OAKLAND, Calif. –Three observations from the Broncos’ 38-24 win over the Raiders here Sunday at O.co Coliseum:
1. THE READ-OPTION.
At times during Sunday’s game, it seemed more like a Saturday in the East Bay. All that was missing was a nearby hillside on which free-loading fans could pull out their binoculars and take in a slightly obstructed view.
For better or for worse, the Broncos are re-inventing the NFL offensive wheel with a play straight out of the college ranks. It might not be sustainable — especially where the health of the quarterback is concerned, since Tebow absorbed another few painful blows Sunday — but it is effective for the moment-to-moment quest to win now and worry about the future later.
“It’s a tribute to our coaches, because not just the quarterback but all our players (have) definitely made adjustments,” Fox said. “We’ve been in the process of adjusting for the last three weeks and it’s a different style, but it can be effective.”
It was so effective that it worked, even though the Raiders knew throughout the week that the read option was coming.
“When we start the week we talk about potentially what can happen, what type of play it is, and that was the No. 1 football play for them with him,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “We worked it. I watched us work it in practice; I watched us defend it in practice. Obviously it’s different in practice than it is in a game.
“Trust me, we had somebody for the quarterback, somebody for the (running) back. It didn’t happen right.”
Instead, the Raiders were frequently caught out of position and looked lost. Willis McGahee’s game-tying 60-yard touchdown run on the last play of the third quarter was an example of this; the Raiders were so intent on containing Tebow that McGahee had a gaping hole and an open acreage in front of him.
“(Tebow) did a great job of reading the ends as far as what he had to do as far as keeping it or giving it,” McGahee said. “When I got the ball, it was my job just to get some yards.”
And he got plenty of them. His 163 yards were the most for a Broncos running back in nearly seven years, since Reuben Droughns diced the Saints for 166 yards in a 34-13 win at New Orleans on Nov. 21, 2004.
2. A NEEDED EXPLOSION.
Explosive plays — and the need to create them on offense and returns and prevent them on defense and kick coverage — has been a point of emphasis in practice and a sticking point during the games. Prior to Sunday, the Broncos had seven plays from scrimmage of 30 yards or more — but gave up 15. That ratio was even on plays from scrimmage Sunday; each team had two. But the Broncos won that duel thanks to Eddie Royal’s 85-yard punt return, which was his first runback on either punts or kickoffs this season.
In their first seven games this year, the Broncos had six touchdowns of 20 or more yards on offense or special teams. They nearly matched that total Sunday with five — and it was balanced: two in the running game, two in the passing game and one on special teams.
3. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE FORM, BUT THE RESULT.
If you’ve been walking across the desert and haven’t had a drink in two days, you’ll drink any water you come across. It doesn’t matter if it’s fetid or reeks of sulfur — you’re parched, and your survival instinct won’t let you say, “No.” You don’t even have to hold your nose before you guzzle — you’re just THAT THIRSTY.
This is where the Broncos stand. It’s been five years since they had a winning season; it’s been six since they went to the playoffs. Since the last four weeks of the 2009 season, no team had fewer wins than the Broncos, who came into Sunday with a 6-21 record in that span. Their four-game losing streak to the Raiders was the club’s longest in 17 years; the last time the Raiders won that many in succession against Denver, their home was Los Angeles.
The first job of the Elway/Fox/Xanders regime is to change the culture, which lapsed into stagnancy in Mike Shanahan’s final years, then to chaos and finally despair under Josh McDaniels. The most effective way to change the culture is to win — especially when it’s completely unexpected and emotionally cathartic.
So if it takes the read option to win, then … so what? Sure, it isn’t a staple of anyone’s pro-style offense playbook — at least not one used in the last 60 years. But on Sunday, it helped the Broncos thrive.
“As long as it works, that’s all I care about,” McGahee said.
Royal’s 26-yard third-quarter touchdown catch from Tebow wasn’t an example of perfect route-running, but it worked.
“The route came wide open. It wasn’t necessarily drawn up that way, but it worked out that time,” Royal said. He wouldn’t disclose who didn’t follow the playbook for their route — “I’m not throwing anybody under the bus,” he said with a broad smile — but the result was one he and the Broncos will gladly accept.
“It doesn’t matter how it looks,” Royal said, “as long as you come out with a win and the play is successful.”
That’s what happens when you spend years lost in the NFL wilderness. The process not only becomes secondary, but irrelevant compared with the result.
“More than anything we love to win games. They’ve been few and far between in the last few years,” said guard Chris Kuper. “We’re just happy to win the game.”
And if the Broncos can carry their momentum to Kansas City next week, they’ll have the opportunity to play games that matter — something that few outside their locker room honestly expected just a few days ago.
They’re 3-5. They’ve only played one game against a team currently with a losing record. They’ve beaten two division leaders this year. Bottom line? The Broncos have improved; they were in the league’s slums last year, but now are back in the middle class. It’s not where they want to be, but in the often-mentioned building process, it’s a good start through eight games, all things considered.