DENVER -- The Broncos signed Case Keenum for games like this.
You don't write a $25 million check to a quarterback without believing he can win in the division. Home or away. The Broncos have not won an AFC West road game since Peyton Manning retired, which is why receiver Demaryius Thomas told Denver7 this week,"this is a must-win game."
It seems foolish to categorize anything with such gravity in September. However, winning the division, if not reaching the playoffs, demands home victories. And as matchups go, this is a good place to start.
My Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory over rival Oakland:
1) Making his Case
Is Case Keenum ready to assume complete control? He has shown flashes, but without mastery of the offense, mistakes surface. Keenum learned a lesson last Sunday -- "That shots called doesn't mean shots taken." As offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, "It was (Hall of Famer) Joe Gibbs who told me that when I was a young coach -- a good quarterback knows what to do when it’s there, but the great ones know what to do when it’s not there. And that’s what we’ve just got to get in our system. We’re just scratching the surface. Has Case gotten enough turns at these concepts to know what to do when it’s not there? Probably not. It’s learning on the fly." As Keenum digests the playbook, he must limit hiccups. He threw seven interceptions last season. He threw three last Sunday, marking the first time Denver has won with that many picks since Manning did it at Cleveland.
2) Take care of the ball
This relates to Keenum, but applies to the offense in general. The Broncos are 32-0 since 2012 when winning the turnover battle. They were even against Seattle. They must improve. Oakland only pulls off the upset with help.
3) No Cooking with Grease
It's no secret that thongs have covered tight ends better than the Broncos. Since last season, tight ends have more yards after the catch against the Broncos than any other team. Jared Cook set career highs in catches and yards vs. the Rams last week. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, he's a walking mismatch. The Broncos insist they have a plan. They will approach Cook like a receiver, bracketing him in zone, while keeping a safety over the top.
4) Stop the beast
Tales of Marshawn Lynch turning into Beast Mode have been greatly exaggerated. He can still move the pile. The Broncos will look to use a gang tackle, swarming approach. That's how they contained him last year in Denver. Making the Raiders one dimensional is a recipe for success.
5) Parked Carr
Derek Carr is a good quarterback. Elite? Nope. And he's hearing footsteps. Whether he didn't want to get hit or became antsy, Carr threw two unspeakably bad picks vs. the Rams. The Broncos will look to hit him with pressure up the middle since the ball comes out quickly. Carr will attempt to exploit matchups with runningbacks vs. linebackers.
6) Stay creative
The best part of the opening win? The Broncos' willingness to open up the game plan and trust rookies like Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton. Musgrave has earned high marks. The offense posted 470 yards last week, the most since Manning exited. This week presents a new challenge. The Raiders know Musgrave's tendencies. Throwing in a few fresh looks, if not gadgets, is expected. Keenum should have time with the Raiders struggling to mount a pass rush.
7) Don't Overcompensate
To borrow from John Wooden, the Broncos need to play fast, but not hurry. They can win this game by staying disciplined. That applies to the secondary -- don't take unnecessary chances -- and the special teams. Punter Marquette King told me he has "no feelings" about this game. I don't believe him. Keep pinning the Raiders back, and King will help the Broncos win home games in consecutive weeks for the first time since last September.
Renck prediction: Broncos 23, Raiders 16.