There's a sense of urgency in the air as the Las Vegas Raiders gear up for Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season.
The Silver and Black begin with two road matchups, the first being a divisional matchup against the Denver Broncos. The Raiders have yet to lose a game to the Broncos since relocating to Nevada, with six straight wins to their name. They will need big performances from a few of their marquee playmakers in order for the streak to survive at Empower Field at Mile High.
Here's the first installment of Versus for the season, with three key matchups to keep an eye on.
Davante Adams vs. Pat Surtain II
This is always a fun matchup to watch play out – and had a memorable ending for Raiders fans last year.
The Broncos young cornerback was shadowing Adams in overtime Week 11 of last season. On the last play of the matchup, Adams split Surtain in coverage en route to a walk-off touchdown grab. The Raiders receiver finished the day with seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Regardless of what happened last season, Surtain is no slouch in coverage. He's coming off a First Team All-Pro selection, with the second-highest PFF coverage grade (86.7) of any cornerback in 2022.
"Honestly, I don't care who I play against, I go out there and I don't discriminate. I treat everyone the same way when I go out there," Adams said of preparing to face the Broncos secondary. "That's not a disrespectful thing. I'm just more concerned about what we're doing as a football team and what I'm doing personally over what the defense has to offer."
Josh Jacobs vs. Frank Clark
Josh Jacobs is averaging an outstanding 103 rushing yards per game in his career against the Denver Broncos. The last time he laced up at Mile High, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. He's solidified himself as a premier running back in the league, and his success specifically against the Broncos will make a him a focal point this Sunday.
"[O]ur plan defensively is: Here are the key players. [Jacobs] certainly is one of the more dominant running backs in the NFL, so that's how we'll approach the game," said Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton.
An old rival of Jacobs has moved to Denver from the Kansas City Chiefs: defensive end Frank Clark. The three-time Pro Bowler had 39 total tackles and eight tackles for loss in 2022, three total tackles coming against the Raiders last season. He could be a huge asset to the Broncos run defense, alongside linebackers Randy Gregory and Alex Singleton.
While Jacobs is entering his second week of practice this offseason with the team, he assured pundits that he'll be ready to go this Sunday.
"Physically, I haven't missed a step. I definitely can say that," Jacobs said last week. "The biggest thing for me, really, was coming back mentally. With the playbook and the new plays, I didn't want to be behind. ... Just to come back and see the O-line another year in this system and seeing how much of improvement they have made since I came back man, it's been crazy. It just got me re-excited honestly."
Maxx Crosby vs. Mike McGlinchey
Maxx Crosby dominated the Denver Broncos at the line of scrimmage last season, totaling four sacks and six tackles for loss. It probably didn't take long for Sean Payton to put on the tape, and realize he needed a right tackle to combat Crosby the two times a year they meet.
"He's really flexible. He's a tremendous worker, athletic," Payton said of Crosby. "He's got one of those motors that doesn't stop, and he can get to your edge quickly. His ability to bend and then his stamina are things that stand out."
The right tackle the Broncos sought out this offseason was Mike McGlinchey, who formerly played for the San Francisco 49ers for five seasons. He started all 17 games for the 49ers last season, with a 71.5 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus. However, when he faced Crosby Week 17 in Allegiant Stadium, he allowed two quarterback pressures and two quarterback hurries.
"Obviously, Coach Payton has done it at a really high level for a long time," Crosby said of preparing for the Broncos offense. "In New Orleans they ran a certain system when he was calling plays, so you expect for them to run that system. He's been out of the game for a couple of years too, so you don't know what they're going to come with and it's the first game of the year.
"We're focused on us, being ready for anything they throw at us and focus on the details. ... We're an effort based defense and we're focused on being at our best."
The Raiders hit the practice field at Intermountain Health Performance Center as they prepare for their first regular season matchup against the Denver Broncos.