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Three Keys Unlocked: Broncos at Raiders

Posted Dec 29, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes a look back at his three keys to the Broncos' 34-14 win over the Raiders on Sunday.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- By halftime, the Broncos had checked off all the items on their to-do list for their trip to the East Bay.

Build an insurmountable lead -- check.

Set the league record for points in a single season -- check. Not only did they break the 2007 Patriots' record of 589 points, but they tacked on two more touchdowns to become the first 600-point team in NFL history.

Get Peyton Manning the league record in passing yardage -- check. With his 5-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas 13 seconds before halftime, Manning passed Drew Brees, leaving the game with 266 yards Sunday and 5,477 for the season.

With those done, the second half belonged to Brock Osweiler, who got the most extended work of his two-season career, working with an offense that did not use Knowshon Moreno but did feature plenty of other first-teamers at tight end, wide receiver and along the offensive line during the third quarter.

The Broncos had earned the luxury of getting Osweiler a half of repetitions, and they did it in part because they succeeded at each of the three keys brought up before Sunday's game. 

1. PICK IT UP ON THIRD DOWNS.

And how. Denver converted its first four third-down attempts of the game and six of its seven in the first half. The Broncos only failed on a third-and-10; all of the others were third-and-six or less -- very much the "third-and-makeable" range that the Broncos want for their offense.

Open targets underneath were key to the process; four of the five completions on the third downs were to Knowshon Moreno or Julius Thomas, with Moreno picking up another first down on a third-and-1 run. Some of these were on routes similar to the ones that Wes Welker would run; the ability of Moreno and Thomas to execute these effectively offers the Broncos hope that the offense can function if Welker is injured again.

And of course, Demaryius Thomas' 63-yard touchdown pass came on third down. That was the exception to the Broncos' fairways-and-greens approach to third downs, but it was also a low-risk play; had the pass been intercepted, the field-position effect would have been tantamount to a punt. 

2. DON'T PROVIDE THE OPENING.

The Broncos didn't make a mistake that conceded a field-position edge until the third quarter, when Britton Colquitt was rushed up the middle and had his punt blocked. The only turnover in the first half belonged to Oakland, and the Broncos converted it into a touchdown four plays later.

Oakland never had the moment of daylight it needed; as a result, an upset was never in play.

3. CONTAIN TERRELLE PRYOR. 

The Broncos built their lead not only because of an efficient offense, but a defense that did not allow the Raiders to cross midfield in the first half. The closest they came was when they advanced to the Oakland 48-yard-line, and that advance was largely due to Pryor's 11-yard scramble on a third-and-9 play, when he eluded safety Michael Huff to reach the Oakland 32.

Pryor averaged just 3.0 yards per carry and 2.25 yards per pass play in the first half. The Broncos' pressure made him uncomfortable, including the expected blitzes that included rushes by safety Omar Bolden and cornerback Champ Bailey. Pryor's inability to get settled bled to his teammates, whose timing and rhythm appeared off for most of the game. 

With Pryor struggling and the Broncos successfully changing up their blitzes and coverages, Oakland averaged just 2.29 yards per play and had a low first-down rate, moving the sticks just one every 6.0 plays.