If you’re a fan of the NFL, you know how many great games there have been through the first two weeks of the season. Lots of games have been decided in the final minutes of games, including some in the final seconds.
The Broncos, however, haven’t been a part of any of those close games. Is this the Arena Football League? John Fox’s team has put up 90 points to begin 2013. Peyton Manning has been on another planet to start the year, throwing nine touchdowns in two games, tying an NFL record.
It may be September still, but I already see differences in this team compared to the team that lost to the Ravens last January. For one, the Denver defense hasn’t allowed many big plays. Aside from a long pass play to Victor Cruz in the first half, Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense had little to celebrate.
Last year, Torrey Smith got behind the defense several times, while Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta routinely made plays on big third downs. Eliminating the opponent’s highlights can stop any sort of momentum in football. Broncos’ fans should be pleased with that so far this year.
Another difference with the 2013 Broncos is the turnover margin. One of the most important, yet underrated stats in football is how much you turn the ball over as opposed to taking it away. Last year, the Broncos were a top five team in almost every major category. But they were minus one in turnover margin, meaning they had one more turnover than takeaway. That number put them in the middle of the pack.
This season, the Broncos are plus three, one of the better margins in the AFC. That is especially encouraging considering defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been without Champ Bailey and Von Miller so far. The regular season may not mean much come playoff time, but it’s good to see the defense finally making some game-changing plays.
Denver now prepares to host their old playmates in the Oakland Raiders. One of the longtime rivalries in all of sports, the Raiders lead the overall series 60-45, although the Broncos have won the last three meetings.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor beat out Matt Flynn in training camp for the starting job because of his playmaking ability. Pryor has looked like a rookie throwing the football, but when he decides to tuck it and run, he’s dangerous. He’s rushed for 162 yards already, which is more than most running backs have to this point.
Pryor’s running ability and Darren McFadden’s good health means that the Broncos should get a heavy dose of the ground game Monday. Maybe for the only time all season, Denver will not be preparing for a pass-heavy offense.
Defensively, the Raiders don’t do anything spectacular. But they do have nine sacks thanks to an array of unique blitz schemes that allows multiple players to have shots at the quarterback. That being said, the silver and black haven’t had to deal with PFM yet. So unless the Raiders are allowed to have 20 players on defense, I like Manning’s chances of checking to appropriate blocking assignments all night long.
Three keys to the game for Denver:
- Pick up blitzes. Keep an eye on left tackle Chris Clark, who replaces Ryan Clady for the remainder of the season. Clark is a serviceable backup, but is nowhere near to what Clady brings each week. If the Broncos have any trouble with the blitz, look for offensive coordinator Adam Gase to go with multiple tight ends for added blocking help.
- Make Pryor throw the ball. In two games, Pryor has averaged 172 yards passing. In other words, Tim Tebow would pose more of a threat throwing the ball. If the Denver defense can control the running game and put Pryor in down and distance, the secondary could have a field day.
- Avoid the “trap game.” The Broncos crushed the previous two Super Bowl champions to start the season. A team not focused on the Lombardi Trophy could experience a letdown in a game like this. It’d be nice if Denver jumped on Oakland right from the
start instead of saving everything for the second half.
My prediction: Broncos-41, Raiders-17