After struggling on offense for weeks, the Denver Broncos finally turn to quarterback Paxton Lynch. The 2016 first-round pick has thrown just 83 passes in his career for 497 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Lynch and the Broncos will travel to the black hole to take on the Oakland Raiders, who are having their own struggles. The Raiders weTre blasted by the New England Patriots 33-9 in Mexico City last Sunday in a game that was never close. Oakland’s defense gave up a whopping 421 yards, which led to firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. He was replaced by John Pagano, who joined the teams as assistant head coach in 2016.
These two teams met back in Week 4 with Denver winning at home 16-10. Trevor Siemian started for the Broncos, throwing for 179 yards and a touchdown. That also was the game in which Derek Carr injured his back, causing him to miss the next game before he returned in Week 6.
Denver at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 26 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Three Things to Watch
1. Paxton Lynch
Sunday will be Lynch’s third career start. In 2016, Lynch started two games for the Broncos, and the results were mixed.
In his last start against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lynch was 12 of 24 for 104 yards with zero touchdowns. Denver hopes Lynch can help jump-start the offense, which is 18th in yards per game (329.8), 15th in rushing (112.9 ypg), 18th in passing (216.9 ypg) and tied for 24th in scoring (18.3 ppg).
“Paxton is a talent, and he’s our first-round pick,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said earlier this week. “We’re trying to change what’s happened offensively, so it’s simply his turn. We obviously changed coordinators on Monday. We’re hoping to again, play better offensively and not turn the football over—very simple.”
Joseph also made a change at offensive coordinator this week, firing Mike McCoy and replacing him with quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, who has served in the role for five other teams, including Oakland (2015-16), in his NFL coaching career.
2. Raiders' defense
Norton was fired following a performance that had Oakland ranking no better than 19th in any of the four major defensive categories. The hope is that Pagano can get things turned around.
“I just felt that a change was needed,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said earlier this week about the coaching change. “It wasn’t easy to do. In fact, it was very difficult to do. I really felt like I needed to shake things up. We couldn’t continue doing what we’ve been doing to this point. I made the call. The whole idea is to change what we’re doing, to make sure that... What I’m looking for at the end of the day is to play fast on defense. We weren’t playing fast enough. We weren’t playing confident enough. That decision was made. It’s always what’s in the best interest of the team and nothing else. I had to put personal feelings aside. With that, we’re excited about our preparation getting ready for Denver.”
The Raiders enter this game 26th in the NFL in total defense (367.1 ypg), 19th in rushing defense (113.8 ypg), 27th in passing defense (253.3) and 22nd in scoring defense (24.7 ppg). Oakland also is the only team in the league that yet to record an interception this season. Denver quarterbacks have been intercepted 14 times, second only to Cleveland (20).
3. Broncos’ offensive line
With any quarterback in the league, it is essential to keep him upright during the duration of the game. Some of Denver’s poor offensive production can be attributed to the play of the line, which has given up 31 sacks this season, the eighth most in the league. Although the Broncos’ offensive line has struggled at times, Lynch’s running ability could help take some of the burden off of the group while adding a new element to Denver’s offense.
“You don’t want Paxton to drop back, go through his progression and kind of just hold the ball and kind of sit there. He has legs, so take off and run,” Joseph said on Thursday. “Don’t become a stiff pocket passer when you’re not that guy. If you have legs, use them. I’m looking forward to watching him on third downs. If it’s not there, just take off and run and see what happens.”
The Broncos have lost six games in a row while the Raiders have dropped three of their last four, so something has to give. This game will come down to how Paxton Lynch does in his first start this season and the offensive line’s ability to protect him.
Khalil Mack has played in seven games against Denver in his career and has done quite a bit of damage in those – 31 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His nine sacks against the Broncos are the most he has against any single opponent.
Denver will certainly have to account for Mack on every play and even though the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has not put up huge numbers to this point, he’s still a game-changer.
After getting embarrassed in Mexico City last week, expect Oakland to get back on the winning track at home.
Prediction: Raiders 28, Broncos 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.