What can we know after one game? Maybe not a lot, but there are a few things I took away from Monday's game witht the Raiders. In order:
1. We Can't Stop a team With a Superior Running Game:
The Raiders don't have a great passing attack or a stud QB. What they have is a stud running back in McFadden and a very good power back in Michael Bush. I consistently saw McFadden beat Broncos defenders to the outside, but I also saw McFadden and and Bush occasionally get holes up the middle and off tackle and our linebackers all too often could not make the tackle. Obviously not having Doom in the game on running downs hurt us, but so did inconsistent play by our DT's and LB's. The best run defender we had was Brian Dawkins. When your aging past his prime 36 year old safety is the only player making big tackles you are in bad shape. Maybe getting Thomas back will help, but not unless the rest of the front seven plays better, and doesn't miss assignments. Von Miller, for all his speed and power was often out of position and overran plays allowing the Raider backs to get outside for big yardage. Ditto for Woolyard.
2. Our Offensive Line was over matched.
Zane Beadles and JD Walton were pushed backwards on a regular basis in the run game and in pass protection. Franklin had trouble pass blocking. and I thought we didn't give him enough help with a tight end on the edge. Even Kuiper looked confused at times out there. Clady played well, but he is one player and an O Line must work as a unit. If they play better, the offense will click, but if they keep getting knocked back on their heels we are in for a long season.
3. Kyle Orton is who we though he was.
Orton, with time in the pocket can make all the throws. He's accurate and his arm is good enough. However, when he's pressured, he becomes indecisive and panics. I watched the Patriots game right before the Broncos played, and the Miami Defensive Line played very well. Brady's O Line was banged up and they started one guard (Brian Waters) who they signed 8 days earlier, and a rookie right tackle (Nate Solder) who couldn't crack the starting line up until the starter was injured. In addition, the the Patriots starting center went down midway through the game with a busted ankle.
Yet, despite good pressure from the Miami D Line, Brady was able to move around the pocket, and was very decisive. When they blitzed, he killed them. When they didn't blitz and played a soft zone he took what they gave him. The Patriots running game was inconsistent but it did just enough because Miami couldn't predict when a running play might be coming because they had to focus on Brady. The difference between Brady and Orton is not that much physically, but under pressure, the difference was vast in terms of leadership, decisiveness in knowing where to go with the ball. Brady's reaction time was was astonishing.
Remember, in that game Miami put up big numbers statistically and also on the scoreboard. The Pats defense actually made Chad Henne look like a good QB. But Miami still lost. Brady's receivers are not that much better than ours, nor is his O Line. The difference is Brady is a great QB and Orton is merely serviceable. Give Orton a great O Line, a running game and a better defensive effort and he could have won Monday's game. But, unlike the top QB's in the league, without all those other pieces in place, he is going to lose more games than he wins. And let's be honest, we don't have all the other pieces in place yet. Which brings me to my next point:
4. We were out coached.
Hue Jackson is no genius, but he knows what his team's strengths are: Good run defense, decent pass rush and a great running game. He didn't do anything fancy, he just let his players play to their strengths.
But to be honest, the Broncos game planning was poor. We ran the ball on predictable running downs making the Raider's Defense's job easier. We failed to make adjustments. We too often were in 3rd and long situations. Coaches call the plays and to my mind they called a terrible game on both sides of the ball.
In particular, let me point out what I felt was a huge mistake by the offensive coaches: When they saw that we couldn't run and that Oakland's D Line was superior to our O Line they should have gone to a no huddle offense to wear down the energy level of that D Line and the energy level of the corners, linebackers and safeties. Part of our home field advantage is the altitude. A no huddle would have given the Raider's D less time to catch their breath, and less time to prepare for the next play (i.e., plan blitzes, coverages, etc.) It would have allowed Orton more time to throw, confused a fairly young Raider's D, and opened possibilities for surprise run calls. We have the receivers to run a no huddle. I think Orton has enough experience to run it as well. But we didn't do it until late in the the fourth quarter when we were two scores down, a time when it was too late to make a difference.
You know when the Pats came out in a no huddle offense? At the start of the second half and it made a big difference. Miami's D line pressure evaporated and they were forced to blitz making Brady's job easier. The D Line also wore down enough that the Pats' run game began to work better. Arguably, Brady's O Line was no better than ours (in fact with all the injuries and new players it was arguably worse), and Miami's D Line is better than Oakland's, but that no huddle offense was more than an equalizer for the Pats. Defense always has to expend more energy, and once the D Line and LB's wore down, the Pat's O Line had the advantage. That one critical coaching adjustment doomed the Dolphins. Brady threw for most of his yards after they went to a no huddle.
5. The Broncos are not as bad as they played Monday.
We have talent (WRs, DE's, Corners in particular), and not every team we play is going to have a stud RB like McFadden who can exploit our weaknesses on defense. What the coaches need to realize is what they have in terms of personnel and how best to maximize those players strengths and minimize their weaknesses. This team can still win ball games, but not if the coaches continue with conservative game plans and poor in game adjustments. This is a team with a lot of holes, it's true, but its talent level is higher than we showed on Monday night. Better game planning and in game coaching adjustments will be the key to how many games the Broncos can win this year. KC last year with Charlie Weis calling the plays and creative defensive schemes by Romeo Crennel managed to win the division with a less talented team than we have now. I'm not saying we can do that this year (our schedule is too tough frankly) but we can definitely field a more competitive team than the one we saw against the Raiders. If the Broncos coaches don't learn from the mistakes they made last game, however, the season could quickly spiral out of control into another 4-12 or worse record.