Week 3-Win 2
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At the beginning of the season I said that before each game, Three Bridge Sports would have a preview of how the Raiders could win that week’s game. Some previews were going to be relatively simple to show how the Raiders could win (last week for example). There were going to be some weeks that projecting a Raiders’ win was going to be a real challenge, and might veer towards the absurd – we’ve arrived at one of these weeks. Although the Colts were a playoff team last year, it didn’t seem impossible to win Week 1 given the regression the Colts were due for (tell 49ers fans that), and the fact that a lot of weird things can happen in Week 1. This week, however, the Raiders take on the red-hot Broncos and Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football. The usual set up of these weekly previews has been a look at when each team has the ball with one key match-up to watch. This week, however, the set up is going to look a little different. Due to the challenging nature of the game tonight, I have instead listed the nine things that most likely all have to happen in order for the Raiders to come out victorious by the end of the night. Yes, it may seem unlikely now, but hopefully by the end it will seem at least plausible. These nine necessities don’t necessarily go in order of importance.
1. Don’t fall behind early
Unlike many pass-heavy teams, Peyton’s teams do not often struggle to keep leads. Many pass-heavy teams will establish a big lead, and then see it evaporate away while trying to establish a run game. Because of the limited downfield nature of the Broncos’ passing attack, Peyton and the boys don’t have to take their foot off the gas as much when they take a big lead. Week 1 was perfect evidence to this, as their big lead only grew bigger in the second half.
Falling behind early would also mean that the Raiders would have to rely more and more on the passing aspect of their offense, which is certainly not the best aspect of their game. If the Raiders can stay close at the start of the game, and establish a balanced offensive plan, it will be huge in the final outcome of tonight’s game. Which leads us to…
2. Establish the run game (but don’t over-establish it)
As we have heard all week, the Raiders currently own the league’s top rushing attack; both in yards and yards/attempt through Week 2. However, against a team as talented as the Broncos, the Raiders will inevitably have to be able to have success throwing the ball as well, an area they have struggled in so far. If they are able to set up the run with success at the outset of the game this will allow them to use the run to set up the pass, basically the antithesis to the Broncos game plan. Play-action plays could become a huge part of the Raiders’ success with teams stacking the box against the run game, and using linebackers to spy on Terrelle Pryor. I think the tight ends in particular could stand to benefit the most from the ability Pryor has to freeze the opposing linebackers with his potential to run.
3. Bend but don’t break defense
Any time your team goes up against an offense juggernaut like the Broncos, this “bend but don’t break” mentality has to be accepted. The Broncos are going to move the ball. That’s a fact. What the Raiders can do, however, is really batten down the hatches in the red zone, and keep the Broncos to field goals. The bad news is that the Raiders’ defense has really struggled on third down this year, giving up a 30th ranked 48% of opposing third down conversions. The Raiders have also struggled this season giving up touchdowns on 75% of opposing red zone trips. This will certainly have to be improved, and could be helped out greatly with this next item…
4. Create at least one turnover
A red zone turnover would be ideal, but at this point, Raiders’ fans should just hope for a turnover of any kind. Only the Steelers and Raiders have not created a turnover yet this season, and winning this week without a turnover will not be easy. Peyton Manning doesn’t have a turnover yet this year, but his receivers have been a bit prone to fumbling a fact that I’m sure has not slipped past Charles Woodson and his crazy-incredible-how-hell-is-this-guy-still-doing-this skills. Woodson seems the most likely candidate to create the turnover with his play so far this season, but it really doesn’t matter where the turnover comes from as long as the Raiders can swing the momentum once from a turnover.
5. Win the field position battle
This goes along with the bend but don’t break defense, as the longer the field Manning has to go the better for the Raiders. Marquette King will have to make sure he not only can get the ball downfield with his punts, but also give the coverage team some time to get down there as Trindon Holliday is one of the best return men in the league, and has already housed a punt return this year.
Winning field position also means that punting the ball is acceptable, but three-and-outs aren’t. The Raiders will at least have to move the ball a bit before returning it to the Broncos if they want to win the field position battle, even with King capable of flipping the field. The return men for the Raiders will also have to do a little better than they have, and at least one big return (not necessarily a touchdown) could provide a big edge.
6. Have at least one pass play of significant yardage
The Raiders are currently last in the NFL in pass plays over 20 yards, which is acceptable because they are first, by a mile, in running plays over 20 yards. However, in tonight’s game, as previously mentioned, the passing game will most likely have to play a big role. As of now, Pryor has as many interceptions and pass plays of 20 or more yards, and moving the ball methodically down the field, while nice in theory, will not be enough against the Broncos. The Raiders will need a couple big plays to break open the Broncos’ secondary, and allow Pryor some breathing room at the line of scrimmage. Denarius Moore seems like the best deep threat so far, and will have to make sure he doesn’t drop any more potential big pass plays, for fear of wrath from the entire Raiders’ fan base.
7. Get pressure with the front four
The need to get pressure without blitzing has been a popular topic for Raiders’ writers to cover this week, and I must say I agree with the consensus that blitzing is probably a dangerous idea. I don’t think the blitz should be completely eliminated, but this week counting on blitzes as a main source of pressure shouldn’t be expected. Five of the Raiders league-leading (through Week 2) nine sacks came from blitzing defensive backs, so counting on the defensive line might seem questionable. The good news for the Raiders, however, is that all-world left tackle Ryan Clady will be missing this game, opening up the door for a potential big day from Lamarr Houston. Even though Houston only has one sack on the year, he has played well. Getting at least a couple sacks from the defensive line early in the game will be paramount in limiting the Broncos downfield passes, and would help in the bend but don’t break defensive plan.
8. Rely on a little bit of MNF magic
Prime time games always seem to need a bit of a story to go along with just the normal game. This week’s story could easily become Terrelle Pryor’s emergence if he can play well enough. ESPN would love a quarterback with the background story as rich as Pryor’s to show up on the big stage of MNF. This is not to say that the NFL is any way rigged, but big-time players with big-time stories often seem to save their best games for when the most people are watching. Pryor has only started three games for the Raiders so far, but he seems to have a bit of that big-game gene in him that would make tonight an opportunity to really burst onto the scene.
Now, the reverse of this situation could happen with the Raiders getting the public humiliation that ESPN would also love, and Peyton Manning establishing the Broncos as the forerunners in all of football, and Peyton continuing his record-setting pace. However, something inside me could easily envision a 40-yard madcap scramble from Pryor being the little intro video they use as SportsCenter leads off with the story of a completely unexpected Raiders’ victory.
9. Have Peyton re-injure himself Get a little lucky
Projecting Peyton to get injured is both too far-fetched, and too mean to do, so we’ll stick to the Raiders having to get lucky. They’ll need a fumble to bounce their way, or a trick play that works, or maybe even a key injury to the Broncos (not even Manning necessarily). It may seem like a bit of a stretch, and my logic is telling me to pick a valiant 31-21 loss wouldn’t be that bad, but something (or some-Pryor) seems like it’s due to go off tonight – 27-23 Raiders.
 And the Pulitzer for groundbreaking journalism goes to…