On Sunday afternoon, the Las Vegas Raiders will face the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. There are several important matchups to consider when trying to determine a winner, but tight end Darren Waller is likely the biggest factor to a Raiders victory. Below is a breakdown of some Las Vegas Raiders versus Denver Broncos key matchups in what will be both team’s last game of the season.
Darren Waller, Las Vegas Pass Rush Keys to a Week 17 Victory
Darren Waller vs Broncos Pass Defense
No one in the NFL has had a better coming-out-party than Darren Waller this season. He has solidified himself as the third best tight end in football at minimum. On the season, Waller currently ranks second in targets, receptions and receiving yards amongst all tight ends. He also currently ranks third in receiving touchdowns with eight. Standing at 6’5” with 4.46 speed, Waller is simply a matchup nightmare for anyone and everyone; he is too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. The offense has no problem moving up and down the field when it is conducted through Waller.
Denver currently ranks 12th in passing yards allowed per game this season with 230 being the average. That number has skyrocketed to 274.7 passing yards per game over the last three weeks. The last time these two teams met, quarterback Derek Carr was held to barely over 150 yards passing. Even though the game was a blowout, another lackluster performance like that and the Raiders may not leave Sunday with a win.
Raiders Pass Rush versus Drew Lock
The biggest issue for the Raiders the entire season has been the pass rush. The unit simply does not have the scheme or talent to get to the quarterback consistently. A lot of that has to do with some reaches on recent draft picks and whiffs in free agency. Despite their struggles, the team did manage to accumulate three sacks last week against the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders sacked the quarterback twice the last time they played the Broncos. Denver does not exactly have an elite offensive line, so there will be no excuses for the pass rush this week.
With the emergence of Justin Herbert, Drew Lock has officially become the fourth-best starting quarterback in the division. It can be argued that he is not even as good as divisional backup Marcus Mariota. The only people that seem to be in denial of this concept are Broncos fans themselves. Lock is not entirely to blame for the Broncos lackluster and vanilla offense, though. Jerry Jeudy has struggled with drops all season long. He had five last week, which was the most by a receiver in a game this season. The Broncos offense only managed to score six points against the Raiders earlier in the season. The Raiders need to do their best to stack the box and force the Broncos to throw the ball, their easiest and most logical path to victory.
Another frustrating season is about to be in the books for the Las Vegas Raiders. If Jon Gruden wants to see out all ten years of his contract, then some drastic changes need to be made this off-season. Seven seasons with no playoff wins from Derek Carr is enough to start looking for a replacement. The last thing the fanbase wants is to be stuck in .500 purgatory with a quarterback that is just slightly above average. Sure the defense has been historically bad, but Patrick Mahomes won a Super Bowl with the 31st-ranked defense. He is a generational talent, but that is not the take-home message from this statement. Either way, the Raiders will be concluding another disappointing and frustrating campaign.
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