6 Lessons Learned From Broncos v. Raiders

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The Broncos Six-Pack is a new weekly segment discussing six things we learned the day after the game. I hope you enjoy.

1. Giving credit where it’s due

This is a tough pill to swallow, Denver Broncos fans, but the Oakland Raiders are just better. Their defensive line outperformed the Broncos’ offensive line, sacking Kyle Orton ive times and only allowing 38 rushing yards. The Raiders’ offensive line outmanned the Broncos’ defensive line, opening up 190 yards worth of rushing holes. In the most crucial plays, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden were able to run for double-digit yards.

The Raiders didn’t just out-phyical the Broncos, they outsmarted them too. While sloppy play and penalties were abundant on both sides, the Raiders didn’t commit another turnover after the fumble they yielded on their first offensive snap. They took the ball out of Jason Campbell‘s hands because they didn’t need to rely on him, effectively taking away the Broncos’ pass rushing strength on defense. They ran the football, didn’t turn it over, and did less to lose the game. Often, in the NFL, that’s all it takes.

2. Kyle Orton’s days are numbered

I said a few times this offseason that the biggest task for Kyle Orton would be to finish his typically-strong starts to a season. The trend he has set in Denver is to be statistically sound in the months of September and October before collapsing down the home stretch. In 2009, he boasted a 100.9 rating in his Broncos debut. In 2010, a respectable 89.8 in Week One (he had better numbers in several consecutive weeks). Last night? 71.3. It was 46.5 in the first half.

That’s not going to cut it. That’s not going to win this Broncos team many games, and that’s not going to keep Tim Tebow at bay. Granted, his offensive line did little to help him. His receivers dropped a number of catchable balls. But Orton was directly responsible for two turnovers (an underthrown interception that led to three Raiders points and a ghastly fumble that led to seven). He may not have been the worst player on the Broncos’ offense last night, but as the quarterback — the only person who touches the football every single play — he needed to be better.

Finish the season strong? If he doesn’t pick it up quickly he won’t make it to October.

3. Same problems plague the Broncos

Let’s list them out, shall we?

  • Ground game grounded — 38 rushing yards? 2.9 ypc? I don’t want to look up whether this puts the Broncos back at the bottom of the NFL rushing ranks, because it probably does.
  • Can’t stop the run — Raiders rushers averaged 4.9 ypc. McFadden averaged 6.8.
  • Third down (in)efficiency — The Broncos finished 6-of-13, but they were 3 of 10 before that last drive. Unacceptable.
  • Red zone stalls — From the first drive to every other but the last, the Broncos were not able to punch it in. Would a Tim Tebow Wild Horse package killed them there?

These are all problems a veteran, reliable coach like John Fox is suppose to solve. So far, not so good.

On to some positives…

4. Eric Decker can flat-out play

Eric Decker is 220 lbs., but on that 90-yard punt return, he was lighter than air, slicker than oil, smoother than butter. The kid runs with speed, authority and (did we mention?) smoothness. Furthermore, on a night when Eddie Royal and Willis McGahee were bit with a case of the dropsies, Decker was more than sure-handed — he was a playmaker. Tough, fast, and smart, he could very well end up being Josh McDaniels‘ best draft pick (as sad as that is).

5. Miller sackless, but impact still felt

Von Doom sack count: 0 (We’ll keep track of this all year). A bit of a disappointing debut on the stat sheet, but I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed overall. The Raiders were afraid to let Jason Campbell fling it around, limiting Batman and Robin’s chances, and Batman (Dumervil) was hurt from practice. Plus, let’s not forget Miller’s first-play forced fumble, which was ridiculously sick.

You know (if Doom is healthy) that “sacks” stat won’t stay at zero for long.

6. All that being said… A remarkable field goal was the only difference

Only twice in NFL history had a field goal from 63 yards been successfully attempted, but Sebastian Janikowski made it three against Denver. The final score was 23-20 — a three-point game. All that separated the Broncos from victory (or, at least a tie game) was a record-tying, nearly impossible field goal.

Put that into perspective. Last year’s final score was 59-14 at Mile High, a disgraceful showing that many consider to be the low point of the last 10 years (maybe franchise history). These Broncos didn’t quit. These Broncos put up a fight. Last year Denver went down 21-0 and didn’t bat an eye. Last night, yes, they were sloppy, undisciplined, and ineffective in fulfilling the promises of their head coach (better rush offense, better rush defense), but they still were within striking distance of a win when all was said and done.

That’s not terrible for a rebuilding team. They had as many turnovers in this game as they did in the massacre last year, but they were competitive. They didn’t quit. If John Fox can coach the slop out of them, next time they can win.