DENVER — Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy.
This terrific trio of elite running backs combined to rush for 3,895 yards and 38 touchdowns last year. But each one has run into the Denver Broncos’ buzz saw this season.
Against an improved defensive front featuring Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, free agent Domata Peko and a blossoming Adam Gotsis, the three running backs combined for 84 yards on 40 carries for a 2.1-yard average and zero touchdowns.
After Gordon’s 21-yard scamper on the first carry of the season, the Broncos have allowed opponent’s lead running backs a mere 1.6 yards a carry.
“They’ve been playing tremendous defense, period,” said Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, whose Raiders (2-1) visit the Broncos (2-1) Sunday in a game pitting teams salty over stumbles on the road last week. “Peko’s added some strength to the middle. ... They’ve been very good there, and that limits the number of opportunities teams get.”
Gordon gained 33 yards on his final 17 carries against Denver; Elliott had the worst game of his life with 9 yards on eight carries and McCoy managed 21 yards on 14 carries.
Up next: Marshawn Lynch.
He leads the Raiders with a mere 139 yards and a touchdown on three dozen carries, but brings more than just numbers to his hometown team, namely a tone-setting physicality and personality.
“He’s been a great addition,” Del Rio said, noting he brings “passion and toughness” to a roster that prides itself on nastiness.
“Oh, you’ve just got to get him on the ground,” said Miller, laughing because that’s not so easy. “I remember one time when I tried to tackle him (when he was with) the Seattle Seahawks and I had him behind the line. It was like a yard. I think I had him by one leg and he just drug me for the next two and got the first down. Usually when you get a running back he’ll just fall, but he’s definitely ‘Beast Mode.’ They call him that for a reason.”
Lynch presents another big test for Denver’s defense, which is allowing a league-low 59 yards rushing and has yet to yield a touchdown run. That’s a turnaround from last season, when the Broncos were 28th in the league and allowed the Raiders to rush for 218 yards in Oakland.
Other subplots in Sunday’s showdown between the bitter AFC West rivals:
PROTECT THE CARR
Oakland’s offensive line has been one of the league’s best in recent years. But that unit lost tackle Menelik Watson to Denver this season and had its problems against Washington last week. Carr was sacked four times, the most he’s had in a single game since 2015. Oakland will need to do a much better job this week, especially against Miller, who has four career sacks of Carr.
“He’s as dynamic a pass rusher as there is,” Raiders right tackle Marshall Newhouse said. “He can do it all.”
YANKING HIS CHAIN
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree make up one of the best receiving duos in the NFL, both topping 1,000 yards last year. But they haven’t had much success against the Denver secondary led by Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby.