On Sunday, the Las Vegas Raiders return home for the first time in three weeks to take on AFC West foe, the Denver Broncos at 1:25 pm PST.
The last time these two teams faced off, it was days after head coach Jon Gruden resigned and Rich Bisaccia took over as interim head coach. Bisaccia led the Raiders to a 34-24 victory at Mile High Stadium for his first win as an NFL head coach.
The Raiders are looking to win their fourth straight game and sixth in their last seven against the Broncos inside Allegiant Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Here are four keys to victory:
1. Las Vegas Raiders must get Josh Jacobs involved
Last week against Cleveland, running back Josh Jacobs had 15 carries for 52 yards and added three receptions for 42 yards.
Getting Jacobs (or Peyton Barber) going early will be key in setting up the offense throughout the game.
Quarterback Derek Carr said the run game sets up both the play action and the passing game and when the Raiders are to run the ball, the offense is more balanced, while not having to rely on Carr to throw the ball.
“When we run the ball well, it helps me, it helps the (offensive) line, it helps the backs, helps the receivers, the tight ends,” Carr said. “It makes it easier when we can be balanced and if we want to go where we want to go, we’re going to have to be balanced. We’re going to have to be able to do that.”
So far this year, only one Raider has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season. That was Barber against the Miami Dolphins in the third week of the season in a 31-28 overtime victory.
The most rushing yards for Jacobs this season came against Dallas on Thanksgiving when the 5-foot-10 rusher gained 87 yards on the ground. It was also Jacobs’ only game this season where he has 100 total yards when he added 25 yards through the air on two receptions.
In his career, Jacobs has faced the Broncos four times, has seven rushing touchdowns, including at least one in every matchup and has averaged 19 carries for 85 yards, including a 21-carry, 112-rushing yard game in last year’s 37-12 victory in Las Vegas.
2. Lock up the Denver QB
Denver will not have some familiar faces it had when Las Vegas faced them a couple of months ago.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is sidelined with a head injury he suffered last week against Cincinnati. As a result, Drew Lock will be the starting quarterback on Sunday.
Following Bridgewater’s exit last week, Lock completed 6-of-12 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Tim Patrick.
The last time the Broncos played inside Allegiant Stadium, Lock completed 49% of his passes and threw four interceptions in a 37-12 victory for the Silver and Black.
Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said the team studied the film of both quarterbacks and realized Lock likes to utilize his throwing arm.
“I think when you see Lock come in the game, there was a couple 20-yard pass completions, back-to-back, I believe,” Bradley said. “He is a guy that believes in his arm strength. He has a quick release, makes quick decisions, so there is definitely a different style. It’s good to have the week to prepare for it and know what we’re facing.
3. RBs Williams & Gordon to split carries
The Broncos backfield will feature both Javonte Williams & Melvin Gordon. Against Cincinnati last week, Williams and Gordon each had 15 carries, but Williams was more productive, totaling 72 yards compared to Gordon’s 53.
The Raiders defense will be tested once again to stop the Broncos running back duo.
“They’re a team that can line up and just pound you and really stablish the run,” Bradley said. “First and foremost, we got to do a good job on the edges and our tackling, getting on and off blocks because they do a great job.
The run defense was on display at the most critical times against Cleveland last week.
The Raiders were down 14-13 with 2:47 left, needing the defense to step up and force the Browns to punt before the two-minute warning.
Browns running back Nick Chubb ran the ball three straight times, and on third down, Chubb ran to the right needing three yards for the first down. However, he was stopped at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and rookie linebacker Devine Deablo, which set up the punt and the game winning drive.
Stopping the run will be key for the Raiders.
4. Las Vegas Raiders must finish in the red zone
One of the keys in last week’s win over Cleveland was the opening drive touchdown caught by wide receiver Bryan Edwards.
Despite a couple of penalties and calling a timeout halting the drive, Carr found Edwards on his back shoulder to open the scoring for a 5-yard touchdown.
Finishing drives for seven points will be key this week and not settling for chip shot field goals.
Carr said being able to finish, even by going though adversity earlier in the season, will be crucial with three games left and their playoff hopes on the line.
“It goes back to the importance of last week’s win and that’s why all along, we’ve been through some things as a team and there’s been a little adversity,” Carr said. “We keep coming to work, we keep working and that’s why I keep believing in our team because the leadership and the guys we have in the locker room.
“It leads to us playing meaningful games in December. To be able to have a chance to get in and all those things, but none of that matters unless we beat the Broncos. It’s a great opportunity for our team, our organization among everything that’s happened, we’re still in it.”
The Raiders and Broncos will be televised on CBS.