Raiders, Broncos meet in key early AFC West game

Jon Gruden’s return to the sidelines didn’t go so well for the Oakland Raiders head coach. The second act of the season doesn’t look any easier.

Gruden left the ESPN booth early this year to take over the Raiders again, and his much-hyped debut was thwarted in a 33-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday. Now Gruden’s Oakland team travels to Denver to play the Broncos on Sunday. Denver is coming off a 27-24 win over Seattle in its opener and feeling good, despite having three turnovers against the Seahawks.

Head coach Vance Joseph nonetheless wants to correct those mistakes – three interceptions of Case Keenum in his Denver debut – and some defensive breakdowns.

“It’s good to win, but we do have standards, and our standards can’t be measured by who we play. It’s got to be by how we play,” he said. “Yes, we’re satisfied to win but we understand it’s a long year. It’s only Week 1 and we’re going to play good teams down the road. We can’t play that way and expect to win every game by giving the ball away three times and giving up five explosive plays. It’s can’t happen.”

At least the Broncos (1-0) are correcting things after a win. Oakland (0-1) was routed on national TV and quarterback Derek Carr had a bad statistical game. He threw for 303 yards but was intercepted three times, once on a floater that easily was picked off late in the game.

He was given another weapon with the signing of wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who was cut before the start of the season. Oakland traded a third-round pick to Pittsburgh in April for the mercurial receiver, but he was brought back because of a game-breaking ability that seemed lacking against the Rams.

“I think he’s in a good place right now,” Gruden told the San Francisco Chronicle of Bryant. “I think he’s healthy. I think he’s ready to go. And I’m sold on that. We’ve been in contact with him since he has been away. And as I said when we made the trade to get him, when he’s right, he can be a difference-maker.”

The Broncos’ defense will be a challenge for Carr. Denver has strong starting cornerbacks in Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby and the recently signed Adam Jones to use in nickel and dime situations. Denver also possesses a fierce pass rush led by linebacker Von Miller, who had three of the Broncos’ six sacks of Russell Wilson in Week 1.

Another layer for Sunday’s game is the rivalry between the franchises that goes back to the AFL days. The Broncos and Raiders have been the most successful teams in the AFC West for the last 40 years and going against each other ratchets up the intensity.

“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in football,” Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “I’ve been here for a lot of them. I’m looking forward to it. They come in with a chip on their shoulder, for sure, and same with us.”