Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos: Keys to the Game

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Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack (52) forces a fumble by Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown (13) in a NFL game at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Browns 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2. The Quarterback Must Go Down, and he Must Go Down Hard

Rushing the passer is of course a core tenant of defensive football, and getting to the quarterback is a key to every game in the NFL. But this is especially key for the Raiders this week, going against Peyton Manning. Manning is of course one of the greatest to ever play the game, and probably the most cerebral quarterback of all time. Despite his arm having lost significant zip, and his body being stiff and awkward in his old age, he still manages to sit back in the pocket, know where the open man is, and get the ball to him.

But Manning has always been susceptible to pressure, and this year has been even more so. With injuries and free agent departures having left a shell of an offensive line in front of him, Manning has been harassed into some bad throws and hurried decisions. He’s on pace for a career low 24 TDs and 20 picks, which would be his first time in that dubious range since the 2001 season. He has taken ten sacks so far this year, on pace for 40, which would be by far the most he’s ever taken in his career. A year ago, he took only 17 sacks in 16 games.

The Raiders are a team that look built to rush the passer, but in practice they haven’t managed to do it very well. No Raider logged a sack until Week Three against the Browns, but have managed eight sacks over the past two games. This week could be a make or break week for the Raider defense to establish itself as a premier pass-rushing unit.

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  • It’s obvious that in order to get pressure on the QB the Raiders will need to use scheme instead of relying purely on the talent and skill of Khalil Mack, Aldon Smith and Justin Tuck to generate pressure. Against the Browns, Ken Norton used a variety of blitzes and stunts to generate pressure, and it was effective. The Broncos offensive line is, put quite simply, a mess, and overloading that line by bringing five or six players on every passing play will likely overwhelm them into allowing Mack, Smith, Tuck and others to get free and get in Manning’s face.

    The Raiders don’t need to get five or six sacks, necessarily, though it wouldn’t hurt. What the Raiders need to do is force Manning into hurried throws, force him to attempt to move – which he does not do well – or put him in the Coliseum turf hard as often as possible without picking up roughing penalties. This has proven time and time again to be the achilles heel for Manning, and could result in Charles Woodson finally getting that elusive pick off of Manning for the first time in his career.

    Next: Keys to the Game: Get the Running Game Going