With the second toughest schedule in the league this year the Denver Broncos need every game they can get. Losses in what were two very close games against the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans have put the Broncos behind the gun early in the season, and have added a sense of urgency to Sunday’s division matchup against the Oakland Raiders. If they’re going to carve a path to victory on Sunday, it might look something like this.
Statistically, Denver has a slight edge in nearly every offensive and defensive category against Oakland, including rushing yards. Before the Tim Tebow era in Denver, not too many people would have pegged the Broncos to out-rush Darren McFadden, but with Willis McGahee riding the wave of last season, he could be the man for the job against a Raiders defense that has allowed over 115 rushing yards per game this year. If McGahee can rack up another 100-yard game, and take some of the pressure off of Peyton Manning who has struggled over the last two weeks, Denver has a chance to reassert their offensive capabilities.
As I mentioned the last two games Denver played have been painfully close, coming down to two, third down conversions by the opposition that ultimately kept Manning off the field and sealed the Broncos fate. In each instance Denver was able to get within one possession of their opponents with time to spare, force a third down, then gave up a first down on a passing play. All that to say, the Broncos are in desperate need of timely defense. This is a team that has a lot of playmakers on defense, so it’s puzzling as to why they wouldn’t be able to stop either the Falcons or Texans on a late third down that would have put the ball back in Manning’s hands. First and foremost, they need to play well enough to not put themselves in that situation in the first place, and the fact that they’re facing Carson Palmer instead of Matt Schaub should help that cause. Yet the Broncos will need Tracy Porter, Champ Bailey and Von Miller to all step up and make plays when it counts. If they can do that against the Oakland, they’ll at least give Manning a chance.
On Sunday the Broncos will do what they do best, and Manning will continue to produce. However in a world that focuses on quarterbacks, I’ve always contended (even during the Tebow era) that the more volatile matchup for Denver is often their defense against the opposing teams offense. It was their problem last year against the New England Patriots and it has continued to be their problems during both losses this season.
If McGahee can give Manning some breathing room and the defense can keep McFadden and Palmer under control when it counts, Denver’s chances are as good as they’ve ever been.