Through two games, the Denver Broncos’ offense has been scoring early and often.
The Broncos have put up 90 points in wins over the Ravens and Giants and lead the NFL with a 45-points-per-game average, far ahead of No. 2 Green Bay (33-points average).
Plus, quarterback Peyton Manning leads the NFL in quarterback rating at 131.0, having thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception.
So what chance does the Raiders defense have against the Broncos on “Monday Night Football”?
Not much, according to oddsmakers, who’ve made the 2-0 Broncos 14½-point favorites against the 1-1 Raiders.
Yet the Broncos may have one weakness the Raiders may be able to exploit.
On Monday night, Denver will be starting a former NFL castoff at left tackle, the position charged with guarding Manning’s blind side – and the Raiders have shown through two games they can get to the quarterback.
Starting Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady, a two-time All-Pro, is out – possibly for quite a while because of a Lisfranc foot injury – and has been replaced by Chris Clark, who has been buried on the Broncos’ depth chart since being signed in 2010 after being released by both the Vikings and Bucs.
With Clark in the lineup, it may give the Raiders a weak spot to exploit, and Oakland will need every advantage it can find.
Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has put the zip back into the Raiders pass rush in 2013. After collecting just 25 sacks all of last season, the Raiders have nine already, including five against the Jaguars this past Sunday. The Raiders are tied for the NFL lead in sacks. And, it hasn’t been just one player getting to the opposing quarterbacks. Tarver has the Raiders blitzing from all spots in the secondary.
Defensive ends Jason Hunter and Lamarr Houston have so far been legitimate pass-rush threats, but it’s been their push – in tandem with blitzing linebackers and defensive backs – that has helped make Oakland defenders tough to block.
According to a film study of the Raiders-Jaguars game by the Florida Times-Union, the Raiders rushed four defenders 20 times, five defenders 13 times and six defenders six times. Twice, the Raiders sent seven players after quarterback Chad Henne. On one third-and-6 play in the fourth quarter when Oakland rushed seven, safety Usama Young blitzed untouched between the end and tackle gap to get to Henne. Later, on a five-man rush, both Young and cornerback Tracy Porter went unblocked as Henne went down again.
In his second year as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, it’s clear Tarver is being much more aggressive with his unit.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen says he’s happy with what he’s seen from the defense.
“He’s very smart and he’s put the guys in a position where they can have some success, and I think it’s really a two-way street,” Allen told the media after the Raiders’ Week 1 loss to Indianapolis, when Oakland sacked Andrew Luck four times. “I think it’s the players buying into the system as they understand what’s being asked of them.”
So, Clady’s absence may give the Raiders something to attack.
Then again, Mannning has proven through his career that he can deliver the football against any defense and correctly read blitzes. And, noted Mike Klis of the Denver Post this week, Manning is getting rid of the football this season even faster this season than last, an average of 2.48 seconds. Last season his average was 2.5.
“Manning’s quick release, then, can help Chris Clark transition from career-long backup to Clady’s replacement as the quarterback’s new blind-side protetctor,” wrote Klis.