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Published on 09/08/2008 at Mon Sep 08 16:08.
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Offensive Line

Breaking down the most important part of a football game – the anonymous battles that persist play after play among opposing linemen. Because in the NFL, games are won and lost in the trenches

Broncos Offensive Line vs. Raiders Defensive Line

The Denver Broncos‘ remodeled offensive line makes its debut tonight, with new starters across the board. The team’s bookend tackles consist of true rookie Ryan Clady and virtual rookie Ryan Harris. Inside, veteran Casey Wiegmann takes over for the injured Tom Nalen, while a healthy Ben Hamilton returns to LG and Chris Kuper shifts over to RG. On paper, the youth and inexperience look like they could be a problem for the Broncos. In reality, the offensive line has looked very strong throughout training camp and preseason, with Clady even earning some (very premature) Rookie of the Year buzz.

With 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year players starting on the offensive line, expect the Raiders to test the Broncos in several positions, looking for a chink in the armor. Defensive end Derrick Burgess, the team’s undisputed best pass rusher, will move from one side to the other throughout the night in an attempt to do the most damage. The Broncos aren’t afraid to help their tackles out, however, and have good insurance in blocking tight end Daniel Graham.

The Raiders are thin across the defensive line, with only seven guys expecting to suit on Monday – three defensive tackles and four defensive ends. DE Kalimba Edwards is listed as questionable – see the Broncos Raiders Injury Report – meaning the Raiders could be using a 6-man rotation for the game, tiny in NFL standards.

This spells trouble for the Raiders. One thing’s for certain, Head Coach Mike Shanahan will run the football, and then run it some more. Notorious in recent years for poor conditioning, the Oakland defensive line will face a relentless running attack from the Broncos, no matter how good Jay Cutler has looked in the passing game. Tommy Kelly moving back to the inside is an improvement all around, but without good depth and a decent rotation, the Broncos will tire the Raiders out on offense, especially in the fourth quarter.

PROGNOSIS: The Broncos offensive line, young as it may be, should have no problem handling a Raiders defensive line that is only skin deep and traditionally movable in its first week.

Broncos Defensive Line vs. Raiders Offensive Line

JaMarcus Russell vs. Broncos
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Broncos’ second year players need to step up for this defensive line to show improvement, and so far in the preseason, that hasn’t happened. The team’s last draft pick in 2007, DT Marcus Thomas, has ironically looked the best of the group, earning a starting spot. First round pick DE Jarvis Moss and second round pick DE Tim Crowder have been splitting time between the second and third team units in preseason. New addition Dewayne Robertson, DT, will be starting alongside Thomas, while DEs Elvis Dumervil and John Engelberger return to their starting positions from last year.

The interior of the Raiders offensive line appears pushable, with LG Robert Gallery, C Jake Grove, and Bronco-outcast RG Cooper Carlisle starting for the silver and black. Robertson is a more-than-decent interior pass rusher, and will disrupt the line of scrimmage on running plays. Thomas admits he was considerably out of shape last season (a year-long college suspension for character issues will do that to you), yet was still among the better interior linemen the Broncos suited all year long. The Broncos will throw Kenny Peterson and Nic Clemons into the mix as well, employing a healthy rotation as always. DE Ebenezer Ekuban might move inside on some situation as well, but don’t expect to see newcomer Josh Shaw in the lineup. He’ll likely be a game time scratch.

The real matchup that favors Denver, however, should be Cornell Green against Dumervil. Last year, Dumervil registered two sacks against the 6’5″ left tackle, causing trouble with his size and speed.

The Raiders’ greatest strength could come from attacking the strong side of the Broncos defense with their running game. Both Boss Bailey and Dumervil are nursing injuries (Bailey is questionable for Monday), and with Dumervil arguably being a liability against the run already, expect the Raiders to send their running backs in their direction all night long.

PROGNOSIS: The Broncos DL is by no means perfect, but the Raiders OL is worse, so the edge goes to Denver again. I expect to see a good pass rush, particularly on the inside, which will allow the secondary to focus on run stopping (the proverbial eight-in-the-box) and respecting JaMarcus Russell‘s big arm.

For more on the matchup, including Five Keys to the Game, check out our Broncos Raiders preview. Join us tonight for the live blog and full coverage. Go Broncos!

  • Dario

    The O-line for the Broncos looked so solid in the preseason against some pretty good competition. I’m really looking forward to watching that part of the game tonight. If Cutler gets pass protection like he did in the preseason, look out.