It will be Sean Payton’s first regular-season game as the team’s coach, the first real look at a leaner Russell Wilson and the first time defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is back on the home sideline for the Broncos since he was the team’s head coach from 2017-2018.
But the real crux of the matter might be how the Broncos deal with Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams. Adams not only had 100-yard games in both meetings against the Broncos last season -- 101 in October to go with 141 and two touchdowns in November -- he may have been the only receiver on the Broncos' schedule over the last two seasons to even make a dent against cornerback Pat Surtain II.
“You always want to go against the best,’’ Surtain said. “As a competitor, you always want to line up and put in the work … [Adams] is one of the best. When tough things happen, and last year those games were tough, all you can do is do what you need to do to correct it, get better. That’s always going to be my mindset.’’
Adams’ 141-yard performance in Denver last season wasn’t all on Surtain’s plate, but the Broncos got jumbled in coverage and Surtain ended up chasing Adams on a 35-yard touchdown in overtime that won the game for Las Vegas. It was also part of a swath of damage Adams did against the AFC West last season.
Of Adams’ eight 100-yard receiving games last season, five were against AFC West teams, including two against the Broncos and two against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“But one of [Surtain’s] greatest strengths is he knows when you play that position in this league, how you deal with things, how you line up and play the next play, no matter what, is what determines your consistency,’’ said Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, now in his 14th NFL season. "And consistency is everything, consistency at a high level. When you face those top guys it’s all about studying, learning and lining up every time for the next snap."
Adams suffered a lower leg injury early in training camp during a joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers, limiting him somewhat in the preseason. He's still developing a chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo, who signed with Raiders after Derek Carr -- a college teammate of Adams at Fresno State -- left for the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
“Davante is easily a top-five receiver in this league,’’ Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to get mad when they hear that I said top five because they’ll probably say top three -- I think it’s the same thing. He’s a great receiver. I’ve definitely watched his film and tried to steal and take some things from his game."
How the Broncos deploy the 23-year-old Surtain in Joseph’s defense is a bit up in the air as well. Joseph said he held Surtain back in the preseason games as he installed the new playbook, but he also hasn’t had a young cornerback with as high of a ceiling as Surtain.
Joseph is expected to be more aggressive in the pass rush than ex-defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero was last season. But Evero’s options were often limited by the Broncos’ struggles on offense -- Denver was the lowest-scoring team in the league and was held to fewer than 17 points in 11 games -- often leaving the Broncos defending short fields in close games.
If Joseph cranks up the rush, it will potentially put the Broncos' defensive backs in some additional man-to-man situations where Surtain is most likely the choice for the offense’s best receiver. Against the Raiders, that's Adams.
“That rush-coverage relationship is always on your mind,’’ Joseph said. “Bottom line is you want to get off the field, limit an offense’s best options, red zone, third down. Be good in those areas and you’ll be doing what you need to do.’’
Surtain is entering the matchup with Adams as the top-ranked cornerback, based on a survey of league executives, coaches, scouts and players by ESPN.
“I don’t really get into all the external stuff, rankings, or last year, or things like that,’’ Surtain said. “My expectation is to always be sharpening my tools, sharpen my skills. I want every snap to be my best, not just once in a while. That’s where I’m at, just work. Line up and work.’’