cook on a shallow cross and it was picked by Marcus Peters and returned for a touchdown. That is a monumental meltdown. And it was seemingly tied to simply getting sacked.
There will be plenty of pressure in this game. The Broncos sacked Russell Wilson six times last week. Derek will probably be sacked a few times as well. But there will also undoubtedly be times where he will have a pocket from which to throw. He CAN NOT waste those windows of opportunity by hearing footsteps where there are none. The Rams don’t even have a strong outside pass rush. The Broncos absolutely do.
Amari Cooper vs Chris Harris Jr
Jon Gruden made it clear this week he wants Amari Cooper to see the ball come his way when he gets open. Derek Carr said he doesn’t want to force it into him. Something has to give. If AC/DC is to have a revival in Denver, Coop must break open on Harris. That will be no easy task. Harris is a three-time Pro Bowler and was an All Pro as recently as 2016. He defended more passes in the opener (2) than Coop had catches (1).
Coop got open at least 5-6 times against the Rams’ All Pro cornerbacks. He can do it against Harris and company. If he doesn’t, the Raiders offense will sputter and die again.
Rodney Hudson vs Domata Peko
Even at 34 years of age, Peko is one of the league’s better nose tackles. Getting Marshawn Lynch going in this game will depend on finding space up the gut where Peko makes his money.
Hudson is known for his pass blocking, while his fellow interior linemen Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson are more known for their run blocking. Games like this will give Hudson a chance to show he can also road grade. If he loses those battles inside, the Raiders will lose the ground advantage. They need that to keep from being put in third and long situations where the Broncos pass rushers can go to work.
Melvin/Conley vs Sanders/Thomas
Don’t be fooled by the numbers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas put up last season. The QB situation in Denver was a travesty last season and their numbers took a hit because of it. Both are just a season removed from putting up over 1000 yards each and heading to the Pro Bowl. And now they have a quarterback in Case Keenum who can get them the ball.
If you needed a sign to prove that, you got it last week when Sanders caught 10 passes on 11 targets for 135 yards and a touchdown. While Thomas caught 6 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks don’t have the secondary they once did. The Raiders also have a rebuilt secondary.
There were some good signs last week Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin were a step up from the duo of Sean Smith and David Amerson. But Conley and Melvin still gave up some big plays that cost the team late in the game. Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp are very good receivers, but not nearly as talented as Thomas and Sanders.