The Las Vegas Raiders have no choice, they must win out. One down, three more to go. The first of a treacherous trio is an AFC West matchup with the visiting Denver Broncos. It’s the battle of the division .500s and, for the Silver & Black, anything but victory at the end of 60 minutes of football (more if it goes to overtime) would be a face plant in a season full of them.
If there’s one team the Raiders boast success against, it’s the Broncos. The team has won the last four of the five meetings between the two teams. That series of losses coupled with the most recent 2021 defeat in Denver sticks in Broncos boss Vic Fangio’s craw.
“They’ve played well against us,” Fangio said. “They have a balanced offensive attack, and any time you’re balanced, that always makes it tougher to defend. They have a good pass rush, which has affected us some in the past. They’re a good team and they’ve managed to what beat us four out of the five times.”
Things have changed for both the Vegas and Denver since their last meeting, however.
That 34-24 win by the Raiders was one of four 30-point outburst the team put forth. Since that Oct. 17 tilt, however, the team has surpassed 30 points scored just once: The Thanksgiving Day 36-33 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys. In the seven games since the Raiders’ bye, the team’s high-water mark offensively were two 16-point games (against New York (Giants) and Cleveland this past Monday). The lack of end zone visits are both glaring and disconcerting for a once potent Raiders offense.
Flip the coin and that October loss to Vegas helped Denver regain its focus and purpose on defense. While they did yield 30 points to the Philadelphia Eagles, they’ve held opponents to under 20 in six of the eight games since the home loss to Las Vegas. Most recently, the Broncos fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 15-10 last week.
With starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out due to a concussion and backup Drew Lock getting the starting nod, Denver will rely heavily on their strong defense.
“It’s going to be a collective defensive effort,” impact safety Justin Simmons said. “I don’t think we played our best defense the first time we saw them at home earlier in the season. Now later on in the season we’re finding our groove, we’re playing a little bit better defense, better overall complete defense. The biggest thing for us is going to find ways to limit their opportunity as an offense and give our offense more opportunities — obviously that being takeaways. That’s the one area that I’ve consistently talked about while I’ve been up here, outside of communication, and that’s going to be something we’re going to have to be great at on Sunday in order to win.”
Las Vegas isn’t taking Denver lightly and the team is expecting to get the Broncos best shot today.
“They were tough for us last time we played them, and they were tough last year when we played them, regardless of who the quarterback has been,” Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia said. “They’re really well coached, they’re good on defense. They’re a physical team and we seem to go down to the end with these guys as well. It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
By The Numbers
Broncos: Denver sports the 21st-ranked offense in total points (285) and the 17th-ranked unit in yardage (4,777). The O has produced 3,044 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions through the air and 1,733 yards and 12 touchdowns running the ball. Defensively, the Broncos boast the second-ranked defense in points allowed (243) and fifth-ranked unit in yards yielded (4,4,71). The team allowed 2,978 yards, 17 touchdowns with 12 interceptions via the air and 1,493 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Raiders: Las Vegas owns the 18th-ranked offense in total points (299) and the 10th-ranked unit in yards gained (5,170). The team has thrown for 3,972 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rushing, the team has churned out 1,198 yards and 11 scores. Defensively, the Raiders are the 30-ranked squad in points allowed (374) and 17th in yards yielded (4,872). They’ve given up 3,154 air yards with 25 touchdowns to just snaring five interceptions. Vegas has allowed 1,718 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.
Broncos: The biggest missing piece for Denver is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion). Also out with a concussion is inside linebacker Kenny Young. Seven Broncos are listed as questionable for today’s clash: Safety Kareem Jackson; defensive end Dre’Mont Jones; defensive lineman Shamar Stephen; defensive end Shelby Harris; defensive lineman Mike Purcell; safety Caden Sterns and inside linebacker Baron Browning.
Raiders: Enforcer safety Johnathan Abram is lost for the rest of the season due to a shoulder ailment. Tight end Darren Waller is listed as doubtful (knee/back) while three Raiders are questionable: Linebackers Denzel Perryman and Will Compton; defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
Keep An Eye On
Broncos: Pat Surtain II. The phenomenal rookie has exceeded the expectations he had coming in as both an NFL neophyte and the son of a quality NFL corner Patrick Surtain Sr. He’s picked off four passes to along with 12 pass deflections and is only allowing 48.1 percent of the passes thrown his way (39 of 79) to be completed. He has yielded 440 yards and three touchdowns, but quarterbacks who target the 6-foot-2, 202-pound cornerback sport 1 58.9 rating. Considering how highly the Broncos speak of Raiders slot machine Hunter Renfrow, perhaps the task of covering the “super slot” (as Fangio called him) may go to Surtain.
“He’s a guy who’s a Swiss Army knife for them. They plug him and put him anywhere. Whether it’s against a DB, or a linebacker, he finds ways to get open in man and in zone,” Simmons said of Renfrow.
Raiders: Maxx Crosby. The Pro Bowl defensive end may only have five sacks the statistical category, but he’s still a disruptive pass rusher. If Vegas doesn’t want to roll snake eyes at home, they’ll need Mad Maxx to make Lock extremely uncomfortable every time he scans the field to throw. And Lock knows he has to account for Crosby and his tag team partner, Yannick Ngakoue (team-leading nine sacks).
“Their four-man rush is really good,” Lock said. “They’ve got some elite pass rushers on their defense. I think the biggest thing on this defense is they’re a bend, don’t break kind of team. They’ve not going to let you take these deep shots.”