The AFC West has a new leader. For the first time since 2010, the Oakland Raiders (7-2) defeated the Denver Broncos (6-3) in the Coliseum, 30-20, thanks to some dynamite pass protection and a heavy dose of Latavius Murray.
1. In a bout for AFC West supremacy, Oakland won the battles and subsequently won the war. The Raiders‘ highly-touted offensive line stood firm against Denver’s championship pass rush and paved the way for a dominant night on the ground. Already one of the least-sacked quarterbacks, Derek Carr was taken down just twice and made smart, conservative passes inside the pocket.
When the Raiders‘ O-line wasn’t frustrating Von Miller and Co., it was pummeling interior defensive lineman with powerful run blocking. Anchored by Latavius Murray, Oakland rushed for 223 yards, the most Denver’s front has allowed since Week 5 of 2012. Murray recorded three scores and rushed for 114 yards on 5.7 yards per carry after having not rushed for over 60 yards in a game all season. Of course, the back’s surprising night was facilitated by the dominance of the left side of Oakland’s line (Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson), through which Murray and speed demon Jalen Richard ran play after play. Regarded as a big-play, pass-heavy offense through the first half of the season, the Raiders offered a glimpse on Sunday at what might be to come: a physical, hard-nosed, balanced attack.
2. Denver’s defense lost this matchup by playing the worst kind of Raider football. The Broncos crippled themselves with drive-extending penalties all night, committing three holding and interference calls on Oakland’s final scoring drive. Without Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, Denver’s defensive backs were gasping for air and grasping at straws in the fourth quarter, worn down by the Raiders‘ consistent run game and an insane time of possession advantage (41:28 to 18:32). The Broncos finished with 12 penalties for 104 yards on the night.
3. Khalil Mack is back. Overshadowed this season by Miller’s hot start and his own team’s offense, Mack unnerved Trevor Siemian on Sunday night, sacking him twice to up his season sack total to seven. Bruce Irvin won’t show up on the stat sheet, but his complementary pressure on the other side of the line was equally effective. Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe get all the publicity, but Mack and Irvin outperformed them this week.
4. The Broncos‘ ground game without C.J. Anderson is a legitimate concern. Gary Kubiak went to Devontae Booker early to try to set the pace and take pressure off of Siemian, but the rookie back could not deliver, running for 22 yards on 10 carries. Kapri Bibbs was no better toting the rock, but provided Denver with its biggest play of the game, and maybe the definitive catch-and-run of the year. His 69-yard fourth-quarter scamper should turn some heads in the Broncos‘ running back room this week.
5. Long live Marquette King. Not only is the Raiders dynamo one of the league’s most consistent punters — King pinned Denver inside its own five-yard line twice in the third quarter — he’s also the smoothest celebrator in the game. Crown this man and secure him a spot in Canton … or at least on Dancing with the Stars.
6. The Broncos stumbled to another poor start on Sunday night. Denver failed to improve on its league-worst first-quarter point differential (-44) and started the game with four consecutive three-and-outs — the Broncos had five such drives in the first half.
7. The Raiders are in first place. Let that sink it in. All alone in first place in the AFC West, a spot not held by any team other than the Broncos this late in the season since Week 10 of 2013. Will Oakland’s reign atop the toughest division in football last? At 7-2, they now have a half-game lead over the Chiefs and a one-game lead over Denver with three division games left to play.