By Rich Kurtzman
Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said on Elway Access Tuesday that this week’s game against the Oakland Raiders is “huge” for his Denver Broncos.
Elway is right, for a multitude of reasons.
The Broncos and Raiders are locked in a rivalry that dates back to their American Football League roots, and no matter the teams’ records, each wants to beat their adversary no matter what.
This meeting is a bit special, because both teams are tied in fourth of their AFC West division at 1-2, meaning a win provides that extra boost to possibly take home the division crown at the end of the year.
It’s even more important because, as Elway points out, the Broncos haven’t beaten the Raiders at home since 2007. When the Duke of Denver was leading the Broncos’ offense, they enjoyed one of the most imposing home field advantages in football, and as a main decision-maker now, he wants the team back to that dominance at home.
This week’s opponent is a bit better than their 1-2 record would lead you to believe, they possess a staunch run defense and can run the rock.
“It’s always about stopping the run,” Elway said. “Darren McFadden, no question, is back. He had a 64-yarder last week and is a big-play back. We did a good job against Houston stopping the run later in the game. We’re going to have our hands full with Darren McFadden because he’s one of the top running backs in the league.”
McFadden is fast, he’s quick, agile and explosive. He possesses the speed to leave defenders in the dust, while being big enough to bruise them inside.
So far this season, McFadden has been the driving force of the Oakland offense, running for 167 yards and one score while receiving passes out of the backfield for another 107 yards, in three games. He’s improved his game in the offseason by becoming a more established pass-catcher, which has greatly benefited his production as well as the offense’s as a whole.
Undoubtedly, he’s the focus of the Denver defense this week, which should be a major concern for them.
The Broncos were solid against the running game in Weeks One and Two, holding the Steelers and Falcons to 75 and 67 yards respectfully, but were then gashed on the ground by the Texans to the tune of 152 yards in their loss Sunday.
What will make their tough task of slowing down McFadden even more arduous will be the suspension of linebacker Joe Mays, who will be forced from participating in the game this week following his violent helmet-to-helmet collision with Houston QB Matt Schaub.
It’s unknown which linebacker will be asked to step into the starting linebacker role, with original starter D.J. Williams still serving out his six-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, and his backup, Mays, now out as well. Also, second-year man Nate Irving, who sustained a concussion last week, is doubtful for this Sunday’s contest against the hated Raiders.
36-year old veteran Keith Brooking could be asked to fill the void, or the team could go with rookie linebacker Steven Johnson.
Either way, it could be a long day for the Denver defense.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.