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Broncos betting on fast start as key to beating Las Vegas Raiders

Odds stacked against Denver against rival
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Posted at 11:54 AM, Nov 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-14 13:54:47-05

ENGLEWOOD -- When it comes to the Silver and Black, there are no shades of gray.

Broncos fans grow up rooting for Super Bowls and hating the Raiders. No matter where they are playing. The Broncos have faced them in Oakland, Los Angeles, and, for the first time Sunday, Las Vegas.

The Raiders provided the watershed moment in Broncos history. By slaying the dragon in the 1977 AFC Championship Game, the Broncos arrived. The fans stormed the field and sauntered out of the stadium with pieces of the goal posts, snapshots that changed the Colorado sports landscape forever. The Broncos became an official NFL contender. Denver was no longer a dusty ol' cowtown.

This game between these two teams has forever lit fuses with fans, turned gleans into glares and teeth into fangs.

The rivalry has been heated, but often lopsided. From 1963 to 1976, the Raiders went 24-3 against Denver. Mike Shanahan, dripping with vengeance after the Raiders fired him and failed to pay him $200,000 in wages, flipped the script. He won 11 of his first 12 games against Oakland, going 21-7 overall. John Elway posted a 7-1 record against Oakland under Shanahan.

As the Broncos starter, Peyton Manning used the Raiders as a chew toy, going 7-0 and outscoring Oakland by an average of 19 points per game. That seems like a long time ago. While Drew Lock topped the Raiders in his lone start against them last season, the Broncos have lost four straight road games to the Raiders.

What is the key to pulling off the upset Sunday? My Denver7 keys:

Start me up
Channel Mick Jagger -- "Start Me Up" -- swig Red Bull, guzzle a Pixy Stix. Whatever it takes. The Broncos offense needs energy and urgency in the first quarter. Denver has been terrible the last few weeks, falling into crevices. It's no way to live on the road. It's imperative that the Broncos score early, throw the first punch. The Raiders have started slowly this season as well, so a quick strike could change the complexion of this fight.

Run with defined roles
The Broncos are betting on a running game to solve their offensive issues. Phillip Lindsay put it simply: run the ball, control the clock, and first downs will turn into touchdowns. The offensive line should be better with the return of Graham Glasgow, though uncertainty remains at right tackle (either starter Demar Dotson or Calvin Anderson will get the nod). It's also time to stop the juggling and define roles. Lindsay needs to be the first and second down back with Melvin Gordon the third down option, where he excels as a receiver.

Follow the cards
Drew Lock doesn't need to put all his chips in the table so regularly. It's OK to take the layup, the easy jumper. No need for the off-balance fallaway -- as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur put it -- or the rainbow three-pointer. It's the same stuff with Lock. He needs to improve his pre-and post-snap reads, climb the pocket and better weigh risk vs. reward. He has been a star in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, accounting for six touchdowns. For Lock to develop and reinforce the team's commitment in him over these final eight weeks, he needs to show consistency. But this isn't all on him. The offensive line has to play much better.

Put money on Jeudy
Let's not forget the obvious. Jerry Jeudy is quickly becoming one of the Broncos' best players. He has been targeted 24 times the past two weeks, catching 11 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Keep lining him up outside. Jeudy is better in space than NASA. And here's the deal: the Raiders' pass defense is not good. Las Vegas ranks 26th in yards allowed per game, 28th in interceptions with three and 30th in sacks with nine. This game holds greater significance because of the comparisons that will be made between Jeudy and his former Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs III.

Control the run
The Raiders win when running back Josh Jacobs takes over. They are 4-0 when he rushes at least 20 times. A big, bruising back, he gets better as the game grows longer. With the Broncos defensive line decimated -- Jurrell Casey (biceps) and Mike Purcell (foot) lost for the season, Shelby Harris sidelined with COVID-19 -- Denver must be creative. Run blitzes from linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell could hold the key to getting Oakland off balance.

Wall to Waller coverage
Travis Kelce represents the NFL standard at tight end. Period. But Darren Waller is quickly becoming a star. He is built like a tight end and runs like a receiver. Waller is going to put up numbers, but the Broncos can't let him produce Xbox stats. He seeks his sixth straight game with at least five catches, and has scored in three of the past four games. The key is to keep him to five catches for 65 yards and out of the end zone. That will only be accomplished by using safeties and A.J. Bouye to cover Waller. If they rely on linebacker Josey Jewell, Waller will consistently and easily win that matchup. Derek Carr likes to lean on Waller, and has posted 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions this season.

Prevent the chunk plays
Defensively, the Broncos should be much improved with the return of Bryce Calahan and Bouye. The Broncos defense is a proud unit that is reeling. Denver has allowed at least 30 points in three straight games. To pull off this upset, the Broncos must keep Oakland's prolific attack under 30 points, and prevent chunk plays from receiver Nelson Agholor, who leads the NFL in yards per catch (20.2) and has five touchdowns. I believe the Broncos can slow the pressure on the fire hose, but a Denver turnover will ultimately tilt the wheel against them.

RENCK PREDICTION: Raiders 30, Broncos 24