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For this week’s film room, we’re switching things up a bit. We’re still looking at the Denver Broncos and their performance this past week against the San Diego Chargers, while also keeping in mind all that we’ve seen so far this year. But this week we’ll also be taking a look at some of the tendencies that can be exploited in the Broncos upcoming opponent, the hated Oakland Raiders.
Few things are as enjoyable as a heated Broncos-Raiders contest, and with Oakland sitting at 6-2 this year, 2016 offers such a matchup. While the Raiders offense has played at a high level this year and will receive much of the attention, their defense hasn’t. Oakland ranks No. 29 in the league against both the run and pass.
So while lots of focus will be on the great matchup between the Denver ‘D’ and Raiders attack, the matchup we want to key in on is on the other side, where the Raiders struggling defense could be just what the doctor ordered for a struggling Denver offense.
Below are the key matchups as we see them:
Handling the blitz
Football begins in the trenches. If a team is overmatched in the trenches, the matchup often ends right then and there. So handling the Raiders pressure is going to be key.
It doesn’t take hours of watching tape to remember what happened last time these two teams played each other. The long and short of it is that Khalil Mack, the Raiders phenomenal outside pass rusher, laid the smackdown on the Broncos offensive tackles. When the dust settled, Mack had seven hits on Brock Osweiler and five sacks. With all that, the Raiders won the contest 15-12.
So regardless off scheme or anything else, something like that cannot happen, that goes without saying. At this point of the season, the Raiders pass rush has been lacking, as they only have 11 sacks on the year (28th in the NFL).
Trevor Siemian has shown great ability in hanging tough in the pocket, waiting for underneath routes to clear up and then hitting the open space left by a blitzing defender.
Just this past Sunday against the Chargers, Siemian stood tough in the pocket with six defenders coming on a blitz. He hit a streaking Jordan Taylor over the middle on a crossing route for a big 35-yard gainer on 3rd-and-7. This is one of Siemian’s biggest strengths, particularly when combined with his quick delivery.
From watching tape, the Denver quarterback is almost better off with added pressure coming his way, as he’s able to take what the defense gives him and keep the chains moving.
This means that a defense blitzing can often be an advantage for the Broncos. However, Jack Del Rio is not known as an aggressive schemer who likes to bring lots of added pressure, something that seems to stand out when studying Oakland on tape. However, in recent outings, particularly in a loss Week 6 to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders did attempt to create more pressure by bringing added defenders. Something that didn’t work out in their favor as Spencer Ware ran all over them and Alex Smith (much like Siemian would have) took what the defense gave him.
Limiting the Raiders rush when they bring four and forcing them to bring added blitzer is a massive key for the Broncos.
How to attack the secondary
Speaking of tight window throws, that is something Siemian will have to do, particularly if Oakland is able to sit back and create pressure by bringing only four rushers.
With that being said, a secondary that received several big-name additions in the offseason has looked very exploitable so far this season. The Raiders have allowed the second most receiving yards to opposing wideouts (1,531) and the seventh most to opposing tight ends (486).
Looking at their personnel, you can see the Black & Silver cornerbacks are all bigger press-type guys. Sean Smith and David Amerson—good players in their own right—struggle is in covering smaller speedy types. Willie Sneed, Brandin Cooks, Steve Smith Sr., Travis Benjamin, and Marqise Lee are all smaller wideouts who’ve burned the Oakland secondary for over 100 yards this season. Few of these players are marquee names, but they’ve all managed to have great success against the Raiders.
So while Demaryius Thomas is always an important target for Denver, and should still have an impact (mind you Julio Jones beat OAK for over 100 yards), it’s Emmanuel Sanders and Jordan Norwood who could really hurt Del Rio’s secondary.
The Raiders troubles covering opposing tight ends could also be exploited. Against the Chargers, Siemian flashed an outstanding throw down the seam to Virgil Green, exactly the kind of play that could be used this upcoming Sunday night.
Part of the Raiders issues in covering the seam is that they have two talented-but-young rookies starting in the middle of their defense. Starting inside linebacker, Colorado State’s very own, Cory James and strong safety Karl Joseph. James is far from a stalwart in coverage and can be tested both when in underneath zones and especially if put in matchups where he has to turn and run to cover a TE or running back.
Joseph plays with his hair on fire, is an explosive hitter and has some instincts in coverage as well. But he’s also prone to taking bad angles and missing some tackles in the open field because of this. These two talented rookies can be taken advantage of with the right game plan and execution.
Taking advantage of the run D
As mentioned in the introduction, the Raiders struggles have also come against the run. Oakland features a heavy rotation up front, and their space-eaters—such as Dan Williams or Justin Ellis—are either off the field or being too easily pushed off their blocks.
It’s easy to notice when studying the film against the Kansas City Chiefs—the Raiders worst loss of the year, in which they allowed 183 yards and 131 to Ware—that this defense is missing their fair share of tackles.
Also noticeable was some gap discipline issues. Something that was easy to see on the below Jamal Charles touchdown run. With stacked formations or when executing run blitzes, you see this from Oakland. It appears the team has issues with communication and not all gaps will be covered.
Finally, the Raiders have appeared to be vulnerable when having to stop lead blockers such as tight ends and fullbacks. Andy Janovich has been terrific so far this year, look for him to play a big part. It could also pay dividends to put Virgil Green in motion as an added blocker to try and confuse a young and at times undisciplined defense.
The Broncos offense should be ripe for a breakout day in The Black Hole, potentially giving the defense a little more wiggle room against a potent Oakland offense.