ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, two not-quite-40-something guys on the headsets, have some of the same issues as they move toward Monday night’s meeting between their teams.
Gase is missing his left tackle, Ryan Clady, who is now on injured reserve because of a left-foot injury he suffered late in the Week 2 victory over the New York Giants; Tarver is without safety Tyvon Branch, who suffered a fractured lower leg in Oakland’s victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars. While those injuries will force some adjustments here and there, both coaches figure to stick pretty close to the plans they’ve made so far.
For Tarver, that has been a pass rush that comes from anywhere -- an approach he's called "activating'' player at the snap. Half of Oakland's NFL-best nine sacks have come from defensive backs buzzing opposing quarterbacks.
But throwing the defensive kitchen sink at Chad Henne and the rebuilding Jaguars is one thing; cranking up the heat on Peyton Manning is quite another. Many defensive coordinators with experience facing Manning note that when you blitz a defensive back, Manning will often simply bypass the hot read and instead try to push the ball down the field because he knows there’s a hole in the intermediate or deep area.
Tarver has so far mixed zone and man looks behind that pressure to try to keep quarterbacks from finding those holes. After showing little in the preseason, Tarver's group held the Colts' Andrew Luck to 178 yards passing and sacked him four times (though Luck did toss two touchdowns). The Raiders followed that with five sacks against the offensively challenged Jaguars.
However, Oakland has yet to force a turnover, and Tarver's challenge Monday will be to keep his defense aligned and well aware of each player's assignments when the Broncos put their foot on the gas in a no-huddle offense. A steady diet of pressure has not been a good recipe for defenses facing Manning through the years -- and Manning has plenty of options around him in Denver.
Gase may try to open up the Broncos' formation to get some of those defensive backs away from the ball at the snap. But Clady’s loss is significant. The Broncos certainly like his replacement, Chris Clark, but they gave Clady a $57.5 million deal because they believe he is a franchise player. And Clark will now have an awful lot of eyes on him, including those of the defensive coordinators still awaiting a date with Denver.