Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders - Making The Grade

One last look at the Raiders game before moving full throttle to Week 2's Home Opener against the Chargers. We'll talk much more about that, but another new feature here at MHR is "Making The Grade" where I will grade the Broncos performance from the night before. I will also provide the numbers for the team leader in that particular category.  While it should be a lot of fun to look back, I will turn a critical eye on the Broncos performance, because the Broncos are going to have to beat teams that are alot better than the Oakland Raiders if they are really going to take that next step.

QUARTERBACK
 

A


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Passing Rushing
Comp Att Pct Yds TD Rush Yds Avg TD
Jay Cutler 16 24 66.7 299 2 5 9 1.8 0

Prior to the game I talked about Cutlers struggles against the Raiders in 2007.  He has just 1 TD pass compared to 4 INTs and the Raiders' pressure seemed to get under Cutler's skin.  Not this time.  Cutler looked poised and confident.  He also knew exactly where to go with the football and has a complete grasp of the offensive game plan.  His number could have been even better(hard to believe) if Tony Scheffler hadn't dropped a sure TD, or if Cutler's mechanics hadn't let him down.  His consistency level, especially drive to drive, was alot better than in 2007.  Cutler was much more of a streaky QB last year, last night he was a consistent quarterback.  Regardless of the reason, Jay played great, and great quarterbacks can elevate mediocre talent.  A solid A for Cutler.

RUNNING BACK
 

A-


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Rushing Receiving
Rush Yards Avg TD Rec Yards Avg TD
Andre Hall 10 61 6.1 0 0 0 0 0

Forget the 2-running back system, the Broncos went with the 5 headed monster.  Not counting Cutler, five different Broncos(4 RBs) had carries against the Raiders, with Andre Hall and Selvin Young each averaging over 5 yards per carry.  Combined, Hall and Young had 97 yards on 17 carries(5.7 ypc) and Michael Pittman proved to be the short yardage and goal line back, scoring 2 TDs.  I liked the job Peyton Hillis did in the run game, specifically blocking, and the backs overall did a nice job chipping pass rushers and giving Jay Cutler time to throw.  I think we got a good look at how the Broncos are going to handle things, at least until Ryan Torain returns, and after one game I can't say I mind too much

WIDE RECEIVER
 

A+


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Receiving
Rec Yards Avg TD
Eddie Royal 9 146 16.2 1

A big concern of mine heading into the Oakland game was Cutler's habit of locking in on one receiver, rarely looking off.  Last season that receiver was Brandon Marshall and I was concerned about what would happen without Marshall in the lineup.  Cutler's answer?  How about Eddie Royal, who's debut ranks right up there with any Bronco player ever.  Yes, Cutler did lock in on Royal, with 9 of his 16 completions going to the former Hokie, but other receivers, when given the opportunity, made plays as well.  Darrell Jackson had a huge TD reception and Brandon Stokely made a nice catch on a 3rd down play on the initial scoring drive.  For a group playing without it's best weapon, the WR corps was simply awesome.

TIGHT END
 

B+


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Receiving
Rec Yards Avg TD
Tony Scheffler 1 72 72.0 0

The Tight Ends were used primarily as blockers, helping out the youth on the offensive line, but the one big catch of the night, Tony Scheffler's long catch and run, came at a big time moment in the game, after the Raiders appeared to be on the verge of tying the game at 7 and fumbled the ball.  On the down-side, Scheffler had a sure TD reception bounce off his chest in the end-zone, a catch he'll need to make against better competition.  As for Daniel Graham, his main role was to help in pass protection and the run game, and the best blocking tight end in football did his job, even if the casual fan doesn't see or appreciate it.  A dropped TD, however, is an automatic loss of one grade, so a solid B+ for the Tight Ends.

OFFENSIVE LINE
 

A+

Jay Cutler has yet to get sacked in 2008, and what was thought of by many as a potential liability to the Broncos is quickly becoming a major strength.  The Raiders do a decent job of rushing the passer, but I didn't hear the name Derrick Burgess or Gerard Warren all night.  Ryan Clady is going to be an absolute stud, and it's going to be fun watching he and Browns LT Joe Thomas alternate Pro Bowl appearances.  On the other side, Ryan Harris is quickly becoming the player the Broncos thought they were getting in the '07 draft.  Think about that for a second.  Name another team in all of football that has bookends like Harris and Clady that are in their 2nd and 1st year respectively.  There isn't one.  Add Chris Kuper, and the Broncos have a solid core on the O-Line to build from.  Oh, and Tom Nalen is likely to begin practicing this week.  Zero sacks, 300 yards passing and 150 yards rushing is Broncos football.  It all starts up front.
DEFENSIVE LINE
 

B


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Tackles Sacks Interceptions
Solo Ast Total Sacks Yds Int Yds IntTD
John Engelberger 6 0 6 0 0 0 0 0

While Engelberger led the D-Line in tackles, the group as a unit did a nice job, both against the run and pass.  In a game that is hard to judge defensively because the Raiders were in catch-up mode for most of the night, the Broncos still didn't get brunerd on the ground until the game was well in hand.  After 3 quarters, the Raiders had only 199 total yards of offense.  I liked the rush being supplied by the front four, lead by Elvis Dumervil of course, but also provided by Kenny Peterson and Ebenzer Ekuban.  Yes, the Raiders O-Line is put together with duct tape, bubble gum and toothpicks, but they are still pros and they still dominated the Broncos last season.  The D-Line is still a work in progress, but after the 1st Raider drive of the game showed that there is a light a tthe end of the tunnel.
LINEBACKER
 

B


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Tackles Sacks Interceptions
Solo Ast Total Sacks Yds Int Yds IntTD
Nate Webster 7 4 11 0 0 0 0 0

After a bit of a rough beginning, I thought Jamie Winborn, Nate Webster and D.J. Williams did a nice job, flying around the field, making plays and being disruptive to a clueless Raiders offense.  The Broncos pulled the wool over everyone's eyes by sitting Boss Bailey for the night, and early on it appeared the over-agressiveness that has plagued Jamie Winborn his entire career would rear it's ugly head again.  After the first possession, however, I thought Winborn played solid, and I was very impressed with Webster, who rarely found himself out of position.  D.J. looked right at home on the Weakside, and his hustle sack was nice to see.  This unit will be stronger with Bailey, but played well overall.  Nate Helmet Count = 1

DEFENSIVE BACKS
 

B


vs OAK / 9.8.08 Tackles Sacks Interceptions
Solo Ast Total Sacks Yds Int Yds IntTD
Marquand Manuel 6 0 6 0 0 0 0 0

A game like last night usually gets sloppy for the team with the big lead, and last night was no exception.   For 3 quarters, the Broncos DB's played at an A level before stumbling a bit late.   A loss of a grade beacuse of a 4th quarter let down in a blowout?  You bet.  Remember what The Quest is for me.  60 minutes of solid effort every week, no matter what the score.  The Broncos effort dropped a bit, though I really can't blame them.  Overall, I was very happy with the Safety tandem of Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel and feel even stronger that this group is MUCH better than the duo the Broncos lined up last year(Lynch and Abdullah).  Champ was Champ, while I though Bly had a decent game until he was juked out of his jock by Ronald Curry on the Raiders' second TD.  Overall a nice job against lackluster talent.

SPECIAL TEAMS
 

B

Subtract the first kickoff return by the Raiders, and the Broncos special teams add a nice evening.  Matt Prater was 2/2 in FG opportunites and while his kicks didn't fly out of the stadium, he was able to keep Raiders' returners from breaking loose after his initial kick.  For the game, the Raiders received 8 kick-offs, and even with that first return their average starting position was the 25 yard line.  I thought Brett Kern had a solid debut, and again, minus one return the coverage teams did a good job.  One suggestion, let's remove Eddie Royal from the return game now!

COACHING
 

A+

Mike Shanahan was back to his "Mastermind" ways, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Raiders defense.  I have always said the biggest road block to the greatness of Mike Shanahan the coach is Mike Shanahan the personnel guy, but it looks like both have been on top of their game recently.  Shanny has complete confidence in Jay Cutler, and for the first time in years 100% of the playbook is in play.  With speed all around, Shanny can do things he simply couldn't risk doing before.  That makes coaching, and watching fun.
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