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Three Keys: Broncos-Raiders

Posted Sep 23, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason breaks down the three keys for the Broncos in tonight's AFC West showdown with the Raiders.

DENVER -- You can't go wrong with an old-school rivalry on Monday Night Football.

At some point every year, the MNF package will deal up a stinker or two. It's inevitable, given the rapid upward -- and downward -- mobility of teams relative to their previous year's status, and is a part of Monday nights since time immemorial. For example, the Week 7 game between the Vikings and Giants doesn't look at all promising after recent results. 

But if you put rivalries on the slate, then you deal up compelling theatre. In November, games between old-school rivals Green Bay and Chicago and Floridian neighbors Tampa Bay and Miami fit this bill. We don't know what the records will reveal by then, but we can count on some testiness. 

That's why I love seeing Raiders-Broncos on the prime-time slate. Even if both teams weren't viable contenders, you can count on a tasty duel baked with bitterness, spiced with emotion and topped by the passion of fan bases who abhor each other. They could be playoff-bound or destined for doom, and they'll always be worth watching when they grapple.

The Broncos are clear Super Bowl contenders. The Raiders are still in a gestational stage of their development, but have been imbued with poise, professionalism and some creative tactics under the guidance of former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. It's a fascinating matchup, made all 

1. "STAY IN MY LANE."

We occasionally hear these words from head coach John Fox at press conferences, and it's wise advice to heed, whether you're answering questions or preparing to face a mobile quarterback whose legs are at least as much a threat as his arm. The Broncos can't get fancy, abandon their responsibilities and over-pursue and get caught out of position. If they do, Pryor can exploit them and make plays that will only build his confidence.

"Don't let your eyes get on the quarterback, but keep your eyes on your man," said cornerback Chris Harris. Some of Pryor's best completions have come when defensive backs temporarily abandoned their coverage responsibilities to try and contain Pryor, and he's made them pay. 

2. STAY STEADY UNDER THE BLITZ.

Most of Oakland's pass rush will come when they supplement their pass rush from the secondary and the linebackers. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has been a root cause through his stunts and array of pass-rush moves to draw attention from other defenders, but they have nevertheless finished the job.

Defusing this will not only fall upon the running backs and tight ends, but on Peyton Manning and his ability to identify the pass rush before the snap, and set up draws and screens that exploit an overcommitment to the blitz. Manning is a maestro at this, so the Raiders will likely try every disguise possible in an attempt to discombobulate a quarterback and an offense that excels at the game's cerebral aspects. This is where Manning can also exploit the Raiders' lack of experience working together; Oakland has caught the Colts and Jaguars off-guard, but the defense has nine new starters and is still learning how to work together.

3. TAKE WHAT'S THERE:

This will perpetually be crucial for the Broncos offense, and it's something they're capable of doing better than almost anyone in the game. Oakland's defense hasn't dealt with anything close to the array of targets the Broncos have. If the Raiders blitz defensive backs; the Broncos will exploit it; if they leave their safeties out of the pass rush -- which would be a reversal of their tactics the last two weeks -- then you'll see a passing game much like last week, with Manning accepting an array of short passes to all zones within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.  It could be "pick your poison" once again.