After holding off Seattle in Week 1, the Broncos look to make a statement in Week 2 against the Raiders. On the other side, the Raiders are looking to bounce back after imploding against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. Who wins? Jared Cook might be the deciding factor.
Jared Cook Will Decide Raiders At Broncos
Raiders At Broncos: Injuries
A couple of core Raiders will be battling some issues during Week 2. Starting quarterback Derek Carr was listed as questionable earlier in the week due to general soreness, likely as a result of a hit sustained from Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald in Week 1. While Carr is now a lock to play, he will likely still be feeling some soreness during the game. Additionally, running back Marshawn Lynch was listed as questionable due to an illness until Thursday but he will play. Finally, long snapper Andrew DePaola is out with an ACL injury, keep an eye on his replacement during the game.
As for the Broncos, defensive end Derek Wolfe is currently battling an abdominal injury and is questionable. Besides Wolfe, the Broncos are healthy.
Broncos Offense Vs Raiders Defense
After one game, the Broncos offense is ranked at fifth overall. While it is too soon to tell exactly how good their offense is at this point in the season, it currently seems to be much different from last year’s 17th-ranked offense. Quarterback Case Keenum threw three touchdowns against the Seahawks but also threw three interceptions, not to mention that there was almost a fourth. If Keenum has a repeat performance against the Raiders, the Broncos will be in trouble.
On the other side, the Raiders defense is ranked 21st overall after one game. Albeit, against a strong Rams offense who ranked 10th in total offense in 2017. The Raiders defense is still smarting from the Khalil Mack trade. The floor for this unit could fall even lower than its 23rd overall production in 2017. However, the matchup in the secondary will play a big role in deciding the game.
On one side, the Broncos have 30-year-old Demaryius Thomas, the starting wide receiver who looked good against the Seahawks, catching 6 six balls for 63 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders will likely match Thomas with cornerback Gareon Conley, a 2017 first-round pick who missed most of last season due to injury. As with all essential rookies, no one knows just how good he will be. He could make Thomas look old or he could make him look as dominant as ever. It’s essentially a toss-up at this point, but the safe bet would give the edge to the veteran receiver.
Lining up opposite Thomas will be Emmanuel Sanders who, at age 31, looks to have found new life. He looked spectacular against the Seahawks, earning 135 yards, a touchdown, and ten catches. Lining up across from him will probably be cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Melvin has spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts before landing in Oakland. Most players who bounce around like Melvin are usually lacking in some substantial way. Also, with only three interceptions in four seasons, Melvin should not intimidate Sanders at all.
Overall, the Broncos seem to have the clear edge over the Raiders defense.
Broncos Offense Vs Raiders Defense
The Broncos defense sits at ninth overall after one week, flaunting arguably the deadliest pass rush in the NFL. If Von Miller isn’t getting sacks, pressures, and fumbles, it’s Bradley Chubb. If it’s not Chubb, it’s Derek Wolfe, or a host of other players. However, the secondary is not extremely intimidating outside of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. While the corners played well last Sunday, it was against one of the emptiest receiving corps in the league. It also didn’t help that Doug Baldwin left the game with an injury. The Raiders’ receivers will offer a much better test
The Raiders offense ranked seventh in production after one week and considering they had to face the loaded Rams, it is especially impressive. However, Carr threw three interceptions in Week One, including a pick-six. Much like Keenum, if Carr can take care of the football in Week 2, the Raiders could surprise people. That being said, the players will have to help Carr if they want to make that happen.
Chris Harris Jr. will be the Broncos’ first line of defense in the passing attack. Harris, a top-ten corner in the NFL and a remnant of the No-Fly-Zone, will have to match up with wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson, Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target in Green Bay, will look to prove that age is just a number at 33 years old. However, he failed to prove it against the Rams, grabbing three catches for 23 yards. Harris, 29, should be able to win this matchup rather easily. Expect to find him floating to other receivers as the game goes on.
While the corner-receiver matchups are interesting, they will be nowhere near as interesting as watching Denver try to figure out how to cover tight end Jared Cook, who blew up the Rams’ secondary for 180 yards on nine catches. It doesn’t help that the Broncos were the third worst defense against tight ends in 2017. So far that hasn’t improved, as they’re currently ranked at 31st in 2018. Head coach Vance Joseph said earlier this week that he has a plan for trying to fix the problem. Sadly, after giving up big plays to tight ends in pretty much every game for the last couple of years, there is plenty of reason to be pessimistic.
In the end, the Broncos defense will have its hands full with all of Raiders’ playmakers. And then there’s the re-addition of wild card wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
How Should The Broncos Plan?
The Broncos defense should have three goals: stop Jared Cook, while pressuring and confusing Derek Carr. Even if it opens up the Raiders’ receivers more, the Broncos have to devote extra manpower to stop Jared Cook.
While the corner-receiver matchups are interesting, they will be nowhere near as interesting as watching Denver try to figure out how to cover tight end Jared Cook
Carr will be still be sore from Week 1, so he will be a little bit skittish, just one week later. The Broncos should use that to their advantage and pressure Carr on every snap. Thirdly, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has given Carr a lot more flexibility to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Since he’s more active in analyzing defenses this year, it should be easier to deceive him. For example, the Broncos could show blitz, then drop into a zone. If Carr is expecting a blitz, he could audible out of a deep shot and into a quick slant. When he does that, the Broncos could trick him into throwing an interception.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos should simply focus on not turning the ball over. To assist with this, the Broncos need to lean more on their revamped running game this week. Running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay should work as a great one-two punch and be able to move the ball efficiently. If all goes according to plan, Keenum will throw less than thirty times this week. Just like in Week 1, Carr should wilt under the physical and mental pressure and turn the ball over repeatedly.
The Broncos have home-field advantage as well as an extra day of preparation since the Raiders had to play on Monday. At least on paper, this could be one of the Broncos’ easiest games of the year. In an effort to avoid turnovers by Keenum, the Broncos will likely lean on the rushing attack more this week while the Broncos defense will pressure Carr early and often. However, Jared Cook will keep the Raiders competitive in the first half. In the second half, the Broncos will adjust to Cook by double-teaming him. That’ll shut down a drive or two before Carr begins to look more at his other receivers: Amari Cooper and the newly re-signed Bryant (Chris Harris will effectively shut out Jordy Nelson). Carr’s receivers will keep the game close but, down ten points midway through the 4th quarter, Carr will turn the ball over on the edge of field goal range and the Broncos will cruze to the finish line, winning 33-20.