How can the Denver Broncos dodge elimination against the Las Vegas Raiders?

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) passes the ball in the first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High.
Jan 3, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) passes the ball in the first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos enter their matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders with their playoff hopes on the line. With a loss, the Broncos will be eliminated from contention, but with a win, they’ll keep a glimmer of hope alive.

What must Drew Lock and the Broncos do to come away with the victory in this huge game? Let’s look.

How the Broncos beat the Raiders

Drew Lock avoids the bad turnovers: Very few NFL quarterbacks turn the ball over quite Drew Lock, and it is that turnover-prone nature, plus the inability to curb those tendencies, that has made Lock a backup quarterback merely three seasons into his once-promising NFL career.

Over the offseason, there was much talk about Lock improving and taking a developmental leap forward, but based on what we’ve seen from him during the season, there aren’t any signs of that improvement — especially as far as turnovers are concerned.

Last year, Lock’s turnover-worthy-play rate (4.5%) was tied for third-worst in the league, and his bad-throw rate (22.9%) was the worst in football. This year, Lock has declined in both those areas, and his turnover-worthy-play rate has increased by almost 33 percent from last season’s total (5.9%).

This is backed up by the eye test, as over the course of 80 snaps this season (a little over the count a quarterback would see in an average start), Lock has turned the ball over three times, and two of his turnovers were laughably stupid.

Against the Raiders, Lock cannot afford to make these same mistakes.

Las Vegas is struggling tremendously on offense as of late. They have failed to eclipse 17 points in seven of their last eight starts, and only two teams (Jacksonville and Houston) have more than seven games over the course of the entire season, in which they failed to score more than 16 points.

With that low-wattage offense taken into consideration, the Broncos shouldn’t have much trouble out-scoring the Raiders, so long as Lock doesn’t gift Carr and Co. easy scoring opportunities.

If Lock can just do his best Teddy Bridgewater impression and play conservatively, the Broncos will win this game.

Fangio refuses to give the easy stuff to Derek Carr: During the Vic Fangio-era, Derek Carr has had a lot of success operating against the Denver Broncos defense.

Fangio’s defensive philosophy is to take away the big play and force you to nickel-and-dime your way down the field without making a mistake. While this stifles Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, Carr has been completely content just taking what the defense gives him, and it’s led to him having some big games against the Broncos.

Over his first five matchups with Fangio’s Broncos, Carr is 109-for-162 for 650 yards and six touchdowns, with only two interceptions. Those numbers certainly aren’t MVP-caliber, but they compare favorably to both Carr’s career numbers, and to what Fangio’s defenses have given up to the average NFL quarterback.

To stifle this Raiders attack, the Broncos will have to be more aggressive. Generally, Fangio struggles to dial up the aggression, as he’s scared of giving up the big play as a result, but Raiders have lost their ability to make opposing defenses pay since the loss of Ruggs.

Denver should bring the heat and bank on their talent to overwhelm Vegas’ porous offensive line, making Carr uncomfortable, and creating opportunities for turnovers.

How the Raiders beat the Broncos

Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake get rolling again: According to Expected Points Added (EPA), the Raiders have the NFL’s second-worst rushing attack, and the eye test backs that up.

The offensive line is unable to open up any lanes for their backs to run through, and the Raiders’ hyper-expensive backfield isn’t talented enough to compensate for the offensive line’s failures. Josh Jacobs has taken multiple steps back since his rookie season, and Kenyan Drake is just ok.

With all that said, one of the few times the Raiders have got the run game rolling this season was the last time they played the Broncos. Vegas averaged over four yards per carry — which is a feat for their rushing attack — and scored two touchdowns on the ground.

If they’re able to take advantage of Denver’s ground defense, which has been the weak point of Fangio’s unit, it could open up the passing game and spark Vegas’ offense.

Final Thoughts and Score Prediction

The Broncos are a much better team than the Raiders but Drew Lock adds a very volatile element that makes the Broncos even more difficult to focus than they already have been.

However, the Raiders are an absolute garbage fire right now. Their defense is able to create pressure consistently but their coverage unit is greatly depleted, and even at full strength, the defense hasn’t been better than mediocre.

Meanwhile, their offense is entirely moribund.

It should take very little from Lock for the Broncos to win this game, and he’ll do just enough.

Broncos win 20-16

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