The Raiders’ game in Denver last year changed their entire season, as they left with an injured starting quarterback and a second consecutive loss after starting 2-0. Derek Carr seemed to return from those three transverse process fractures in his back too soon, and he wasn’t the same as the Raiders finished 6-10 and fired their head coach.
Now Jon Gruden marches the troops into Mile High Stadium as his Raiders try to prevent an 0-2 start after a 20-point loss to the Rams earlier this week.
Here are five things to watch on Sunday.
How will Derek Carr bounce back?
Not once last season did Carr throw three interceptions in a game. He got that feat out of the way early this season, tossing three picks against the Rams in a 33-13 loss on Monday Night Football. Safe to say he and the Raiders hope there isn’t a repeat in the next 15 games and maybe even beyond.
Much was made this offseason, in part thanks to us media, of Carr’s improved health and being coached by an offensive guru in Gruden. Those figured to produce the Carr of 2016 rather than the one of 2017. Though some might’ve already hopped off the Carr bandwagon after an atrocious opening act, he has a chance to right the ship at Mile High.
Carr is 1-2 in Denver since he entered the league (he missed the 2016 game in Denver since he broke his leg the week before). Last season, he played less than three quarters before suffering that season-altering injury. In those three games, Carr is 40-for-83 (48%) with 436 passing yards, four touchdowns, an interception and eight sacks. Not great, but not awful. A mediocre performance like those probably won’t get it done against an improved Broncos team this year.
“It’s just disappointing, but I think knowing how good Derek is it gives us hope that we can get it all solved,” Gruden said Tuesday after Monday’s loss. “I don’t have any doubts that Derek Carr is going to be great. I can’t wait to get started and get ready for the Broncos.”
How will the offensive tackles fare against Von Miller and Co.?
The Raiders’ offensive tackles have a combined two regular season starts at the positions they’ll play Sunday. That might not be as bad as it sounds, though, since both first-round pick Kolton Miller and veteran Donald Penn fared well at their respective spots against the Rams.
Denver’s edge rushers are a whole other story, however, and Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis will pose a tougher challenge for the rookie left tackle and Penn on the right side. Carr, as aforementioned, has been sacked an average of almost three times per game in Denver over his three career games there.
Asked Thursday if the jitters have subsided after getting his debut out of the way, the rookie Miller responded with a smile. “We still have a hell of a challenge coming up this week,” he said. “They have some edge rushers.”
You can bet the Raiders’ biggest concern is the Broncos’ pass rush against two tackles inexperienced at their positions in the pros. The Broncos sacked Russell Wilson six times last week, and the same numbers against Carr would probably equal a Raiders loss. Von Miller, however, thinks Sunday’s game will provide a far tougher task when it comes to reaching Carr.
“The Oakland Raiders have the best offensive line in football, in my opinion,” the All-Pro linebacker said. “I’m sure you all would say Dallas Cowboys, this team or that team, but to me the Oakland Raiders have the best offensive line in football. And they made it a whole lot better with the Kolton Miller pick and moving Donald Penn to the right side. Really all five guys are really Pro-Bowl, solid, offensive lineman.”
Will Amari Cooper get more looks?
You’d think Cooper will catch more than one pass and rack up more than three targets in Week 2, right?
While Jared Cook proved a viable alternate option in the passing game with nine catches for 180 yards in the season opener, Oakland’s receiving corps goes as Cooper goes. And it might just take Carr forcing balls his way, as dangerous as that may sound. Cooper only received three targets on Monday, but according to the film he was open more than just three times.
“You look at the film, we had him wide open deep. We didn’t go there. He was open a couple of times and for whatever reason we didn’t go that route,” Gruden said. “Yeah, we want to get him going. That’s easier said than done now.”
The Broncos’ trio of cornerbacks – Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and Adam Jones – don’t pose a much easier challenge than Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib did in Week 1. Cooper will certainly have his work cut out for him, but it’s games like these in which he has to show up if he wants to be regarded as one of the league’s better receivers.
Can the Raiders muster a pass rush?
The Raiders’ debut without Khalil Mack featured only two quarterback hits and one sack. The pass rush got off to a slow start, as you might expect with three rookies shouldering heavy loads on the defensive line.
Bruce Irvin will be asked to handle the brunt of the work until Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall (who’s not playing Sunday with an ankle injury) really get accustomed to disrupting opposing backfields in the NFL. Irvin’s desired 10-sack mark got off to a good start Monday, as the converted defensive end delivered a timely strip-sack of Jared Goff. Other than that, though, the Raiders didn’t muster much of anything.
Key struggled against Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein, and the rookie will have to be better against Denver. The Seahawks only managed one sack against the Broncos last week, so the Raiders’ defensive linemen will have their work cut out for them again.
“We had some decent push in there at times,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said of Monday’s effort. “Again, it was just something with the kind of guys we’re rolling through there right now, we’re still working through that. The new guys we have now, P.J. went down there, so it affected some of the things we were doing.”
How much will Martavis Bryant factor in offense?
The White Tiger is back, folks, and he’ll presumably see the field against the Broncos.
After an offseason full of coaches and players raving about Bryan’t deep-threat potential but also Gruden lamenting the receiver’s inconsistency, we finally get to watch Bryant in game action since he re-signed with the Raiders this week after being waived on cutdown day and not playing in Week 1.
Bryant, like Cooper, has the rare ability to take the top off a defense. Bryant only missed a week and a half of football, so he should be in pretty decent game shape after training with the Raiders all offseason and preseason. Don’t be surprised if Carr bombs one over the top for Bryant a couple times on Sunday.
“He can go up and get the deep ball in contested situations. He can run away from you. He can make you miss,” Gruden said. “He can make big plays down the fields, that’s an obvious. We’re hoping that we can bottle up where he is now. He’s in a great place. He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. He has a great state of mind. We’ll see what happens.”