This week's second "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET) features the Broncos on the road versus the Raiders. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this AFC West matchup.
Last season, the Broncos were a subpar tackling team that gave up a lot of big plays in space. They were not fundamentally sound, and they did a poor job of wrapping up. The Raiders have two excellent running backs, Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas, who operate well in space on wide run plays and outlet passes. Denver needs to tackle well in the open field and must drive through the ball carriers, or the Raiders will destroy the Broncos on their second effort.
Running back rotation
Look for the Broncos to rotate RBs Selvin Young and Andre Hall versus the Raiders' eight-man fronts. Denver likes to run out of two-tight end sets, which will force the Raiders to put extra defenders in the box. The Raiders will be fine with this because they feel good about leaving their corners on islands outside without help. However, if the Broncos run the ball effectively early, it will open up play-action and bootleg opportunities for QB Jay Cutler.
Crowd the line of scrimmage
The Raiders do not have a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver, which obviously pleases the Broncos, who have two outstanding corners, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly. This allows Denver to play its linebackers and at least one safety close to the line of scrimmage, which should help the Broncos be more stout in run support -- which is the Raiders' strength.
Look to Stokley and Royal
Without WR Brandon Marshall (suspension), the Broncos might be a little thin at receiver, and the Raiders will make it tough for them to get open with a lot of press coverages from corners DeAngelo Hall and Nnamdi Asomugha. Look for the Broncos to utilize their tight ends, even in two-tight end sets. They also will look for WR Brandon Stokley out of the slot on third down. In addition, Cutler could call some screen plays, bootlegs and rollouts to take advantage of the aggressive Oakland defense. If the Broncos need a big play, the guy who might need to step up is rookie WR Eddie Royal.
Russell to Miller connection
TE Zach Miller might be the most underrated player on this team. He is a better receiver than blocker and is an excellent third-down option. He will run some quick hitches and curl routes, and he knows how to find openings in the defense. Look for Miller and QB JaMarcus Russell to become a pretty productive duo. But the Broncos' linebackers are good athletes and decent in coverage, so Miller will have to work to get his catches.
Don't overuse McFadden
The Radiers' coaches are really excited about McFadden and his tremendous versatility. He obviously can run the football, but he is an underrated receiver out of the backfield as well as an explosive kick returner. The challenge for the coaching staff is to not overuse him and wear him down both physically and mentally. His biggest contribution early in the season might be as an outlet receiver on third down.
It all starts up front
Oakland's offensive line is big and physical, and it seems to be adapting well to its zone-blocking schemes. The Raiders are better at run blocking than pass protection and seem to work well as a unit. They also play a little smarter than you would think. They can wear down opposing defensive fronts with the running game, and a big key to this matchup is whether they can overwhelm an average Broncos defensive front seven.
Cautious passing game
Coach Lane Kiffin is very cautious with his passing game, and this will be a run-first offense with Russell at quarterback. You get the feeling Kiffin and the coaching staff simply do not believe they can throw the ball effectively, so they won't take a lot of chances.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.