A classic NFL rivalry game takes place Sunday as the Denver Broncos host the Oakland Raiders. Although the season remains young, the Broncos must find a way to beat their longtime rival at home, something they have not done in the last four meetings in Colorado.
In order for the Broncos to have a chance Sunday, the defense needs to stop all-pro running back Darren McFadden. “Run DMC,” as he has been dubbed, should have an extra pep in his step knowing that he has torched his AFC West foes since he came into the league in 2008. Although injuries have hampered McFadden regularly throughout his career, he looks healthy so far this season. The Raiders have gotten the starting running back involved often, as he leads the team in both rushing and receiving.
The Broncos’ primary concern Sunday should be McFadden. However, Bronco fans should be worried if the contest turns into a low-scoring, field position type situation. The Broncos may boast a good special teams duo of Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt, but the Raiders have better with Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Both have earned a reputation as two of the league’s most powerful kicking legs. They have a substantial advantage Sunday with Denver’s thin air.
Last season while playing at altitude, Janikowski tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal, while Lechler pinned the Bronco offense near their goal line with several dandy punts. The Broncos will have problems if the game’s outcome results from the work of Lechler and Janikowski.
Fortunately for the Broncos, the Raider offense does not boast any consistent playmaker besides McFadden. The Bronco defense will see a rare assignment against an average quarterback in Carson Palmer. Still, do not think that Bronco fans forgot about the 59-14 drubbing their squad received in 2010 from Oakland.
The Bronco defense needs to play physical, intimidating football all game Sunday. Joe Mays, a keg cog on the defensive side for the orange and blue, will be serving a one-game suspension for his hit on Houston Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub, unless his appeal to commissioner Roger Goodell goes in his favor. In his absence, Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will rely on other linebackers, such as Keith Brooking, to bring the boom.
We can finally talk about Peyton Manning. The former Indianapolis Colt did not look great last week against the Texans. He missed some throws he regularly completed in the past. He looked out of sync with his receivers at times, but he still threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns to Brandon Stokely and Joel Dressen, a former CSU Ram. He did all that while playing from behind most of the game, with a mediocre rushing attack, against the best defense in the AFC.
Not only do the Broncos need to be physical on defense Sunday, but they need to pound the ball into the throat of the Oakland defense with effectiveness. Running back Willis McGahee did his best disappearing act against the Texans last week, gaining only 36 yards on 12 rushing attempts. While coach John Fox may not need McGahee to pile up 100 yards against a team that struggles mightily against the pass, the Broncos need more of a balance in order to enable Manning to better pick apart the Raider secondary.
The Raiders have always been known as the “bad boys” of the NFL. They bring a certain physicality that few teams can match. Over the past few years, though, the silver and black have been penalized the most in the league. The Broncos cannot afford to engage in pointless extracurricular activity with their opponent Sunday and expect to win.
Dennis Allen, the Broncos’ defensive coordinator last season, was appointed the head coach of the Raiders in the offseason. Defensive players should take offense to their former assistant coach switching to the dark side. I am sure Fox would not mind defensive lineman Elvis Dumervil taking a shot at Carson Palmer early in the game to set the tone.
The Broncos enter this weekend with a humdrum record of 1-2. This is one of few games on the schedule that they should win without much stress. During the Tim Tebow era last season, they failed to win a divisional game at home. In order for the Broncos to earn a playoff bid, that sort of bizarre statistic cannot repeat in 2012.
It may be early in the season, but with several tough road tests looming, this game provides the feel of a must-win game for the Broncos. They need to be physical, assertive and make good decisions. They need to stop letting the Raiders take their lunch money in their own cafeteria.
Send the Oakland players and fans back to their loony bin in Northern California. Then the Broncos can focus on avenging last season’s embarrassing playoff loss to former coach Josh McDaniels and the New England Patriots next week.