ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' defense has been tested by Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr before. The Broncos also have tried to lock down Oakland wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper in coverage before.
But Sunday will be the first time in this longstanding rivalry the Broncos will try to do all that with Marshawn Lynch at running back for the Raiders. And with Lynch, even at 31 years old and after sitting out a season before returning to the NFL to play for his hometown team, there's the threat of him going Beast Mode.
"The best thing he does is break tackles," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. "He averages, after contact, 3 yards. That's a special talent he has. We have to gang tackle. We have to chase the ball, and you cannot assume the first guy's got him, because if you do that, the first guy is not really going to get him all the time."
"Beast Mode, man, whoa," said Broncos safety Will Parks. "That's just one guy you gang tackle. You get to him and you hold him until the troops rally."
It's not like the Broncos have to go deep into the video archive to see what happens if they let the Raiders run the ball with any degree of efficiency. In a 30-20 loss to Oakland last November, Denver simply got manhandled, as the Raiders piled up 216 yards on 43 defense-punishing carries.
So the possibility of Lynch fueling a similar day for the Raiders has to be considered, especially if the Broncos don't tackle better than they did in last Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"You just have to be able to bring it to him," Broncos safety Justin Simmons said of Lynch. "He runs through tackles from linebackers but [defensive] linemen as well. He's a strong, heavy guy, so you have to make sure you come up, wrap up and hold on. Hopefully your team comes and gang tackles."
Lynch's presence does give a power-first look to a Raiders offense that for so many years leaned primarily on speed all over the formation. He's averaging 3.9 yards per carry after having just six carries in the Raiders' loss to the Washington Redskins last Sunday night, with Oakland playing from behind for much of the game.
What the Raiders hope Lynch gives them could be seen in the season opener, in which Oakland used him to pound away at the Tennessee Titans' defense to close out that win.
"We don't want to let people run the ball on us like that," said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. "That always a priority."
The Broncos have done some quality work so far this season against the run. They held Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy to 54, 8 and 21 rushing yards, respectively. That's a list with two former NFL rushing champions -- Elliott and McCoy -- on it.
Nose tackle Domata Peko has been the kind of addition the Broncos had hoped for on the defensive front, while the linebackers have been more active along the line of scrimmage in run defense. The Broncos also have been able to defend the run while in the six-defensive-back look they use in longer down-and-distance situations or when the opposing offense has three or four wide receivers in the formation.
"You know people are going to try that sometimes," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We always feel like if we can force [offenses] to throw the ball, that's our advantage."
The Broncos have faced Lynch four times, including a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, when Lynch was with the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch rushed for 39 yards in that title game.
His best effort against the Broncos came in 2007, when Lynch was with the Bills and current Broncos assistant head coach Eric Studesville was Buffalo's running backs coach. Lynch rushed for 90 yards in that game. In the most recent meeting, during the 2014 season, Lynch had 88 yards rushing against the Broncos.
"It feels like, week in and week out, we're facing the top backs in the NFL," Simmons said. "We're looking forward to the challenge. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge. It will be a great opportunity. Like I said, he's one of the best backs, so it'll be a great opportunity for us to show up and stop the running game."