Coming off a two-game winning streak in the state of Florida, the Oakland Raiders (6-2) will take on the Denver Broncos (6-2) in hopes of securing the sole lead in the AFC West on Sunday Night Football.
Both heavyweight contenders are expected to go punch for punch until the final bell sounds off, as the stakes haven’t been higher for either team this season.
One team will get caught on the ropes; the other will finish the contest with their gloves held high.
In an effort to see a sneak peak at the judge’s final scorecard, here’s an in-depth preview of what’s in store for Oakland’s primetime Week 9 matchup against the Broncos.
Raiders’ Front Seven to Limit Devontae Booker’s Impact
With Broncos running back C.J. Anderson out for the season with a torn meniscus, rookie running back Devontae Booker, a former University of Utah product, is expected to carry the load as Denver’s lead back this week against Oakland.
At 5’11”, 219 pounds, Booker is a stout, downhill runner that will carry opposing defenders for extra yards if he gets a head of steam, but because of his lack of lateral quickness and burst, early penetration will often force Booker off his rhythm.
Also, as the lead back, Booker has carried the ball 36 times for just 137 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and fumbled the ball three times.
The blueprint is out on how to stop Booker. It’s up to Oakland’s defense to break this one-trick pony.
Though the Raiders have managed just the 28th ranked rushing defense this season, their front-seven has seemingly turned a new leaf, as they have held opposing offenses to less than 106 rushing yards in back-to-back performances.
Oakland’s men in the middle — veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith and former Washington Redskin Perry Riley Jr. — have been the two primary defenders leading the team to their recent success.
"“Well, they’re both really good football players, both really good veterans,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said, per Kyle Martin on Raiders.com. “They understand ball. They work well together. You can tell they’re both similar type ball players, so they understand each other really well. They have the ability and instinct to work off one another well, and they communicate well with others. I think that’s really important for our growth and improvement to continue to improve and communicate.”"
In his four games with Oakland, Riley has 14 combined tackles and one forced fumble, while also earning the third highest grade among standup linebackers in the NFL, per PFF.com.
On the other hand, Smith failed to mirror Riley’s hot start, as the former Seattle Seahawk struggled significantly in coverage and simply wasn’t maintaining a dominant force in the middle. However, now paired with Riley, Smith has dramatically improved his play.
Smith has accumulated 41 combined tackles (31 solo) and three tackles for loss.
With defensive end Stacy McGee expected to miss this contest with a nagging ankle injury, the Raiders’ defensive line will be without their best interior defender, which, in turn, should force Riley and Smith to again take the reigns in stopping Denver’s rushing attack.
If Oakland can successfully limit Booker’s impact, the Broncos will rely on second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian to put Denver’s offense on his back, and unfortunately for the Broncos, he’s not capable of carrying that much weight.