- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos opened division play with a focused, well-appointed effort against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night. And after a long look at the video from the 37-21 victory, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' defense and special teams:
More and more offensive coordinators around the league, seeing defensive formations filled with defensive backs to stop the pass, are running at those smaller formations in some down-and-distance combinations that might not have called for runs in the past. But the Broncos were able to defend the Raiders’ read-option attack, as well as traditional run plays, with their nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) packages. The longest run the Raiders had over Monday's first three quarters against either the Broncos nickel or dime was a 9-yard run by quarterback Terrelle Pryor late in the second quarter. “We wanted to just contain him and not get started with his feet,’’ said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
With his 16-yard pass for a touchdown to fullback Marcel Reece in the third quarter, Raiders running back Darren McFadden has now scored rushing, receiving and passing against the Broncos in his career.
It’s no wonder defensive-backs coaches have such a difficult time trying to figure out what officials will or will not call in the secondary from one week to the next, one officiating crew to the next. A week after the Broncos saw eight penalties called against defensive backs against the Giants -- among 13 penalties overall -- no Broncos defenders were flagged against the Raiders. The referee Monday night was Jerome Boger, who graded out highly enough to have earned the Super Bowl assignment this past February.
In some ways it shouldn’t be a surprise that Robert Ayers took a slightly longer route to where he is now -- which is leading the Broncos in sacks, with three. Ayers started just one full season in his career at Tennessee. And the teams that were high Ayers before the 2009 draft -- in which Josh McDaniels made him the 18th overall pick -- liked his variety of moves when working toward the quarterback. Ayers worked to the inside more than most prospects in that draft, a must for a young pass-rusher. But Ayers couldn’t quite break through as he played for three different defensive coordinators in his first three season, each of whom wanted a little something different from him. Jack Del Rio pushed Ayers hard last season, Del Rio’s first with Denver, even moving Ayers out of the starting lineup at times to get the message across. Ayers has responded to getting more quality snaps -- and to a second consecutive season under Del Rio. Ayers was consistently active against the Raiders, showing quality handwork to get himself free and flashing a variety of moves against Oakland's rebuilt offensive front. His two sacks came on 30 snaps' worth of work.
Against some of the Raiders' bigger offensive personnel groupings -- up to six offensive linemen -- the Broncos used some different combinations at linebacker. Paris Lenon played one snap, the final play of the first quarter, when the Raiders went beefy up front. The Broncos stopped McFadden for just a 1-yard gain. The Broncos then used Woodyard, Nate Irving and Steven Johnson at linebacker for one snap in the third quarter. Pryor completed a 15-yard pass to Jacoby Ford on the play.
With his 53-yard field goal in the first quarter Monday, Matt Prater is now 16-of-21 on attempts longer than 50 yards in his career. With his three field goals Monday, Prater has not attempted a kick shorter than 40 yards this season and has not missed any of his five attemps.
4dEric D. Williams
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