Heartbreak. This is all I was feeling after the Broncos dropped their home opener to the Oakland Raiders. I'm still hearbroken. As bad as last year's 54-14 drubbing was last year, this one hurts more. A lot more, because this was our game. This was supposed to be the game that proved to the fans and the world that the Broncos were back on the rise. With an improved D and a steady offense, this game should have been ours no doubt.
Well, I was wrong. We were all wrong. Denver may be on the rise, but it's going to be a long gradual rise, not an immediate turn around. Denver looked awful in many ways in their home opener. I don't know what's worse, the fact that Denver looked so bad or the fact that despite how badly Denver played, they are still better then last year's team. Both are depressing thoughts. Speaking of depressing thoughts, let's get to the first Studs and Duds of the 2011 regular season.
John Elway has put a lot of emphasis on wanting to get Denver's home field advantage back. The fans in attendance were beyond awesome. They were loud; they were rowdy; and they had the cameras shaking. The noise was so loud that they helped Denver get a couple offsides/false starts on Oakland. They also made Oakland use 2 timeouts early in the 2nd half. The fans did their part and they deserved a victory. Sadly, after this performance, I wouldn't be surprised if half of the fans show up next week for Cincinnati. Nevertheless, thank you to the fans who showed up in orange and rocked the stadium. It's been a long time since we've seen fans like that in attendance.
Thank goodness for Champ Bailey. If it weren't for Champ, our defense would probably be one of the worst in the league every year. Not only does he shut down the opposing team's best CB's, he is also Denver's best tackler. On several occasions, Champ was the reason why the Raiders didn't rip off a big play. He leg tackles better then anyone on this team and possibly the whole league. He finished the game with 5 tackles including 1 TFL. Unfortunately, like many others, Champ got hurt and ended up leaving the game. He hurt his hamstring when he chased down Raiders RB Darren McFadden and tackled him at the 1, preventing a touchdown. More about that later.
After last year, everyone kind of assumed that Dawkins was done. He looked slow and pretty washed up last year. Well, maybe there's a little life left in this wolverine. Dawk looked really good against the Raiders. He was flying all over the place making plays. He finished the night with a team high 9 tackles with 1 TFL. With the Broncos starting a rookie safety in Rahim Moore, it was imperative that Dawk play well and show him the ropes. In his one game, Dawk has done that and more.
In his first defensive series as a Denver Broncos, Von Miller tackled Raiders WR Jacoby Ford and forced a fumble. Let's hope that that is a premonition of things to come. Miller was impressive in his first game totaling 5 tackles and the aforementioned forced fumble. He made some mistakes, particularly when it comes to run stopping and his gaps, but for the most part, he was very good. He looks like the real deal and should be a star for us for a long time.
Things were looking bleak for the Broncos. They were down 16-3 with all of the momentum with Oakland. That was until Eric Decker returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. Decker was impressive as a kick returner last year and was very impressive as a punt returner on Monday Night. On top of his excellent return, he also caught 3 passes for 53 yards on the day. A lot of people picked Eric Decker as their "breakout player of the year" candidate. He is certainly off to a good start.
Brandon Lloyd looks like he's still got it. Despite teams homing in on him a lot more, Lloyd still managed to play well against the Raiders. He ended up with 6 catches for 89 yards with 11 targets. Lloyd was getting into some pretty heated battles with Raider CB's Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson. Lloyd still flashed the ability to get open and make plays despite increased coverage on him. Lloyd continues to play well which makes me wonder, just how well does he have to play to get a contract extension?
When Doom went down with an injury last year, it was Jason Hunter who was tasked with filling his place. It appears the same thing happened on Monday Night when Doom was unable to play for large portions of the game due to a strained shoulder. The difference is that Hunter was able to do a lot more this time now that he is back in his natural 4-3 DE spot. Hunter played well filling in for Doom as he finished the game with 6 tackles and the team's 1st sack of the year. Hunter earned his spot on the team in the pre season and he definitely solidified it with his performance in week 1.
Broderick Bunkley- Bunkley played very solid as the team's starting DT. He finished the night with 4 tackles including a nice QB hit. Bunkley is the team's best DT with Ty Warren injured. Denver is going to have to rely on him a lot to stop the run because Ryan McBean and Mitch Unrein are totally unreliable.
Cassius Vaughn- It really is amazing the progress Cassius Vaughn has made since last year. In 2010, he was unreliable to play as a CB because he was too raw. Now, he is a key part of Denver's defense. He started the game as a nickel and finished as the team's starting LCB taking the place of Champ Bailey who got injured. If Champ is out for any length of time, Vaughn is going to become that much more important to Denver.
I spent a good amount of time thinking about how I was going to phrase this section. This is what I came up with: Kyle Orton was the main reason the Denver Broncos lost to the Oakland Raiders. Was he the only reason? No, but he was the biggest reason. Kyle Orton was responsible for 2 turnovers that resulted in Raider points. First, he threw an interception before halftime that gave Oakland enough time to kick a field goal that turned out to be the difference in the game. The second turnover was the one that really got to me. Denver was driving down the field to take the lead. It was a play action pass. It was a play that worked perfectly, fooling the defense and leaving TE Daniel Fells wide open in the middle of the field with tons of room in front of him to run. Orton wound up his arm and dropped the ball. Let me repeat that. He dropped the football. No pass rush. No strip fumble. He dropped the football. Oakland recovered and 3 plays later, Darren McFadden was in the end zone. The momentum was gone and Oakland's lead increased.
Not only did Orton drop the football in a clutch situation, he showed his weakness in the red zone again by scoring just once out of three opportunities. Both of the aforementioned things have been criticisms of Orton in the past and his play against the Raiders did nothing to dispel those notions. In fact, they only further confirmed them. I firmly believe Kyle Orton cost us this game. He ended the game with a stat line of: 24 of 46 (52% completion) for 304 yards, 1 TD, 1 Interception and a 71.3 QB rating.
I'm not going to say Start Tim Tebow, but I'm not going to disagree with the thousands of fans who were chanting his name after Orton dropped the football on that crucial drive.
Offensive Line/Lack Of Running Game
Our offensive line looked awful. Beyond awful. Was that Chris Kuper out there or was Russ Hochstein wearing his jersey? Did Manny Ramirez take form in J.D. Walton's body? Has Orlando Franklin played on the OL before? I sincerely ask these things because our OL was disgustingly bad. They couldn't open up any holes in the running game and the pass protection wasn't much better. Orton was sacked 5 times in the opener and it would have been more except our guys were able to hold the Raiders DL so they wouldn't get sacks and when I say "hold the Raiders DL", I literally mean hold them. Chris Kuper, Orlando Franklin, Ryan Clady and J.D. Walton were all flagged with holding calls throughout the game. That means Zane Beadles was the only offensive lineman not to be flagged for holding. Kuper and Franklin were flagged more then once. John Fox likes to run the ball, but in order for that to happen, Denver's OL needs to be able to open running lanes. In their first game of 2011, they looked a lot like the Broncos 2010 OL.
If it wasn't bad enough losing to the Raiders in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, Denver also lost several key players to injury. Champ Bailey and Knowshon Moreno suffered hamstring injuries, Elvis Dumervil suffered a shoulder strain, and Brandon Lloyd injured his groin. These 4 players are 4 of Denver's best players. Let's hope that none of these injuries are serious because we cannot afford to lose these guys. They are too important.
This was always going to be a problem. Denver's Run D was awful last year and Denver failed to address this area in the draft. They re-signed Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas. Additionally, they traded for Broderick Bunkley and signed Ty Warren. Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas got hurt in training camp. Bunkley just came off an injury. This left the DT rotation against Oakland as: Burnkley, Vickerson, Ryan McBean and Mitch Unrein. McBean and Unrein are garbage. Denver faces a lot of elite running teams this year and will continue to lose games unless they can stop the run. Denver needs to go out and pick up some solid DT's like Derek Landri and Jeremy Jarmon.
Fox gets a dud because Denver looked totally unprepared for this game. The run game that he said he was going to bring was non-existent and the team played extremely sloppy, flag filled football. Some of that has to be on the head coach. In addition, Fox had to burn time outs a few times because players weren't in their right spots. In that regard, he was very similar to McDaniels.
10 penalties for 91 yards is unacceptable. Totally and completely unacceptable. Pre season games aren't even that bad. The offensive line had their share of holding penalties, but unnecessary roughness, and defensive holding calls were also present during the game These are the types of things that will absolutely kill a team. It's lucky for Denver that Oakland was even worse or this would have been a blow out. Denver has got to clean this up.
I know it rained during the game, but 4 fumbles is absolutely ridiculous. Kyle Orton, Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, and Brandon Lloyd. Hold onto the damn football. Knowshon in particular seems to have fumbling problems. Maybe the ball was just really, really slippy, but the Raiders RB's weren't fumbling the ball so it comes down to protecting the football on the way down to the ground.
This tool has to be the worst Monday Night Football broadcaster in Monday Night Football history. Does Al Davis have revealing pictures of him or something because Trent Dilfer was complimenting the Raiders on the most absurd things. He wouldn't get off his Raider horse and was also giving compliments to Orton for throwing a pass away withing 3 seconds of getting the snap. I sincerely hope he gets fired and I never have to hear another word from him ever again.
Big Vick. I like the attitude you play with, but you lost your cool before halftime and helped contribute to Janikowski's 63 yarder. If you didn't get that facemask penalty, Janikowski probably doesn't end up in field goal range. You never know when one stupid penalty will lead to points.
That's it. Our Denver Broncos are now 0-1 to start the year. The good news is that Denver's next opponent is Cincinnati. This should be a winnable game for the Broncos if we can work on the OL protection and run defense. The bad news is that this game becomes a must win if Denver has any shot at all at the playoffs. After this game, the Broncos face @Tennessee, @Green Bay, San Diego, and @Miami. There isn't a lot of time for Denver to fix these mistakes. With the 3rd most difficult schedule, Denver has to get going and fast before it's left in the dust with a one way ticket to a top 5 pick. Until next time, MHR.