Oakland Raiders: Despite Their Bravado, Elway And The Broncos Should Worry

Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) strip sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) in the end zone in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) strip sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) in the end zone in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos, to the delight of both fanbases, engaged in some spirited trash talk on Twitter – but Elway and his team should be worried.

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It’s been quite a long time since the Oakland Raiders have been in a position to do any sort of trash talking – except maybe, to the Cleveland Browns. But times have changed and with their star seemingly ascending, the Raiders traded barbs with their longtime nemesis and reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos on Twitter the other day.

Broncos GM John Elway made a good show of it, mugging for the camera with a “what, me worry?” expression on his face and the Raiders’ Twitter jab on the big screen in the background of the photo.

Good show of it or not though, the truth of the matter is that Elway and the Broncos should be very worried heading into this season and he probably knows it.

Perhaps NFL.com realized it was a slow news cycle and decided to stir the pot a bit when they posted a link to an interview with Khalil Mack – who had the temerity to suggest that the Raiders’ defense might be able to as disruptive as Denver’s was last season.

On their Tweet, NFL.com included the link to the interview, a picture of Mack, and the caption, “The Broncos D? It currently rules the AFC West.”

With nothing better to do, or perhaps falling into the trap set by the NFL.com Twitter managers – come on, this is a slow news period after all – the Raiders’ Twitter managers responded.

It was a Tweet that fired up the Raiders fanbase and apparently amused Elway and the Broncos brass as they responded in kind with the aforementioned photo and an emoji of a laughing face.

Still, one has to wonder who is going to have the last laugh in all of this.

On the one hand, the Raider Nation should feel pretty pleased that the team feels like they’re in a good enough place to start trading public jabs with their longtime foe. It’s good to see the organization in high spirits and with a very solid, dynamic roster capable of making some real noise in the division, begin to really embrace the belief that they have it in them to be contenders.

On the other hand, from a more practical and grounded perspective, Elway and the Broncos – despite their bluster and bravado – should be very concerned. And perhaps behind closed doors, they are.

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Last season, the Raiders lost a close one at home to the Broncos – a game, that if not for a late Derek Carr interception – they very well could have won. Later on in the year, they traveled to Denver and beat the eventual Super Bowl champs in their own house.

Both games were low scoring defensive battles. And in both games, Oakland’s defense stood toe to toe with Denver’s and proved they were capable of being a very, very good unit.

If you recall, Denver’s offense didn’t score a touchdown against the Raider defense last season. Not one. Oakland’s defense held them to 16 points in the first game and just 12 in the second – well below Denver’s average of a tick over 22 points per game last season and two of the three lowest point totals the Broncos put up all of last season.

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In the first matchup of the season, the Raiders held Denver to just 43 yards on the ground and 254 through the air. The Raiders defense sacked Peyton Manning twice and intercepted two of his passes.

In their second and final meeting of the year, the Raiders defense again laid waste to the Broncos offense – Khalil Mack in particular. For the game, the Raiders held Denver’s running game to just 34 yards. Brock Osweiler, filling in for Manning, threw for 276 yards and wasn’t intercepted.

However, he didn’t throw a touchdown, was sacked five times – all by Mack – and coughed up a ball in the endzone to give the Raiders a safety.

Oakland Raiders
Dec 20, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) get away a pass as he is tackled Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) during a game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

Of course, the Raiders’ offense had a tough time in both games against the Broncos’ defense – there is a reason why Denver had the league’s number one defense last year.

However, the Broncos have lost a couple of key pieces from that defense in Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. The Denver faithful brush off those losses as insignificant, but both guys were very important cogs in that Denver machine.

On the other side of that coin, the Raiders got much better this offseason with the addition of Bruce Irvin, who is going to help Mack in a huge way. With the team getting a healthy Mario Edwards Jr. back, as well as a plethora of pass rushing talent in draft picks Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun, the Raiders are going to have a ferocious defense – one that is going to make life a living hell for opposing quarterbacks.

And one that has the potential to rival Denver’s defense as the best in the division – if not, the league.

Making things worse for Elway and the Broncos is the fact that they enter the season with Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian, and Paxton Lynch under center. Two of them – Siemian and Lynch, have zero experience in the real NFL world. And the third, Sanchez, has proven time and time again that when the pressure comes hard and heavy, he folds like a cheap suit – or he just butt fumbles the ball away.

Any way Denver wants to look at it, they’ve got a problem. The Raiders will be bringing a pass rush that is heavy and fierce. And they don’t have a quarterback on their roster who has proven able to handle it.

On the flip side of that, the Raiders have beefed up their offensive line to offer max protection to Carr – and as noted earlier, the Broncos lost a couple of very key pieces invaluable to the team’s pass rush.

There is no doubt that the Broncos are going to have a very good defense again this year. But with their losses and Oakland’s gains this offseason — not to mention the fact that they stood toe to toe with Denver’s defense twice last season — the Raiders may have closed that gap.

Elway and his team may be putting on the smiley faces in public, declaring that they will once again rule the roost in the AFC West, but behind closed doors, they very well may be concerned.

Or at least they should be.

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The Raiders defense has been built with one mission in mind – hunting the quarterback. And given the athletes the team has rounded up on that side of the ball, it looks like they may do that very, very well.

And to paraphrase the Raiders’ Twitter managers – the Broncos can’t say they weren’t warned.