Raiders 23, Broncos 20: Three Observations

DENVER – Three observations from the Broncos’ regular-season opening 23-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders here at Sports Authority Field on Monday night:

1. THIS WASN’T WHAT WAS INTENDED.

Talking about a commitment to the running game is all well and good from Wednesday through Saturday, but when game day arrives and the ground game simply isn’t working, the pragmatic, basic goal — to call plays that give the best chance to win the game — takes hold. Thus, you have the Broncos’ wildly imbalanced run-pass ratio, which by the game’s end included 13 runs — one of which was a 13-yard Kyle Orton scramble — against 51 pass plays.

That translated to 3.9 passes for every Broncos run, a ratio that called to mind the dimmest days of the Josh McDaniels era more than the back-to-basics approach that Fox wanted. The 13 carries were also tied for the second-fewest ever by a John Fox-coached team; only a 37-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, 2006 saw fewer rushes; that day the Carolina Panthers ran just 11 times. (Also worth noting: Fox’s teams are 0-13 all-time when posting 17 carries or fewer, but of those games, the Broncos’ 20 points Monday night were the most in any of them.)

Denver’s running back tandem of Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee only gained 25 yards on 12 carries, good for just a 2.1-yards-per-carry average. But their struggles were hardly of their own doing; holes through which they could run were rare. When they did exist, they closed fast.

“We weren’t running the ball. I think our average was like 1.8 (yards per carry),” said McGahee, who was off in his estimation, but not by much. “How can you expect to run the ball throughout the game with a 1.8 average?”

Realistically, you can’t.

This isn’t the end of the Broncos’ attempt to run the football, but it’s a clear setback.

“We don’t ever give up on anything,” Fox said when asked whether the team conceded the ground game. “It just wasn’t faring very well.”

2. SPEED EXPLOITED.

The Raiders did exactly what the Broncos expected them to do — they ran draws and screen passes to capitalize on the swift, straight-ahead and around-the-flank pass rush provided by Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller on pass-rush downs.

It’s one thing to get beaten by the unexpected, but in this case, the Broncos knew exactly how the Raiders would attack and still struggled to defend it. They did prevent the big plays off the screens and draws, but it wasn’t enough, especially in the first half.

“It’s definitely frustrating, especially when you practiced on it during the week and you knew exactly what was going to happen,” said defensive end Jason Hunter, who replaced an injured Elvis Dumervil in the base defense for most of the game. Guys have got to do their job, and when you see something and recognize it, just react faster and everybody tackle and get to the ball.

“If we tackle and be in our gaps, some of those big runs don’t happen.”

3. A LONG WAY TO GO MEANS YOU CAN’T BLAME ONE PLAYER.

The last thing many Broncos fans want to hear is that the team’s rebuilding project won’t yield immediate results. Four consecutive non-winning seasons and a five-year playoff drought have a way of making a fanbase a tad cranky, and that came out in the boos of Orton and the plaintive, almost desperate chants for Tim Tebow as the minutes wound away late in the game.

But replacing Orton wouldn’t have repaired the offensive line, which buckled and broke under a relentless Oakland front line, allowing five sacks and racking up six holding penalties, four of which were accepted. Both of the declined penalties were on the same disastrous second-quarter play when Chris Kuper and Ryan Clady were flagged. Most of the holds were in desperate attempts to keep Orton from being sacked.

The offensive line, the injury-depleted defensive tackles … these are just two areas where the Broncos aren’t yet where they needed to be.

The Broncos didn’t wind up in need of massive restoration because of one player — and changing one player isn’t going to rescue them from their current state.

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.
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10 Responses

  1. Yep. Let’s not place any blame on Orton. It isn’t about blame – its about “Could we have gotten similar or better results from Tebow?” I would think Tebow could put up at least 10 pts and turn the ball over twice each game. Screw it, might as well play him. If it doesn’t work out, at least we’ll have a shot at Luck.

  2. Good. It’s nice to see something like adult-level writing on a Broncos blog. Keep it up.

  3. Another factor that many analysts aren’t mentioning was weather/field conditions. I saw way more Broncos slipping and sliding than Raiders, especially on big plays.

    If it hadn’t rained, Goodman has a chance to stop McFadden on his long run. If it hadn’t rained, Orton doesn’t fumble (most likely) and Fells scores a TD. Just a thought.

  4. You tend to editorialize on the Orton/Tebow thing, but you don’t seem to leave room for the viewpoint that most of the Orton critics aren’t actually saying that replacing Orton would “rescue them from their current state”, or “repair the offensive line”, or improve our defensive tackle situation. Most of the motivation for the criticism is that they (and I) simply believe that Tebow would perform better than Orton in the same circumstances, and that Tebow would be one improvement of many that are needed. I wish that you and others would quit dumbing down the debate.

  5. I completely agree with tunesmith. There are plenty of areas we need to improve as a team but Orton was horrible and has been horrible in his last 20 starts for this team. He is not the answer. Saying to move on to Tebow is the only rational thing…. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Orton has not delivered as a QB when he is needed and I tend to believe he won’t. Maybe we try someone else and see if they can.

  6. My sentiments exactly, I’m not saying that Tebow will win us every game. I for one want to know how he performs at this level. He is mobile and with the joke of a performance the O line gave last night he would be the better option, Orton too often waits waits and rather than side stepping steps right into a defender for a pointless sack or a qb hit while throwing. We are rebuilding and need several improvements before we are contenders I bleed orange and blue no matter what time of year and I want to root for a team that believes they can win. Last night Orton took too long to get started and you can talk all you want about 13 or 21 possible red zone points but we were consistanly across mid field and only scored 1 offensive TD. The team was clearly beaten unmotivated and showed very little belief that their QB could bring them back. Thank god for Decker but WR shouldn’t be the ones putting their teams on their back and willing them to a W.

  7. I loathed that Orton could not be traded to start the season. Let Tebow try to play QB in the NFL and my ‘blue sky’ wish will come true. Andrew Luck is NFL ready right now.
    You could see John Elway smiling.

  8. The Tim Tebow led Broncos were very good in the red zone. The Kyle Orton led Broncos have been very bad in the red zone. It’s no secret that Tebow is not as skilled a passer as Orton but that has not translated to touchdowns. There is data here to support the argument. Points are all that matters and the Orton led Broncos haven’t delivered.

  9. I wish you guys would quit creating a quarterback controversy. Any team that has ever had one never wins.

    The fans want Tebow, the world wants Tebow. Mr Elway doesn’t really think that much of KO or he wouldn’t have thought of trading him.

    Put the first round champion, winning, running beast in and let him learn to play. I guess Mr. Elway doesn’t remember how bad he was at first and how long it took him to win the big one.

    Mr. Elway also doesn’t realize that Tebow actually is the closest player that resembles him, that I have actually seen.

    KO is a great guy, but the fans don’t support him and thats the most important. KO can get the ball down the field fast, but can’t seem to get it into the endzone.

    The eagles are using their beast quarter back that is learning to be a great pocket quarterback, why won’t John elway? Maybe its the great choice of super-winning coaches he picked?

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