Awareness is the first step to reading the Broncos' defense**
What can an opposing quarterback do when preparing to face the top defense in the league? According to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, the key is first acknowledging how skilled they are and then going from there.
"You just know how talented they are," said Carr of preparing for Denver's defense. "You see how they get there. You see the ways that they get there. You just try and go out to practice, practice against those things and practice against un-scouted looks – things that they could do, things that you might see – and just get ready that way. They're very talented … We're looking forward to competing."
Four games into the 2015 season, the defense ranks first in total yardage allowed (275.5 avg.), pass defense (185.3 avg.), third-down conversion rate allowed (25.0 percent) and sacks (18). Those sacks have come from 11 different players, tying for the third most by a team through the first four weeks of a season in the last 15 years.
The Broncos' 18 sacks have come from 11 different players, tying for the third most by a team through the first four weeks of a season in the last 15 years.
Carr will possibly have an edge over other quarterbacks with former Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio at the helm of the Raiders' program this season. Carr says that Del Rio's defensive mind has aided him in studying opposing defenses.
"That's kind of where he's been huge in my growth," Carr said. "He'll show me clips and say, 'Now, this is the situation. This is the personnel that are in. This is why they're doing it. This is the front. This is the stuff they're doing and this is why.' My football knowledge has grown from learning from him…"
Knowledge of personnel won't help, says Del Rio
While Carr says that Del Rio has helped him each week in the film room, Del Rio doesn't think previous three seasons in Denver will help him this Sunday.
"No, it doesn't help," Del Rio said. "It's a very talented group . They're playing really well together [with] a lot of confidence … All the guys are back healthy. Brandon [Marshall] and Danny [Trevathan] inside, obviously – I think everybody is back and then they've added a couple pieces as well."
Derek Wolfe returned to practice on Wednesday as the Broncos began preparation for the Raiders.
The new pieces for Denver come from 2015 free agents safety Darian Stewart, and defensive ends Antonio Smith and Vance Walker as well as 2015 draft selections outside linebacker Shane Ray and nose tackle Darius Kilgo.
"Really [it is] a star-studded group," Del Rio said. "It was a good group. The last three years, we played some great ball there. [I have] got a lot of great memories of us playing really well. They've taken that to a whole other level. They're really playing well."
Cooper and Carr will look to disrupt the league's top defense
Rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper has made an immediate impact for the Raiders since being selected as the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft.
"He's just a tireless worker -- someone who runs great routes, very quick, very sudden," Carr said. "It's hard for people to guard him and just match him with such speed and quickness. That's not a discredit to anyone. That's just a credit to him and how quick he is. Guys just have to play him a little different..."
Four games into the season, Cooper leads the Raiders with 339 receiving yards on 24 catches (14.1 avg.) and two touchdowns.
The Broncos secondary brims with talent, led by three Pro-Bowl players in cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, and safety T.J. Ward. All should give Cooper and Carr plenty to deal with.
"He's a good player," Del Rio said of Cooper. "He's a good jump player and a good talent. He's come into the league and he's done a really nice job of coming in every day and working on his trade. I think that he has a great upside in terms of being a guy that – the way that he approaches it and the way that he works on it, getting on the same page as the quarterback. The way that he comes in every day and works on his skill – he has a chance."