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Oakland Raiders-Denver Broncos: 3 key matchups to watch for the regular season finale

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There are three matchups that stand out as important to the Raiders’ cause of winning the season finale

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the final game of the 2019 regular season. It has gone by so fast!

The Oakland Raiders finish with the team they defeated in the season opener on Monday Night Football back in September.

Though the time has seemed quick, the season itself has seen too many twists and turns, ebbs and flows, and pendulum swings of emotion for coaches, players, and fans alike.

It’s almost useless to go back to that Week 1 game to game plan for the Denver Broncos. They have a new starting quarterback—their third of the season.

Bradley Chubb had his season ended a couple weeks later. Incidentally, the pass rush, which registered almost nothing in that first contest, has taken off with veteran Jeremiah Attaochu leading the pass rush rotation opposite Von Miller, while interior pass rushers have gotten to the quarterback A LOT in recent weeks.

The offense has improved as the season has gone along, even after trading veteran stalwart receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers at midseason. Needless to say, there’s a lot to catch up on with the division rivals.

No matchups are more important than these though.

DT Mike Purcell/Shelby Harris/Dre’Mont Jones vs. C Rodney Hudson (& IOL)

Some games come down to the age-old moniker “battle of the trenches”. This is a game where that is more readily obvious than normal. Just the season numbers of Shelby Harris (six sacks, 16 hurries) and rookie Dre’Mont Jones (3.5 sacks, 10 hurries) proves the Broncos have found a way to get good push and production from the guys who usually line up over the center (known as a “0” or “1” technique).

Mike Purcell is not a guy who is going to produce a ton in the passing game, but he is a bear to try to move off the line of scrimmage, especially against the run. Knowing the Raiders want to maintain a presence on the ground, particularly on Base downs (first and second down), Purcell will see the field a lot and make life tough on Rodney Hudson and the rest of the interior of the Raiders offensive line.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Purcell’s goal is not so much to make the tackle, but to take up multiple blockers and prevent a lineman from getting to the second level to linebackers Alexander Johnson and Todd Davis.

Harris and Jones are much more aggressive, and play more on passing downs. Harris is a good combination of the two, using girth and quickness to make life tough on interior offensive linemen. Jones has good size, but he wins with quick burst off the snap.

In other words, Hudson and Co. need to be prepared for power, speed, and quickness. And if Von Miller ever loops around inside, they have to worry about the insane pass rush moves of a future Hall of Fame sack-artist.

OLB Von Miller vs. OT David Sharpe/Kolton Miller

Speaking of Von Miller, matching up against him isn’t much fun. No offensive lineman in the NFL would say it is. Thankfully for the Raiders, Denver tends to telegraph where Miller is coming from.

He’ll generally alternate between series, working from the right side one series and the left the next. Even so, and in spite of a slow start to the season, Miller has seven sacks, but even more importantly is fourth in the NFL with 54 pressures (about 3.5 per game), according to Football Outsiders’ charting data provided by Sports Info Solutions.

Earlier in the week, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden confirmed that David Sharpe would start at right tackle in place of Brandon Parker, who he replaced at right tackle midway through the Chargers game. Sharpe will have his hands full when Miller lines up across—or really outside—from him.

Miller loves to work the outside-inside move, but he counters it with an occasional spin move, straight speed, and the fastest, most aggressive hands in the game. He’s one of a few pass rushers who truly makes the entire defense better just by being on the field.

If Sharpe and Miller are unable to contain him, it could be a long afternoon for Derek Carr and the Raiders’ offense.

WR Courtland Sutton vs. CB Trayvon Mullen/Daryl Worley

Perhaps it’s because I’m a football nerd, and love the “game within the game”, but it’s hard to leave off the receiver-corner matchup each week. And with Trayvon Mullen passing the medical test this week to be able to play, it is tough to leave off this week’s potential one-on-one matchup between Mullen and Sutton.

I’ve written before about how Sutton is going to be a problem for the Raiders and the rest of the AFC West for years to come. With incredible size, functional speed, and ball-tracking ability, Sutton really became a go-to No. 1 receiver in 2019.

Mullen, whether by default or necessity, or some combination of both, has become the Raiders’ No. 1 corner as a rookie in 2019. He will not always line up across from Sutton, but when he does it presents a great matchup between two up-and-coming players.

In spite of his size, Sutton is not the most physical player you will see at the wide receiver position, but he will battle when someone comes with some attitude. He’ll also blow by corners with good shiftiness off the snap of the ball.

Worley will likely get the call against Sutton when he lines up in the slot. It’s two different, but equally fun, matchups. If Sutton goes off, winning the football game becomes an infinitely more difficult task.