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Broncos at Raiders: The No Bull Review

Week 5 saw the Denver Broncos head into the Black Hole to battle the Oakland Raiders in a key game for the AFC West division. Are the upstart Oakland Raiders for real? Is the Orange Surge a big time defense or just a unit benefiting from weak competition? Will the Denver offense ever achieve the level of mediocre this season? Let's dig in and find out what we gleaned from this game.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start us off with saying this: 5-0 feels really, really good. Having a dominating defense regardless of the opponents we've faced feels really, really good. Looking at the rest of the season and only being seriously concerned with 4 games (3 of them at home) feels really, really good.

I know we've been going bonkers on our QB and the offense, but take a deep breath and enjoy our situation right now. Regardless of who snaps the ball for us at the end of the season, it is very likely we will be headed to the playoffs. I'm not prognosticating, just saying that I really like our chances.

As I noted in the comments, I've got some pretty choice things to say about our offense, but I'm going to start out with the good stuff so we can appreciate the things that went well.


I can't say enough good things about this defense. I'm going to continue to beat the drum of Wade Phillips. The dude is calling a phenomenal football game and we keep seeing teams find weaknesses...for one series or two and then no longer.

The Raiders found a hole in our defense on the outside shallow routes to both the RBs and WRs. It was there for a couple of drives to start the game out. But we shut that down. We had some TE routes that burned us good, but that went away as well. The run game started out pretty tough, but as the game wore on we wore Oakland down instead of the reverse.

That's dominating defensive football. That is adjusting and finding a way to punch your opponent in the mouth regardless of his defense. That's the Orange Surge in action, ladies and gentlemen.  Be water, my friend!

Front 7

I loved the early game OLB shifting that was going on. We rolled Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware out in coverage as LBs at different points. The one where Miller shifted out got Derek Carr's attention and Miller showed us that he's got short route coverage chops by defending the pass.

Really, I'd like to give Von a big pat on the back for this game. He was as disruptive as ever and as usual caused the kind of trouble that doesn't get anyone's attention: hurries. I saw at least 3 times where he caused Carr to throw the ball early. His strip sack fumble recovery absolutely amazes me. Miller stole Carr's soul right out of his pocket on that play and Carr didn't even know it was coming.

Malik Jackson was a run-stopping fool

I thought of our ILBs, Danny Trevathan impressed with some really good coverage play and Brandon Marshall disappointed in the run game (really down game for him...he's usually very solid in both areas of play).

An unsung hero in this game was Malik Jackson. While he does get the trophy for the dumbest penalty of the game, his play was out of this world. We like him as a pass rusher, but he was a run-stopping fool in this game.


Aqib Talib and David Bruton

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Sometimes as a player in the secondary you are in the right place at the right time. That just happened to Chris Harris, Jr. What I'll say here is that his game was back at last year's level from what I saw (best CB in the league type coverage). The QBR on targets his way was 33.9.  That's straight filthy, Broncos Country.

Aqib Talib may not have set the world on fire with his play (he wasn't bad, but wasn't super good either from what I saw), but dude knows how to Bronco Up and play some football. He played the 2nd half after spraining his ankle. I love me some tough football players leaving their games out on the field instead of sitting on the bench with a hang nail like some former TE's we've seen here in Denver.

The biggest negative I saw in this game was T.J. Ward, which saddens me. We reverted at times to matching him up man-to-man with Tight Ends. I've said it before in the NBR, he's not that guy. His coverage technique in man is not very good, and the Raiders caught him singled up in a mismatch a couple of times.

Special Teams

Big props need to go to Joe DeCamillis for what he's done with this special teams unit. We're looking solid in coverage, we drill long field goals, we have smart returners who have good hands, and we scheme well for onside kicks. Even Chris Harris mentioned a difference in coaching in his press conference Monday:

"In the past, we really weren't on field goal block like that. Now, we're really in meetings a lot, doing extra trying to figure out any way we can make an impact on that field goal block. We've been doing that. We've definitely been watching more film on special teams compared to what we did in the past."

"We've definitely been watching more film on special teams compared to what we did in the past." Chris Harris Jr.

Brandon "McMoney" McManus is becoming a beloved story for those of us in Broncos Country. Denver made the right move last year by benching him for poor kicks. They also made the right move by keeping him over this off season and helping him develop as a kicker. The dude sees a 50+ yard FG and boots it with a kick strong enough to make it from 60+.

Before he got injured, I thought Omar Bolden had a very nice return in the 2nd quarter. Hopefully he's back in the saddle again for Cleveland.

Britton Colquitt's punt at the end of the game was fairly poor. He gave up a touchback with no excuses...coffin corner that thing and pin them back!

I loved the designed wall play for the onside kick and Demaryius Thomas fielding the attempt. That was smart football to put the game on DT's shoulders and ask him to make a hands play.


Pull out your skewers ladies and gentlemen, it is time to talk about our offense, and we are straight up having a barbecue in this place. I got a barrel of glaze and a pit fired up and ready for some tasty goodness up in this. But don't worry, Broncos Country. You know I'm all about critiquing the good and the bad. It isn't all bad contrary to popular belief.


Let's talk about some highlights first:

  • Evan Mathis is still looking strong and run blocked well.
  • Louis Vasquez played his best game of the year in my opinion with strong run blocking and pass blocking.
  • Michael Schofield looks like the best RT we have on the team though he has work to do (he's mediocre instead of kinda sucky)

So you'd think we're in somewhat decent shape with a couple of guards playing at a high level, right?  NOPE. The downside in the run game for Kubiak's core zone blocking scheme is that you can't run the ball behind one guy who wins his battle. You have to have continuity and multiple guys in synchronization with their blocking winning the battles at the same time.

There was one play I saw where this happened...and when it did, the runner missed the cut-back lane. SMH. It really can't be said enough that this line is playing poorly. I can point to a couple of guys each game playing well. But a couple of guys do not make a unit and that is where our problem in the run game lies.

Also, please bury the notion that we're getting eight-man boxes all the time because Manning's arm is falling off. That's bogus. We're running the ball against seven- and six-man boxes and losing in the trenches. We think "Kubiak" and hearken our minds back to the grand days of the zone blocking offense the Broncos ran in the late 90s and early 00s, but this line is not that one.

Please bury the notion that we're getting eight-man boxes all the time because Manning's arm is falling off.

Problems I'm noticing:

  1. We have no decent answer at LT. Ryan Harris and Tyler Polombus both looked poor to me on the left side.
  2. Matt Paradis doesn't have the power to win inside run battles...even when he's combo blocking at times.
  3. We aren't using a fullback to lead block

Want to know why those lines of yesteryear were so good? It was because you could line up with a fullback in the backfield with the defense knowing an outside zone play was coming with 8 in the box and we still got 4 yards because there was nothing the defense could do about it. Our personnel back then worked as a unit and won their battles together constantly. We are a far cry from this.

The other thing worth talking about is the pass blocking. Most of the time I think it looks pretty darn good. But there seem to always be a few plays each game this season where a free rusher comes through an unblocked gap. I don't know what the problem is here, but I know it constantly looks bad. Do we need to keep the RB in to block? Are we sliding protection poorly? I'm sure the answer is in the All-22 angles and if any of you out there love line play and could give us some insights here, I'd love to see it.

Running backs

Ronnie Hillman

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I don't put all the running problem on the line...they get only 50% of it from where I'm sitting. 25% of it belongs to our backs. Like I mentioned above, there are some cut back lanes (only a few to be fair to our RBs) and they are getting missed. As a matter of fact, it seems pretty darn rare that our RBs cut back ever. I'd love to review some film with Alex Gibbs on this and get his take on what his happening...someone give him a shout for me.  :)

Here's a positive note on the RBs though for us. Remember that RB in the flat play I talked about last week? We saw one of those in this game. It went to Juwan Thompson for 16 yards. Can we see that a little more often? It is a play that is constantly there to be had (and will be until we make teams pay for stacking defenders in the middle).

I don't know what the problem is with C.J. Anderson, but he looks more like Montee Ball this year than himself. He's got no burst, isn't breaking tackles, has shown almost no elusiveness, and just looks slow.

Ronnie Hillman had some minor success this week, but no big holes to hit and seems to constantly be looking to bounce outside instead of cutting back. Protip Ronnie: If you always do that, defenses will always bounce outside and stop you. Shake it up, son! Also go hit the juggs machine 2 hours a day for the rest of the week. You are in the NFL. I don't care that you are a RB. If you go out for a pass and the QB throws it in your numbers, you CATCH THE FRIGGIN BALL!!!

I'm really bummed that Juwan Thompson keeps getting injured. I've dug his running since last training camp and even in this game he had one really nice run with great power and burst. He needs to get healthy and stay on the field, because with the problems we have, he might be an answer. I'd hate for him to miss his opportunity because of injury issues.


Kudos to Emmanuel Sanders for having a nice game as well as Bennie Fowler who both left their game out on the field with good route running, speed, and good hands.

Demaryius Thomas has always had some drops through his career...I'd love it if he would just stop though. Especially in the end zone. Juggs machine...2 hours a day with Ronnie. Get it right. You didn't get paid to drop TDs that hit your hands.

Owen Daniels needs to hang it up far FAR more than Peyton Manning does.  There is nothing redeeming in what he is doing on the football field. He doesn't have the speed to get separation. He doesn't have veteran guile to get separation. If you are a receiving TE and you can't get separation, you are a liability. I hate to say it because I'm not a Julius Thomas fan, but on that first pick, I think JT powers through the hold and makes a play on the ball. Because that's what good receiving Tight Ends do.


Ah yes. We finally get to the subject that is sweet nectar to the world of Broncos Country: our starting QB. What is it with us that we have to have QB drama? This goes back ages: Elway vs Reeves, Brister vs Greise, Plummer vs Cutler, Orton vs Tebow, Tebow vs any QB that can throw a RB flare accurately.

Does he deserve it? Should we even be talking about it? Here's my No Bull take:

1) Peyton has consistently made some very nice throws this year all over the field: deep, intermediately, and short (though I think his short passes have been worse than his deep ones at times).

2) Peyton has also consistently made some very poor throws. Seven of these have been to the other team.

3) Peyton is less mobile now than I've ever seen him in the orange and blue. It is noticeable and it is a thing.

4) Peyton is clearly heaving his shoulder into his throws more than he's ever had to through his career...this sacrifices accuracy for power which I've talked about before in my reviews.

5) If I can see all of this, you can bet your sweet bippy that defensive coordinators see it.

What you are seeing, Broncos Country, is an older quarterback who's physical play is degrading. I know many of you don't want to hear it, but it just is what it is.

Now what can we get out of this info? What direction can be taken?  Here's my ideas:

1) Absolutely, positively do anything to get the interceptions to stop. We can win games with today's Peyton Manning. We've seen 3 wins so far this season where we won in spite of Peyton, not because of him (I give him a lot of credit for KC and both games he had very good drives and was impactful).

For this to work, Peyton has to swallow his pride and listen to some hard feedback from the coaches. He has to buy in to being more of caretaker with the ball instead of a playmaker. I don't know if it is in his DNA, but that's what it looks like it may take for us to win a championship with him and Broncos Country will complain just as much about him throwing the ball away as they do about his picks eventually.

2) Find a magical solution to the blocking problems while at the same time somehow solving Peyton's problem of having a very VERY fast internal clock for getting the ball out. This is a fairy tale. I'm not wasting time on it, but I'm bringing it up as a talking point.

3) Switch to Brock Osweiler in order to see what he can do for us. There are actual upsides to this. He's young and will take coaching where Peyton will not (old dog new tricks and all that) or is in a place where he can not. Brock also is more mobile which can be used as a tool in the offense. Brock's passes are also much quicker to get where they need to go because he has a better arm.

The downside to a switch is that you have a fresh new QB (not a rookie, but not a vet really either) who will have the weight of the offense and the attention of the whole nation on him. It would be a drastic amount of pressure and no one knows how Brock will handle it. Also, he's going to make more mistakes than Peyton does. This is just the honest truth. There will be ugly sacks that he doesn't see coming. There will be bad throws that get picked.

At the end of the day is it the right move? I don't know. But what I do know is that it should be talked about by the coaches and Elway. It is an option that should be on the table this week.

Final Thoughts

My final thoughts this week have to do with Gary Kubiak. Because I think when MHR gets all kinds of blown up in Pete's Instant Reactions piece, we miss a very big point: our head coach has an awful lot to do with where we are as an offense and how bad the offense is.

I don't care that Peyton is a bad match for his offense. I don't care that he's working with a squad of very green / new linemen and this is the first year of implementing your scheme. At the end of the day the quality of the offensive product lands squarely on Gary Kubiak's shoulders. He's calling the shots for the offense. He brought in a good bro in Rick Dennison to help him. He decided to work more on his scheme than an amalgamation of Peyton's in the off season.

I'm not just here to say the sky is falling, but I'm pointing out that a lot of the ire we're aiming at Peyton is really misplaced. The offense is honestly a mess that needs to be cleaned up. It needs work. The encouraging thing to me is that even if Rick Dennison has no pedigree, Gary Kubiak does. He's a good football mind. He's a great coach. Watch his press conferences and tell me he isn't pissed off that the offense isn't doing well. It is right there in his eyes. He also takes responsibility for it.

I'm all for whatever it takes to have the best season possible for our team. I don't care who is the QB. I care that our team does everything it can kicking and screaming to win a football game. Letting an aging QB who is throwing some seriously stupid INTs consistently play is not necessarily the best decision.

That being said, Gary Kubiak is no Josh McDaniels. McDillywag couldn't carry Kubiak's jock as a head coach. I'm also positive that Elway is giving input and talking to Kubiak about all possible personnel solutions. Kubiak isn't perfect, but it is just week 5 and we are 5 - 0.

Here's the easy first step to making progress on offense that I see: Bench Owen Daniels. It sends a message to the team regarding kicking and screaming. It sends Manning message of what we expect and will get the respect of the players who never like seeing a guy have a starting role based solely on tenure.

Next step behind closed doors: discuss making a QB change. I don't think we're there yet, but you better start talking about it. Are we the Peyton Mannings protecting a player's legacy or are we the Denver Broncos trying to win a championship?  Can Brock win playing just as bad as Manning has been?