Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday Night Football: Broncos, Fox Need Fast Start vs. Oakland Raiders

The Denver Broncos 2011 season opener will be under the nationally-televised, bright lights of Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders. It will be head coach John Fox's debut for the Broncos against the Broncos' No. 1 rival.

Fox will immediately be thrown into the fire at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, when he faces a Raiders team that embarrassed the Broncos last season in a blow-out 59-14 victory, one of the worst losses in Broncos history.

That embarrassment by the Raiders was the last straw for Broncos fans, as the cries for Josh McDaniels' head on a platter turned to angry shouts by an enraged fan base.

Historically, the Broncos have struggled on Monday night.

In 62 games, the Broncos have won 27, lost 34, and they tied the other.

On October 22, 1973, the Broncos played in their first-ever Monday Night Football appearance against, surprisingly enough, the Oakland Raiders. What is even more surprising is that the one game that ended in a tie for the Broncos was indeed this first-ever Monday night appearance.

In recent years, the Broncos struggles on Monday Night have been no different. While millions of viewers tuned in the last three years, the Broncos have received three horrendous whippings, and only mustered two wins in five tries.

On November 22, 2010, the Broncos got pounded by their AFC West divisional rivals, the San Diego Chargers, and lost the game 35-14. Philip Rivers threw for four touchdowns, and their backup running back, Mike Tolbert, torched the Broncos for 111 yards.

The season before that the Broncos were humiliated by the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Again the Broncos were shredded by the passing of "Big Ben" Roethlisberger, who tossed three touchdowns. Rashard Mendenhall also put up 155 yards rushing. Kyle Orton matched Roethlisberger's success with his own ineptitude when he had three interceptions, one returned by backup cornerback Tyrone Carter for a pick-six.

The only glimmer of hope for the Broncos comes just three short years ago when the Broncos opened the regular season on Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders.

At that time however, the Broncos looked like a much different team.

Jay Cutler started under center, and the Broncos hadn't yet traded away rising stars Tony Scheffler or Peyton Hillis. The Broncos crushed the Raiders 41-14 in what appeared to be the start of something great in 2008. Instead, it was the start of Mike Shanahan's final season in Denver, which was followed by the departure of each of those young stars.

Last season, the Raiders swept the series against the Broncos, beating them in the second matchup of the season by a final score of 39-23.

In that game, Tim Tebow got his first NFL start at quarterback. His pedestrian 138 passing yards was boosted by his team leading 78 yards rushing. He had the only two touchdowns for the Broncos in that game: one passing and one rushing.

In that game, however, it was the Raiders dominant rushing game that overwhelmed the Broncos.

The Raiders cumulatively ran the ball for 264 yards on 41 attempts. Darren McFadden led the Raiders with 20 carries for 119 yards, averaging six yards per carry.

The Broncos' run defense was a consistent problem last season, something that the new ball coach has been asked to dramatically improve right away. The Raiders will be an immediate test to the progress that Fox has made with the defense.

The Broncos must shut down the run on the first drive.

The Raiders have a new head coach also, Hue Jackson, who will undoubtedly seek to rush the ball early and often against the Broncos.

If the Broncos can stop the explosive run game of the Raiders, they will be forced to beat the Broncos through the air.

Advantage: Broncos.

The Broncos showed off a swarming pass-rush in the preseason. The combination of standout defensive end Elvis Dumervil and rookie linebacker Von Miller has been a thrill to watch. They will be all over Raiders quarterback, Jason Campbell, who will attempt to beat Champ Bailey, a perennial shutdown cornerback for the Broncos, and Andre Goodman, a better-than-average back who consistently gets the job done.

If the Broncos can create pressure and sacks, force Campbell to throw picks, or generate fumbles, the Broncos' defense will create turnovers and get short fields to beat the Raiders.

The kind of momentum that the turnovers will generate will make the Broncos forget their misfortunes of last season's 4-12 record.

This is the start of the John Fox Era in Denver, and Fox needs to right the ship from Week 1, or else it could spell a continued downward spiral for a Broncos organization already at the bottom.

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