With two 3-2 teams that are looking to bounce back after dropping their last two contests and fighting with each other for positioning in the division, this Week 6 matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos certainly isn’t missing any storylines.
Not that these organizations needed another reason to hate each other, but an early-season bout where both teams are looking to get back on track certainly adds a little fuel to the fire.
The Raiders’ collective mental toughness will certainly be put to the test, and already kind of has, but they’re in for a fight on the field as well. The Broncos have a talented roster top to bottom and Teddy Bridgewater has finally given them steady quarterback play.
If the Silver and Black are going to turn things around in Mile High, it will take some big contributions from these four players:
While I’d be very surprised if Greg Olson tries to reinvent the wheel during the first week of his takeover, there’s no doubt that he’ll play a major role in the game.
Las Vegas’ offense will probably look about the same conceptually, but the tendencies and play-calling could be a lot different. The latter could prove to be positive seeing as the team has struggled in short-yardage and running the ball in general.
Personally, I’d love to see some more creative ways to get the running backs in space, but that might be asking a lot seeing as the coach didn’t know he was taking over until Monday.
This week will also serve as a good litmus test to see how much say or control Olson had on the offense. Over the last few years, this has always been viewed as Jon Gruden’s offense and the offensive coordinator was more of a sounding board, while Gruden took a very hands-on approach.
Granted, our own Marcus Johnson wrote about how there are some similarities between Olson’s offenses in Jacksonville and Las Vegas’ current unit, so we’ll see how this plays out on Sunday.
Speaking of Olson’s previous stops, he doesn't exactly have the greatest track record. The Jags were about average and average in points and yardage in his first season as offensive coordinator but dropped two 25th and 23rd, respectively, in the NFL during year two, and in the last year of his first stint with the organization, the Raiders ranked 31st and 32nd. However, that isn’t exactly a fair assessment of who he is as a coach since a lot of those offenses had a severe lack of talent, especially at quarterback.
This time around, Olson has a good crop of players at his disposal, so this will be a great opportunity for him to show what he’s got as a play-caller.
Henry Ruggs III
Denver has one of the best secondaries in the league and that’s partially because of their outstanding cornerbacks. Bryce Callahan is one of the best nickelbacks in the league and Patrick Surtain II has emerged as a promising young corner. However, the third player in the equation, Kyle Fuller, is a glaring weak spot.
In my conversation with Joe Rowles of Mile High Report, Rowles said that he’s worried about Fuller this weekend because Fuller tends to get beat deep.
The veteran defensive back is currently allowing 16.8 yards per catch, which ranks 114th out of 128 qualifying cornerbacks. He also has an average depth of target (ADOT) of 12.0 yards and has earned Pro Football Focus’s sixth-lowest coverage grade at the position.
Meanwhile, Henry Ruggs’ ADOT of 17.8 is the third-highest among wide receivers, and his 20.5 yards per catch is tied for third.
Brandon Staley and Sean Desai, the Chargers head coach and Bears defensive coordinator, are both disciples of Vic Fangio, the Broncos head coach, so I’d expect Denver to deploy a similar strategy to what we’ve seen the last couple of weeks to slow down Darren Waller.
That means a lot of bracket coverage and safety help on Waller, however, if Ruggs can win over the top, especially when Fuller is on him, that will force Fangio to keep a safety over the top, which should open things up for the tight end underneath. Plus, it could also free up Hunter Renfrow to have some more one-on-ones with Callahan in the slot, which would be a little best-on-best matchup.
Amik Robertson has performed admirably over these last couple of weeks. He came off the bench and held his own in Los Angeles, and stepped up to make his first NFL start against Chicago, faring pretty well in coverage against wide receivers. However, his physical limitations also showed up in those games.
Over the last two weeks, Robertson has allowed nine catches on 13 targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns. The majority of those figures have come when teams were able to get him in one-on-one situations with tight ends. Technique/coverage-wise, he’s does everything correctly, but at 5’8” and 187 pounds he’s struggled to handle bigger bodies and more physical route runners.
To the second-year pro’s credit, he’s held his own against receivers in contested catches, but he also hasn’t faced two wideouts quite like Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. Sutton stands at 6’4” and 216 pounds while Patrick is 6’4” and 212 pounds, and those two have combined for seven contested catches on 15 opportunities this season.
Granted, Robertson did manage to keep Mike Williams in check a few weeks ago, but the Chargers were also game-planning for Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette, whereas Roberston will have the Broncos’ attention from start to finish this weekend. I’d expect them to try and isolate the Louisiana Tech product on one of their tall wideouts in the red zone, so hopefully, it really is just the thicker-built pass-catchers that give him trouble.
The Raiders have had major issues in pass protection so far, especially at right tackle. Last week, the team gave Brandon Parker a shot, and he ended up allowing three pressures and earned PFF’s fifth-lowest pass blocking grade (38.0) at the position.
Granted, going against Khalil Mack is a tough draw for your first start of the season, but it doesn’t get any easier for Parker this week as Von Miller awaits.
Even at 32-years old, Miller is still one of the better pass rushers in the league. So far this season, he’s accumulated 19 pressures - tied for 14th among EDGEs - and 4.5 sacks, which ranks tied for 10th in the league.
Obviously, this matchup heavily favors Denver on paper.
Due to Miller’s injuries and Parker’s lack of playing time, these two have only met once back in 2018, and the former had his way with the latter. Miller had one pressure but registered an 82.8 pass-rush grade compared to Parker’s 44.0 pass-protection grade, meaning the rusher was winning consistently but the Raiders were getting the ball out quickly.
The Broncos’ secondary is much better now than it was back then, so the Raiders might not have the luxury of early open windows to hit in the passing game, so it will be a lot more difficult for them to hide their pass protection issues. I’d expect Parker to have plenty of help during the game but ultimately, he’s going to have to hold his own against a future Hall of Famer at some point.