As if divisional games needed any more fuel to the fire. The Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos have a long-standing hatred for one another, and when they meet for the first time this season on Sunday, the Raiders will be looking for their first win while the Broncos will be looking to just about eliminate another contender for the AFC West crown. The good news is the bookmakers believe in Las Vegas as they enter the contest as slight favorites over on DraftKings Sportsbook.
To preview this massive matchup, Ian St. Clair of Mile High Report was kind enough to answer my questions about the Broncos for Raider Nation.
Question: I’m not sure how much truth there is to the rumors that the Broncos hired Nathaniel Hackett to recruit Aaron Rodgers, which didn’t work, but if Hackett’s system is built for Rodgers, do you think that’s played a role in Russell Wilson’s struggles to start the season?
Answer: Based on what Benjamin Allbright has reported, there is no truth to Hackett being hired to recruit Rodgers to Denver. According to Allbright, George Paton and the Broncos knew Rodgers was going back to the Packers before the Combine.
As for the struggles, going back to Allbright, even Rodgers struggled early in this same offense in 2019. In Rodgers’ first three games, he went 57 of 93 (62.1%) for 647 yards, four touchdowns and seven sacks. For Willson, he’s 63-for-106 (59.4%) for 743 yards, two TDs and nine sacks. If we want to go back even further, while the circumstances are a little different, in his first five games Peyton Manning struggled with the Broncos. So it takes time for a QB to learn a new system on a new team. That doesn’t excuse what we’ve seen from Wilson, Hackett and the offense, but it makes sense when you put it in context.
And prior to SNF, Wilson and the Broncos were moving the ball they just couldn’t finish drives. For Wilson and Denver’s offense, maybe they can use the game-winning drive from Sunday night that was vintage “Russ” to gain some confidence.
Q: Courtland Sutton has been the one consistent weapon Denver seems to have this season. What separates him from the rest of the receiving corps and why do you think he and Wilson have formed an immediate connection while the rest of the group hasn’t?
A: Sutton is a complete receiver whom Wilson can trust to make plays when they’re needed. Whether third down or red zone, Sutton can utilize his size, strength and quickness to his advantage. The fact Wilson can rely on Sutton is why they’ve developed that bond so quickly.
As for the rest of the receivers, the loss of Tim Patrick has been apparent during the first three weeks of the season. Jerry Jeudy needs to get out of his head and just play football. There’s no doubt he has the ability, but he’s not consistent. K.J. Hamler has the potential to become the Tyler Lockett of this offense, but he needs to get on the field. Wilson and the Denver offense need another receiving threat to step up and make plays to help Sutton out. Eventually opposing defenses will start doubling him since no one else is a threat.
Q: Building off my last question, DraftKings Sportsbook has an interesting bet right now where Sutton and Adams combining for over 200 yards and two touchdowns is at +350. Do you like those odds/the matchups the two receivers will face?
A: What holds me back on that intriguing bet is Pat Surtain II. The Broncos' second-year cornerback is reminding fans of Champ Bailey with how he’s started his career and this season. Adams should see a lot of Surtain on Sunday, and Surtain doesn’t give up catches let alone yards.
On Sunday against the Niners, Surtain was targeted six times and didn’t give up a catch. Obviously, Adams is on a whole different level, but that battle will keep me from placing a bet on that market. From a betting perspective, taking off my orange and blue glasses, Sutton is poised for a big day. I would look at the over for his receptions and yards.
Q: With Randy Gregory playing well and Bradley Chubb continuing to do his thing, does that make the “loss” or not bringing Von Miller back in the offseason sting less within Broncos Country?
A: After Miller’s first game of the season against the Rams, there was a lot of angst about Paton not bringing Miller back to Denver. But, as you mentioned, Gregory has been phenomenal. As has Chubb, who has three sacks in three games.
That has quieted the Miller talk/whining. There were serious questions about both of these guys based on their respective histories entering the season. But so far, both have exceeded expectations. The goal is to remain consistent and on the field, which both have struggled to do in their careers. If they do, that makes this defense one of the best, if not the best, in the NFL.
Q: With Justin Simmons on IR, what is the Bronco’s defensive backfield missing and who has stepped in to replace Simmons?
A: At least right now, the Broncos' defense hasn’t missed a beat. That’s because of the committee of Caden Sterns and P.J. Locke, who have both played well. And it’s not easy to replace one of the best safeties in the NFL, but Simmons’s absence has not been noticeable. That speaks to how well Denver’s defense is playing right now.
The next test is Derek Carr, Adams and the Raiders offense, but this unit is more than poised to pass that test. The key is to make Las Vegas one-dimensional and not let Josh Jacobs and the rushing attack get rolling.