Yesterday, the biggest news in the NFL was widely celebrated in Broncos Country. What was crazy, unbelievable drama to the rest of the football world was music to the ears of those in the Mile High City.
Long term, it meant that the team’s biggest rival was once again in disarray. Seeing that the Raiders are still as dysfunctional as ever was reassuring.
And short term, it provided a distraction heading into opening night, when Denver has to travel to Oakland for a showdown on “Monday Night Football.” Making Jon Gruden and Company focus on anything other than the game is a great thing.
Antonio Brown likely being suspended by the Raiders is the gift that keeps on giving. The positive ramifications seem to know no bounds.
Yes, having Brown out of the lineup on Monday night seems like it’ll be good for the Broncos. He’s one of the best wideouts in the NFL, so not having to figure out a way to contain him will be one less thing Vic Fangio has to worry about in his debut as Denver’s head coach.
But every once in a while, teams can rally around the loss of a player. It’ll be tough to make up for the loss of Brown across a 16-game season. But for one night, it’s certainly possible for Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and the other Raiders wide receivers to rise to the occasion.
This becomes even more likely due to the fact that Denver will have an inevitable letdown. It’s human nature. There’s no way for Chris Harris Jr., as an example, to not be a little less focused on the task at hand now that his assignment isn’t a one-on-one match-up with a wideout that has given him fits in the past.
Broncos fans know how this works; they saw it firsthand in 2017 when the previously winless Giants rolled into town to take on a Denver team that was off to a surprising 3-1 start. New York was without Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and seemingly every other receiver on their roster, putting them at a huge disadvantage.
There was no way they could pull off the upset. Unless the Broncos overlooked them.
That’s exactly what happened, as the Giants dominated the game, winning 23-10. The loss derailed the Broncos season, kicking off an eight-game losing streak that would lead to a dismal 5-11 campaign.
The same thing could happen on Monday night. It’d be very easy for Denver to relax just a bit, only to see lesser-known players steps up and seize the moment.
Fangio isn’t Vance Joseph, so he’ll most likely prevent his players from overlooking anyone. And Joe Flacco isn’t Trevor Siemian, so hopefully the Broncos can muster more than 10 points.
But it’s still a possibility. It’s something Denver needs to guard against.
A letdown isn’t the only reason why Monday night’s game suddenly takes a potentially dangerous turn with Brown out of the lineup, however. It also changes the game plan.
For months, the Broncos have been preparing for the Raiders. By all accounts, they’ve been working on this game since offseason OTAs. Undoubtably, that process included a heavy dose of ways to slow down one of the game’s best pass catchers.
Without Brown on the field, Denver’s strategy will have to change. And it’ll have to happen at the 11th hour, which throws months and months of work out the window.
Even though the assignment became easier, it’s still tricky. Months of planning for a tough task is better than 48 hours preparing for a simpler one. The Broncos now find themselves dealing with the latter situation.
In addition, the loss of Brown changes the Raiders approach to the game. Gruden’s offensive game plan will have to adjust, perhaps not in Denver’s favor.
The biggest question mark for the Broncos defense heading into the season is their ability to stop the run. It’s been an issue the past couple of years, with little done during the offseason to address the issue.
Todd Davis is likely to miss the opener, making the situation even more of a question. Without one of their starting middle linebackers, Denver’s run defense could be even more suspect than normal.
Thus, the Raiders would be smart to give the football early and often to rookie Josh Jacobs. Let the first-round pick out of Alabama show that he was worthy of being the 19th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Feed him the rock and see what he can do behind Oakland’s massive offensive line.
That game plan would be tough for the Broncos to deal with on Monday night. They don’t have an immediate and obvious answer for stopping that approach.
If Brown were playing, Gruden would be tempted to veer away from the running game. He’d want to air it out with Derek Carr and his All-Pro wideout.
Now, the Raiders head coach might have no choice but to keep things conservative. Without a star receiver, Oakland will be forced into an approach they probably should’ve used in the first place.
If Jacobs gets the ball 25 to 30 times on Monday night, that could spell trouble for the Broncos. And that’s more likely now than it was 48 hours ago.
Down the road, the Raiders will be worse off without Antonio Brown in the lineup. Their chances of being a playoff team in 2019 go down drastically without their star wideout. But on Monday night, which is all that matters right now in Denver, his absence might be good news for Oakland.
So don’t celebrate just yet Broncos Country. The silver and black’s dysfunction isn’t necessarily going to help in the season opener.
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