The Broncos kick off the 2019 season on the road when they face their AFC West rivals, the Raiders, on Monday night. It’s not a “must-win” game, but it would be nice to kick off the 2019 season the right way with a big win over a familiar opponent.
In order to win the game against the Raiders, the Broncos will have to contend with superstar receiver Antonio Brown. They’ve faced Brown before when he was a member of the Steelers, with varying results. And this time, they face even more complications when it comes to dealing with an elite level talent.
Slowing down Brown gives the Broncos their best chance to win their season opener. Can they do that? Let’s take a look.
No Raiders Film
One of the most-difficult things about preparing for Brown in Week 1 is that we haven’t seen him suit up in a game wearing a Raiders uniform. Whether it was a minor injury or a helmet issue that lasted for weeks, Brown didn’t play in the preseason. Instead, he missed a ton of time in practice and has not yet built much chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr.
I asked Broncos head coach Vic Fangio about the difficulty in preparing for a player you haven’t seen.
“It’s difficult in that regard. We have no video, nobody does, of him in a Raiders uniform in a game. That’s an issue, but he’s going to line up in one of those receiver spots, so we’re practicing and expecting him to be anywhere,” Fangio said.
Brown has been such a malcontent this summer that Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said that the veteran receiver needed to show that he was “all in” for his new team. With the regular season here, it’s time for Brown to prove to the Raiders that he’s all about winning.
Rival Not Revenge
Chris Harris Jr. is one of the most confident players in the league. I love that about him. I feel that he’s on a Hall of Fame track and Harris certainly doesn’t get enough credit for his high quality of play.
He’s rarely had a bad game, although there was a contest against Brown back in 2015 that saw Harris give up a couple of big plays. I asked Harris about that on Wednesday and he told me, “this is not a revenge game.”
Harris played against Brown last year and only allowed him to snare three passes. In that game against the Steelers, Harris got an interception covering Brown.
This matchup in a way is now 1-1, if you will. Harris has had a good game against Brown, and Brown has had a good game against Harris. On Wednesday, Harris gave us insight into why this is such a great fight when these two meet up.
“It’s a great matchup. It’s one of the best verses the best that’s been doing it for a long time. I think he’s a year above me and I’m right behind me, so we’ve been playing at a high level for a while. It’s going to be fun. It’s a rival game,” Harris said.
It is a rival game, even though both the Raiders and Broncos aren’t quite where they want to be and aren’t the teams they used to be when the rivalry was at the peak. Harris versus Brown, round three, is going to be fun to watch as neither will back down from the challenge.
Skills for Days
Brown may be dramatic with his behavior off the field, but his skill set on the field is outstanding. Ever since he came out of Central Michigan in 2010 as a sixth-round pick for the Steelers, Brown has worked tirelessly to improve his game.
Fangio knows why Brown is so tough to matchup against.
“He’s really quick and really fast. He gets to his high speed very fast—quicker than most. He’s very elusive, he’s a good runner after the catch and he’s a very competitive guy. There’s nothing easy about defending him,” Fangio said.
In addition to his physical skill set, Brown has a mentality that just won’t quit. For years, Brown has made the difficult catch seem routine. He can make circus catches that other receivers only dream of making.
Brown turns small-window throws into completions, and he turns busted coverages into touchdowns. The Broncos need to be cautious when choosing how best to cover the superstar receiver.
The Broncos have a tough task on Monday for many reasons. We don’t know what Brown will look like in a game with the Raiders. It may look great, but it may look rough around the edges. There’s a chance that his lack of chemistry with Carr doesn’t matter at this point, but there’s also a chance that the two aren’t on the same page and that causes a disconnect in their first game together.
Harris will not be on Brown the whole game. In fact, there may not be many times we see these two All-Pro players line up against each other. When we do, it will be time to get your popcorn ready. Brown has the speed and quickness to be a deep threat or a weapon on underneath routes. Harris can line up outside and stay with Brown down the field, or he can line up in the slot and disrupt passes over the middle.
There is no doubt that slowing down or stopping Brown will be a big part of the Broncos game plan in Week 1. With Fangio’s defense likely harassing Carr early and often (usually without blitzing), that could lead to some errant throws. Those type of throws can be picked off by what should be a ballhawking Broncos secondary.
It will be interesting to see if Carr trusts Brown fully in order to make those tight-window throws that guys like Harris will force him into.