Raiders fans from across the globe will finally get to see the rubber meet the road on Sunday, where they will open the 2023 season at Mile High to face the revamped Denver Broncos. The Broncos are led by highly heralded head coach Sean Payton, where he will attempt to recreate the magic he had with the New Orleans Saints, where he flipped a basement-dwelling franchise into perennial contenders in the NFC for over a decade, to the Broncos, who have failed to reach the postseason since the 2015 season. Payton has the tall task of resurrecting the career of polarizing veteran quarterback Russell Wilson, who in 2022, had his worst statistical season of his career, completing a career-low 60.5% of his passes for 3524 yards, with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
THE BRONCOS OFFENSE
Head Coach Sean Payton runs a variation of the West Coast Offense, with a well-balanced pass-to-rush attack. Due to the uncertainty of Broncos’ star wide-out Jerry Jeudy being available for Sunday’s game, the Raiders should expect the Broncos to primarily utilize 12-personnel looks (Singleback, two tight end formations) to establish the run with Javonte Williams early and often. In terms of the passing game, the Raiders must stay vigilant and disciplined, as the use of the play action will be the goal for the Broncos, especially if the Broncos get Williams going early. This can lead to Russell Wilson targeting tight end Greg Dulcich often and hitting wide-outs Courtland Sutton and rookie Marvin Mims Jr. vertically, if the Raiders’ secondary falls asleep.
Defensively for the Raiders, expect to see them mostly on their base 4-3 defense, with Marcus Epps, possibly Isiah Pola-Mao playing as a box safety at times to add reinforcements to stifle the Broncos’ run attack. The Raiders should expect to see a two tight end stack, with tight end Chris Manhertz lined up as an additional blocker on the line, and Dulcich as the H-back. This will be used to, one, establish the run, and two, provide extra protection on the right side to slow down Maxx Crosby in obvious passing downs. The Raiders Linebackers must bring their hard hats, as it will be imperative for them to shoot the gaps in order to stop the run game, yet stay disciplined to read their keys that indicate play action.
THE BRONCOS DEFENSE
This off-season, the Broncos brought back Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph for his second stint with the team. Joseph utilizes an aggressive 3-4 scheme with primarily a single-high safety in typical down and distance scenarios, where he dials up the Cover-1 or Cover-3.
This presents several points of attack offensively for the Raiders. Typically, the 3-4 base defense can be effectively attacked with a sound running game. Enter, Josh Jacobs. Historically, Jacobs has been the “Bronco Killer”, averaging 103 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry in his career. Expect the Raiders to dial up Jacobs 15-20 times in the run game.
If the Broncos are in a Cover-1, expect the Raiders to line up in formations where they can have Davante Adams on an island alone with cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Last season vs. the Broncos, Adams totaled 16 catches for 242 yards in 2 games, so I expect the single-high safety to be placed to provide help for Surtain in the vertical attack. This can result in the Raiders being advantageous on attacking a possible one on one look with whoever is defending against Jakobi Meyers.
Lastly, expect the Raiders to attack the seams with hook or curl routes from tight end Austin Hooper and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. We can also see lots of short drag routes from Renfrow, resulting in a barrage of targets from Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday.
Expect the Broncos to establish the run with Javonte Williams and that revamped offensive line early and often. This leaves a possibility of lulling the Raiders’ defense asleep, with the threat of going vertical or attacking the seams with the tight end through play action.
The Raiders have a golden opportunity to get after the quarterback if they can put them in obvious passing situations often, especially if they can get a solid push with the interior defensive line.
Offensively, keep your eye on possible one on one isolation looks between Davante Adams and Patrick Surtain II, in what should be a brilliant battle for the entire game. Additionally, the Raiders should take advantage at the slot position with Hunter Renfrow and Austin Hooper or Michael Mayer in the seams. A healthy dose of Josh Jacobs should definitely be expected as well.
Expect a drag-’em-out dog fight between these two teams, with the RAIDERS EDGING THE BRONCOS 22-16.