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Raiders vs. Broncos: Five questions with the enemy

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Prior to the regular season finale, I spoke with Joe Rowles of Mile High Report to get the low down on the Broncos. He discusses the Raiders can stop Drew Lock, his confidence in Vic Fangio, and which Broncos could break out next year. You can catch my side of things here.

Q: The Broncos are 3-1 with Drew Lock as the starter, and save for a snowy outing in Kansas City, he’s played pretty darn well. If you were Gruden, how would you try to slow Lock and the Broncos offense down?

With the way the Broncos offensive line is thrown together right now the Guenther could create a lot of issues by mugging the A-gaps and making the rookie figure out what’s coming. Kansas City caused some issues with that on passing downs as Lock is still getting acclimated to the Broncos offense and reading the field. To make that even harder the Raiders will need to take away Courtland Sutton without being predictable with how they do so. At his worst the rookie still shows he will lock onto his primary target. This puts some stress on the pass protection because he’ll hang in the pocket longer than needed when other options break open.

Q: Even dating back to his days coaching at Dunmore High School football in Pennsylvania, Vic Fangio has never been a head coach until this season. With the season almost over, what’s your evaluation of Fangio? Is he the long term solution?

It’s pretty crazy how different this season under Fangio feels from the last two with Vance Joseph. While the Broncos’ record isn’t eye catching, they’ve battled in all but three games this year despite starting Joe Flacco and two quarterbacks who had never started before. Vic’s defense has overperformed through injuries that left his side of the ball with one legitimate pass rusher and one proven corner. It’s been a wild ride, but along the way Denver has turned into a team that has the youngest starting offense in the league and one of the youngest overall rosters with 50+ million in cap space to add talent in the spring.

Q: Justin Simmons has turned into one of the top safeties in the NFL this season and Courtland Sutton has become a bonafide WR1. Is there another young player on the Broncos who hasn’t quite broken out yet, but might be on the verge next season?

One Bronco who didn’t play in week 1 but will probably be a key factor in the rematch is Alexander Johnson. He’s already 27, but came into the league late and has hit the ground running in his first extended action. There’s a chance Elway tries to upgrade on Todd Davis at the other linebacker spot this offseason, but I would be shocked if the Broncos don’t line up the dinosaur in the middle of the defense next year.

Another player who’s flashed some serious promise this year is Noah Fant. There was worries early on that he’d be a bust because tight end is such a tough position for a rookie to make an early impact at, but he’s a freaky athlete who’s really grown over the course of the season. I’m excited to see what year two brings, especially if he puts in the reps with Lock.

Q: With the quarterback position appearing stable, what do think Denver’s biggest needs are this offseason? These rivals may have draft slots near one another in round one, do you expect any overlap in the players they’d be considering based on the time you’ve spent on TDN’s Mock Draft simulator?

Free agency could complicate things a little because the Broncos have a ton of players on expiring contracts at the moment. I expect Justin Simmons to return, but most of the defensive line, Conner McGovern, and Chris Harris Jr. will all need new deals to return. Additionally Ron Leary could be a cap casualty.

Right now I would expect the Broncos to spend a lot of time looking at receivers, cornerbacks, offensive and defensive linemen. They could also use a better passing down running back and another tight end that can contribute as a blocker. Depth at safety would be nice and most in Broncos Country hope a new left tackle is a priority.

5. How do you expect this game to play out?

I think it’s going to be a tight game because both rosters have big issues the other can exploit. If Josh Jacobs is able to bear his normal workload the Broncos’ run defense has gotten wrecked by all of the injuries and Kareem Jackson’s suspension. On the back level Trey Marshall played over his head against the Lions but Gruden may have some opportunities to really exploit him in deep coverage. As I mentioned earlier, with a rookie quarterback starting behind an inexperienced line is ripe for mistakes if Guenther throws the kitchen sink at him.

This is one of the bigger games I’ve been waiting for as far as evaluating Lock. I think Oakland’s secondary is ripe for the picking if he can handle the pass rush, and Courtland Sutton could make a joke of the Pro Bowl voting process. My guess is there’ll be fireworks.

Broncos 31 Raiders 27