The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders meet today for the 104th time today in a rivalry defined by physical play.
Hard hits—on and off the field in the form of snow ball throws or fist fights by fans—have highlighted games throughout the years. It’s likely today’s game will be won by the team that’s more willing to get down and dirty, win the trenches and impose their will from the first kickoff.
Over the first three weeks of the season, the Broncos haven’t done enough up front to win games. When they can’t run the ball or stop the run, they lose.
To wit, in their Week One win, Denver ran for 94 yards and held the Pittsburgh Steelers to only 75 on the ground. The last two weeks they’ve averaged only 88.5 yards on the ground while they allowed an average of 110 per game, both losses.
Willis McGahee continues to play well, especially considering he’s a ninth year running back. He’s by far the team’s leading rusher with 213 yards and two scores, but the bruised ribs he sustained last week against Houston will likely mean a reduced number of carries today against Oakland.
If that happens, backups Lance Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman have to step up and carry the load to keep the Broncos from becoming a one-dimensional team.
Yes, the team relies on the passing game much more than running the rock, but if they can’t find some semblance of balance on offense, the Raiders will be able to easily bring pressure on Peyton Manning.
And where physicality comes even more into play is when Denver is on defense, trying to slow down one of the most versatile and explosive running backs in the NFL today.
McFadden is fast and quick, smooth and strong, patient yet volatile.
He leads the Raiders in running with 167 yards and one score while racking up 107 receiving yards as well.
McFadden is the most dangerous man on the Oakland offense, he’s their go-to guy one every down and in any situation. He’ll be even more important today if Raiders’ starting tight end Brandon Myers (concussion) can’t play, especially with Darius Hayward-Bey sitting due to a concussion as well, a severe one he sustained last week.
The Broncos have to find a way to plug up the middle, contain on the outside, and simply tackle well when McFadden gets the ball, which he undoubtedly will.
It won’t be an easy task, especially considering the lack of depth at linebacker for Denver. Starting MLB D.J. Williams is out, suspended, as is his backup Joe Mays, meaning a third-stringer will be starting today against the Raiders ridiculously good running attack.
Other players have to step up, be it Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the outside, or a lesser-known lunchbox guy that has a great game.
Denver’s D needs to play tough from the first kickoff, reminding the Raiders they’re in the Mile High City and the Broncos O-line must protect Peyton from getting crushed by blitzing linebackers and safeties.
This is a huge game, not only because it’s a 53-year old rivalry, but also because it’s a divisional game where two teams are tied for last at 1-2, each one needing a win to get back to .500 and stay alive for playoff positioning later in the season.
And what will likely decide the outcome is the team that plays with more fire, more desire and the one that’s more aggressive from wire to wire.
Get ready fans, it should be a good old fashioned AFC West dogfight.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. You can follow Rich on facebook and/or twitter.