The Oakland Raiders are off to a phenomenal start to the 2016 season, with a 6-2 record going into the halfway point of the NFL season. Head coach Jack Del Rio has the team believing in themselves, while his coordinators, Bill Musgrave and Ken Norton Jr., continue improving their units.
It is no secret the defense hasn’t statistically been as sound as they would want, but the playmakers on the defense have been making key stops when the game seems to be on the line. During the Raiders overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the defense held Jameis Winston and the offense scoreless throughout the entire overtime period.
Entering Week 9, the Raiders finally leaped the over the last spot and are now the 31st in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per game (410.4).
They are allowing 285.4 passing yards per game (ranked 27th), while allowing 125 rushing yards per game (ranked 28th). Defensive coordinator Norton Jr. understands that his team has underwhelmed statistically as unit, but that they are making the key improvements in areas that matter, via Kyle Martin of Raiders.com:
“We’ve always known what we’re capable of. At the same time, it’s a matter of doing it, a matter of limiting the explosives,” Norton Jr. said. “We were down to two explosives last week and usually it’s more than that. It’s a matter of really limiting those explosives, playing and executing ball for the entire game. Not having times where we kind of let up a little bit, but at the same time, really seeing them execute for the entire five quarters. They’ve really set a high standard. Now it’s about being consistently playing at that high standard.”
This is Norton’s second season as the defensive coordinator of the Raiders, while also his sixth season coaching in the NFL. He and the Raiders take on a tall task in Week 9, in a matchup against the Denver Broncos for sole possession of the lead in the AFC West.
After playing in two consecutive road games in Florida these past two weeks, the Raiders return to the Oakland Coliseum for four straight home games, in a stretch that certainly can make their playoff hopes a lot more feasible.
Although the Broncos are the only divisional matchup in these next four games, it sets the stage for an interesting end to the season. Norton Jr. was asked about preparing for the Broncos offense and simply stated it is about making sure his unit is prepared to communicate and produce on all levels:
“Well for us, we spend more time worrying about us, about how we execute, about how we run, about how we take the ball away, about how we communicate,” Norton Jr. stated. “They’re going to line up and play ball. They’re the reigning Super Bowl Champs, and we have to certainly compete and play well and execute to have a chance to play with them. We spend a lot of time on improving ourselves.”
With the obvious departure of Peyton Manning, the Broncos offense has taken a few steps back with their replacement scenario. The Broncos come in with 27th ranked offense in the league (326.4 YPG), thanks to the difficulty of finding cohesion and chemistry with quarterback Trevor Siemian.
The Broncos offense is only averaging 221.6 passing yards per game (27th), while averaging 104.8 rushing yards per game (20th). Siemian does have athletic wide outs beside him, in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.
However, the rushing attack has taken a hit, with Super Bowl running back C.J. Anderson being placed on the injured reserve for the rest of the season.
The game is slated for a national telecast, being shown on Sunday Night Football. Whatever the result, this slugfest is anticipated to be one of the best games of the 2016 NFL season.