The Denver Broncos–Oakland Raiders rivalry has lost most of its luster in recent years. Formerly two dominant teams from the same division fighting for playoff berths, the bi-annual matchup between the orange and blue and the silver and black has become almost meaningless to postseason position, and is essentially a glorified practice. However, aside from the usual pleasure Broncos fans receive from watching the their team demolish the hated Raiders, this week holds some added significance due to the presence of Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders’ read-option scheme, something the Broncos must defend well if they are to contend for the Super Bowl.
Though Pryor is not as talented as some of the other read-option quarterbacks in the NFL, he is extremely athletic and understands the complex scheme very well, as he ran a similar offense during his collegiate career at Ohio State. From the Broncos’ coaching staff’s perspective, Pryor is the perfect matchup for the team’s young defense. Not only does he mark the team’s first regular season attempt at slowing the progressive read-option scheme, allowing a week of preparation on the complex offensive attack, but Pryor also provides an inexperienced Broncos’ defense with the opportunity to play against, and get tape of them playing against, a watered down version of the scheme before they face teams like the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles in a few weeks. Moreover, with Super Bowl ambitions, the Broncos will likely have to face either the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Even with the right personnel, the read-option is an extremely difficult scheme to stop and the Broncos’ defense is filled with inexperienced players at every level, especially in the front seven where the read-option wreaks the most havoc. The suspension of Von Miller forces the Broncos to start two linebackers, Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving, that are both first year starters and have only 71 combined career tackles. The offseason addition of Shaun Phillips will certainly help to solidify the front seven, but if the Broncos are going to be successful against the read-option, it will be critical for the team’s young defenders to play beyond their years, execute a disciplined defensive scheme, and not get pulled out of position by the misdirection.
Though the Raiders’ game on Monday night may not be overly close, it will be a great indicator to see how the Broncos’ young defense responds to the read-option, and ultimately how they match up against the best in the NFL.