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Broncos vs. Raiders: Breaking down Denver’s game plan

(Photo by Robert Reiners / Getty Images)

The Broncos kick off their 2019 regular season on the road. They travel to face the Raiders on “Monday Night Football” with the desire to start their season – and the Vic Fangio era – the right way.

They had an extra week of preseason action because they played in the Hall of Fame Game, but question marks still remain especially on offense. There is no more time to wait as the regular season is here and the games count. The Broncos have one of the toughest schedules in the league and are facing a divisional opponent in Week 1.

Let’s take a look at how the Broncos will attack the Raiders on both sides of the ball.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

The rushing attack should lead the way for the Broncos in 2019. Phillip Lindsay is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and I feel he should get the most touches (rushes, receptions) from the backfield. However, Royce Freeman is a 230-pound back who can grind down opponents and I believe that he should lead the team in carries.

This 1-2 punch for the Broncos can be the best in the game. Lindsay brings “lightning” to the backfield with his speed and explosiveness, while Freeman brings the “thunder” with his trademark power.

New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello wants to get as many opportunities as he can for his backs to perform.

“When you don’t take a lot of preseason reps, when you don’t do a lot of live action, sometimes the run game takes some time to get flowing. It could be a quarter, it could be a half, it could be a game. You don’t know that, but you can’t give up on it. I think our goal is always to be balanced and I look forward to trying to make that happen on Monday night,” Scangarello said.

In the play below you can see Freeman at the moment he gets the handoff from quarterback Joe Flacco. Notice how Freeman is meant to hit the entry point for the play near left guard Dalton Risner. If he sees a cutback lane to the right, then he can bend that way where tight end Troy Fumagalli is attempting to block the linebacker.

This play went for negative yards against the 49ers because Fumagalli failed to get to his man and the linebacker made the play when Freeman bent back opposite play side. It’s a trademark play for the Broncos rushing attack in this system and Broncos fans know it well from the days of Mike Shanahan and Terrell Davis. In order to have similar success in 2019, the Broncos must make sure to execute this staple of their offense.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

Scangarello did not show much in the preseason, but there will be some basic concepts to his passing game. This passing game is built off play-action passing. That means the quarterback will fake the handoff to the running back and then look for his receivers downfield. The fake handoff is meant to get defenders to bite on the run and open things up for receivers at various levels.

Having a solid foundation is something Scangarello emphasized this week.

“In the end, everyone has a foundation. We have our foundation of offense and you pull from that foundation to build your plan every week. It changes with matchups, their strengths and your weaknesses and vice versa. You just try to put your players in position. The volume, it’ll always be relatively the same every week,” Scangarello said.

This play features a “hi-low” concept built from the play-action bootleg. The 49ers run the same system under their head coach Kyle Shanahan, and that’s who Scangarello learned under for years with a couple of different teams.

It starts out as “21” personnel (two running backs, one tight end) with both backs in the backfield. Before the ball is snapped, the fullback motions and lines up near the stack formation on the left. The receiver at the back of the stack then runs down the line of scrimmage after the snap. The receiver at the front of the snap runs an inside slant route.

This gives the quarterback two targets, one high and one low, to throw to as he bootlegs out after the fake handoff. If both receivers are covered, the quarterback should have some real estate to run for the first down. You’re basically trying to influence the two defenders, one unblocked pass rusher and one cornerback to crash on the play. It’s simple, but when run correctly, it’s effective.

The pass on this play fell incomplete as it was a bad throw from 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens. We have to see Joe Flacco work on these bootleg throws in order to take advantage of defenses who have been bludgeoned by the ground game. Flacco is more of a dropback passer than he is a bootleg quarterback, but he has done a good job of throwing on the run during his pro career.

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When the Raiders Run the Ball

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden loves the counter play. He will hit you over the head with the play out of various formations. The Broncos have prepared for a Gruden-led Raiders team before, and I’m sure they’re going to be ready to face the counter play once again.

Fangio knows how important it is to stop the run against the Raiders.

“It’s vital. The back (Raiders RB Josh Jacobs) is really good, first-round pick. He’s a slasher. He’ll cut it back. He can ram it up in there. He’s hard to tackle in the open field. Defending the run is going to be critical,” Fangio said.

In the play below, we see 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) with both tight ends lined up on the right side of the play. They are showing a heavy look to the right side and both tight ends will be tasked with blocking. Right before the snap, a wide receiver is motioned across the field and he will be blocking in the crease between the tight ends. If timed correctly, this could lead to a huge run – especially if the back is patient and allows his blocks to take shape.

The running back takes a jab step to the left before following the receiver to the strong side while looking for what should be a big rushing lane. With proper patience (and a good sales job), the back might only have one defender to beat in order to take it to the house.

The offense is trying to get the defense out of position with the step to the left before the play breaks to the right. Fangio and his defense will have to be incredibly disciplined so as not to get out of position and allow a big play from Jacobs and the Raiders rushing attack.

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When the Raiders Pass the Ball

The Broncos need to be cautious when asking their inside linebackers to cover the tight end. For years, the Broncos have failed to cover tight ends effectively. Just last year in the season opener against the Seahawks, the Broncos allowed a rookie tight end, Will Dissly, to go for more than 100 yards in the game. That’s pretty bad considered Dissly was a fourth-round pick primarily known for his blocking ability at the University of Washington.

In the play below, you’ll see the design of what turned into a 45-yard play for the Raiders. It looks like a spread play with five wide receivers, but this is actually 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) with three wide receivers on the field.

The running back is at the top of the screen and he runs a “9” route to clear out his defender. The tight end is just to his inside and he will use a stutter step to buy some time before attacking his linebacker vertically only to break off to the middle of the field when the linebacker turns his hips. If the linebacker on the other side of the field covering the slot receiver just takes a step or two to his left, then there is plenty of room for the tight end to manipulate the middle of the field.

The right side is bunched up with three receivers who essentially want to hold their men on that side, creating a void in the middle of the defense. You’ll see cornerback Aqib Talib at the bottom of the screen, and he immediately drops at the snap and eventually makes the tackle in the middle of the field on the tight end – but after a huge gain by the Raiders offense.

The Broncos will be without starting linebacker Todd Davis on Monday night. The reserve linebackers tasked with covering need to make sure they are aware of this spread concept implemented by Gruden and the Raiders to clear out the middle of the field.

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Summary

This is a winnable game for the Broncos to start the season. The Raiders have had to endure a ton of drama and distraction this summer with former wide receiver Antonio Brown. They released Brown and he was picked up by the Patriots and now they’re going to be figuring out their offense on the fly.

The Broncos have the rushing attack to win this game primarily in a low-scoring fashion. With Lindsay and Freeman leading the way, the offense can stay on schedule and win the time of possession. Flacco doesn’t need to do too much as a passer and will be executing simple-but-effective passing concepts.

The Raiders have a talented back in Jacobs, one of their three 2019 first-round picks. The Broncos have to make sure not to let him get loose or it could take away from what they do against Derek Carr and the passing game.

Overall, the Broncos should come away with a victory on Monday night. I’ll say 24-13 is the final score.

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Game screenshots from NFL Game Pass. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.