The Raiders aren’t a good team, but it’s important to remember that they trailed the Broncos by just four points at halftime of their first meeting. Two weeks later, the Raiders took the Atlanta Falcons to the wire; anything can happen in the NFL.
Playoff seeding is on the line for the Broncos, and a loss would make it very hard to improve their playoff position. Since the Broncos have faced the Raiders once already this season, they already know what they have to do to win the game.
On Offense - Big Pass Plays
The Raiders are one of the worst pass defenses in the league, and a big reason is because they allow a lot of big plays. Denver’s passing offense is one of the best at making big plays; it doesn’t take a genius to predict that explosive passing plays are going to be how the Broncos score.
When these two teams met up in Week 4, the Broncos had six pass plays over 20 yards. Three of them came in the first quarter when the Broncos scored 10 points, and the other three came in the third quarter and led to 21 points.
Of particular interest was the first explosive passing play, which was a 26-yard pass from Peyton Manning to Brandon Stokley. The play was a simple shallow cross against the blitz of the Raiders. Manning called an audible to this play based on the alignment of the Raiders pre-snap. An interesting note here is that an explosive passing play doesn’t have to be a deep pass to be successful.
The tight end draws the coverage of both the non-rushing middle linebacker and the strong safety, leaving Stokley wide open underneath. Since the Raiders blitzed the nickel cornerback and the outside linebacker, the worst possible outcome for the Broncos was Stokley being covered by a linebacker.
The shallow cross has been an issue for the Raiders to cover all season, especially when they also blitz a linebacker or cornerback. Just last week the Raiders allowed two big gains on two similar plays. What makes this possible is blitzing five and six guys to try to generate pressure and using zone coverage in the secondary.
The problem for the Raiders is they don’t always understand their zone assignment, and the result has been blown coverage assignments and big plays. This has been a common issue for Oakland’s defense.
The Raiders bring a safety blitz and the slot cornerback takes the outside coverage instead of the slot receiver. It’s this slot receiver who runs the shallow cross that burns the Raiders.
On this play, there is a tight end that draws the linebacker’s coverage much like the other play, except on the opposite side of the field. The other linebacker gives the crossing receiver a little bump, but it’s obvious that his primary responsibility is elsewhere.
Someone has to be responsible for the zone vacated by the blitzing safety, but one linebacker follows the tight end and the other linebacker was reading the backfield.
Anytime Manning reads a blitz coming from the side of the field with a single wide receiver, he should instantly audible to something where the slot receiver runs a shallow cross into that vacated zone. The Raiders have struggled getting the coverage communicated with each other, and Manning has to test them early to see if they’ve been able to adjust.
On Defense – Beware of the Screen Pass
The Broncos didn’t let the Raiders score an offensive touchdown in their first meeting, so obviously they did something right. A big part of the win was a fierce pass rush once the Broncos had the lead. Oakland’s running game never got going, and by the second half it had basically been abandoned.
One play the Raiders did execute against the Broncos was the screen to either Brandon Myers or Marcel Reece. The tight end or fullback quickly chips the edge rusher and then disengages and catches a quick pass from Carson Palmer either with or without lead blockers.
The Raiders executed two such plays in the first half for big yardage, but the Broncos adjusted in the second half. Don’t be surprised if the Raiders go back to it in certain situations knowing that the Broncos were susceptible in Week 4.
The first screen went to Reece. He slipped the block of the Elvis Dumervil, and Von Miller got caught in traffic when the receiver ran a slant to clear out the screen side. It was an easy catch and a big gain.
The second screen involved a lead blocker in the form of center Stefen Wisniewski and went to tight end Brandon Myers instead of Reece. First Myers fakes like he’s staying in to block.
Once Myers has enough room he leaks out into the flat. Wisniewski disengages quickly to get ahead of the play and he cut off Von Miller before he could make a tackle. This is yet another big gain off of a screen for the Raiders.
The Broncos adjusted in the third quarter to the screen by having the defensive end peel back if the fullback or tight end stopped blocking him. The Broncos also had to make sure a defender on each side of the formation was watching for screens—be it a linebacker, safety or cornerback.
Just as before, Reece slips past Dumervil and leaks out into the flat, except this time Dumervil stops and reverses his course and Champ Bailey reads the play early before an offensive lineman could get out to block him.
The result on this play in the third quarter was a four-yard loss. The Broncos need to be prepared to face Oakland’s screen game. The Raiders will use them in an attempt to slow down Denver’s pass rush and put the ball in the hands of their playmakers.