3TFO: Broncos @ Raiders, Week 17
One team playing for home field in the playoffs and the other eyeing a Top-3 pick in the draft doesn’t make for a compelling lead-in to a Week 17 game, but that’s what we’ve got in Oakland this week.
The Denver Broncos will have to play it out with their starters, not knowing the results of New England’s game with Buffalo being played at the same time, but they’ll face a Raider team in full evaluation and ‘am I going to have a job next year?’ mode, so a full day’s work may not be required in the end.
As more passing records are sure to fall, there’ll be some interest there, but otherwise, here are some spots to watch that might be enough to keep you tuned in.
Sims/Vasquez, Round 2
One of last offseason’s hot commodities as a free agent, Denver right guard Louis Vasquez (+31.4) has proven himself worth the asking price as he’s slotted in nicely on the Broncos’ line. Though it’s his team mate and much less productive fellow guard, Zane Beadles, that is getting the Pro Bowl voting love, Vasquez is our highest-rated right guard and earned the PFF Pro Bowl selection. With positive marks across the board, there hasn’t been a weak point in his game this year and we’ll get to see his consistent performance tested by a flashing defender this week.
Oakland defensive tackle Pat Sims posted a career game in Week 16 with a +7.2 grade against San Diego and looks to bring some of that 12-tackle, 10-stop domination home for the season finale. He might find the going a bit tougher against one of the league’s best in Vasquez and the also-strong Manny Ramirez at center – who each had one of their better days of the season against Oakland in Week 3 – but as he flips sides it’ll be worth noting his work against Beadles as well. Last time out Sims posted his second-worst grade of the year in Denver.
In just over eight games of work this year, Bronco outside linebacker Von Miller reclaimed his spot at the top of the 4-3 OLB rankings – a position he’s held since entering the league in 2011. The fact that he not only built a lead in such short time, but created cushion enough to withstand more missed time is testament to the dominance he’s displayed. Almost forcing a new position category to be created, Miller’s versatile use as an early-down run defender and passing-down rusher is impossible to replace.
With a taste of life without Miller earlier this season, the Broncos have seen the difficulty of generating a rush through other means before. Ends Robert Ayers, Derek Wolfe and Shaun Phillips have all contributed, but none has been half the force of Miller whose 12.8 Pass Rushing Productivity rating would have him in the company of the top 4-3 DEs on many fewer opportunities.
Defending the edges for Oakland against whoever Denver sends in Miller’s stead, will be Jared Veldheer on the left and Tony Pashos on the right. Veldheer has put up a Pass Blocking Efficiency mark of 96.8 in the time since his return from a torn triceps – given qualifying snaps, that figure would have him tied for second best among all tackles. Pashos has earned a respectable +3.2 grade in pass protection, giving up just 25 total pressures on 368 pass-blocking snaps.
As Oakland wide receiver Andre Holmes has found more playing time, his performance level has jumped (or perhaps his playing time has increased as he’s shown himself capable) and in this, his final chance to state his case for an increased role next season, he should get the chance to do so against one of the league’s better cornerbacks. The 6-foot-4 Holmes should find himself matched up with 6-foot-2 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie often this week.
Cromartie’s play pattern has favored the right side in the season’s second half but he tracks receivers at times and the jump ball, body-out style of Holmes (+7.7 over the past four games) would suggest he’d be Denver’s preferred option in coverage. With a coverage grade among the best the cornerback position has to offer (+10.6) Cromartie has given up a meager 67.8 passer rating allowed on balls his way. Holmes didn’t play a big role in Terrelle Pryor’s previous starting stint for Oakland, so it’ll also be worth noting the kind of connection he has with his own quarterback this weekend.
Follow Rick on Twitter.