The final game of the season often has me thinking back to what the season started with: hopes, expectations, and lots and lots of hype.
Remember when the Raiders were for real this year?
Remember when the Chargers had a real shot at winning the division?
Remember when the Broncos were a trash team that was going to finish the season in the basement of the AFC West?
Every year we hear the hype and nonsense in and around our division, and every year it is largely nonsense. The final game of the year is over for both the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos, and it has shown most of the early and preseason hype to be nonsense.
The Raiders still suck. The Chargers suck too. And the Broncos look like a team on the upswing (finally).
What a way to end the season, Broncos Country!
Vic Fangio being one of the best defensive minds in the NFL is not hype. With a defense that personnel-wise looks like a hunk of Swiss cheese, this defense played some damned fine football this year and in this game. If they get the right players to plug those holes, the Denver defense is going to be very hard to score on. Inside the red zone, they were as tough as nails.
I’m not going to lie one bit - I was quite worried about the Broncos’ defense against Oakland. For several years Derek Carr has made a living off quick passes, getting solid production against our team and even showed it again in Week 1 this season. But that was the first actual game of Fangio’s tenure and things have changed. This defense had a game plan. They made much of the quick throwing decision making hard for Carr, and for most of the game had the Raiders’ number.
Shelby Harris was quiet for most of the game, but with the Raiders having all the momentum late in the game, batted down a second-down pass that likely would have gotten a big chunk of yards. To seal the game he did it again on the Raiders’ gutsy two-point conversion attempt. Harris was a big-time play maker just as he has been all season long.
Mike Purcell absolutely wrecked the Raiders’ first play of their second drive and blew by their center like he was a fence post. He spent a lot of time collapsing the front of the Raider line and capped off a great year with a great showing.
Todd Davis again quietly led the team in tackles. He hasn’t been the big playmaker at ILB that the team wants to see, but he’s been the glue for the defense. He is still a force against the run and had two TFLs in the game due to his big-time ability to diagnose run plays and shoot the right gap.
Alexander Johnson was all over the field and tackling everything in this game. If we could clone him, we’d never need another ILB again.
Finally, Von Miller was tearing it up and forced the Raiders defense to slide protection against him because of how disruptive he was to their passing game. He ended the game with a sack, a TFL, 3 QB hits, and a pass defensed. Miller is a superb player with the ability to do it all at the OLB position, and anyone talking about his play declining is clearly flapping a hot take on the table as a parlor trick. Watch the film...he’s still playing the game at an elite level.
Will Parks showed some really nice coverage as he was manned up on Waller on 3rd-and-2. I’ve noticed that several times this year here and there in the games he’s stepped in as a dime backer for us. His coverage in this defense has really improved over what we saw in the past couple of years, and he looks like a player who’s really coming into his own. I’m not sure if he’s a future starter in the NFL, but he’s the kind of depth safety you can use in today’s NFL to help handle big passing situations and cover tight ends.
Isaac Yiadom does not have the tools to be a starting NFL cornerback...I’m not sure if he should even be on a practice squad. The problem is this - he had two really good pass defenses. He tackles well at times too. But what doesn’t show up on the normal stat sheets is the bad coverage that he is responsible for that gives up big play after big play. Did he look good at times? Yes. But it isn’t worth how many times he’s giving up 15+ yard completions. We need a cornerback who isn’t a constant liability next year, and the eye test gives me serious doubts on if Yiadom will ever be that guy.
Trey Marshall had one very big play in this game, showing great effort to force the fumble and recover. It was a game-changing play and a big reason we ended up winning the game honestly (because yes, turnovers are still a really big deal). He’s no Kareem Jackson, but his play in this game showed he’s got the potential to be a solid backup for this team in the future.
In what may be Chris Harris Jr.’s final game as a Bronco, he was up and down with some very good coverage early, forcing Carr to look elsewhere. Later in the game he gave up a big crossing route completion.
Rich Scangarello showed more great play design in this game with his play call at the end of the first half. The whole Oakland defense bit on Freeman motioning across from wide out with play action and left Beck wide open for an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown.
The No Bull truth is that I’ve been wanting so badly for Scangarello to be the guy that turns this offense around that it has grown into a natural fan bromance. That being said, I don’t feel too bad about it. The guy is very much crushing it with this offense from a play design perspective and a whole season’s worth of film is out there to back it up.
It wasn’t all pretty and it wasn’t easy. The offensive line playing two backup players made everything about our offense harder than it should have been. It seemed like Scangarello schemed around those weaknesses as the game wore on and helped the team do just enough to win.
Drew Lock really showed off his scrambling ability and really opened up our offense by extending plays in this game. That’s definitely a big advantage for our offense, but it isn’t the only thing he does well. My favorite thing about Lock’s game is his ability to throw with heat and get the ball on target. Sutton even dropped one that hit him square in the hands due to the heat it had on it. While his stat line isn’t something that the Fantasy Football kids are going to like, my eyes tell me this kid plays winning football, and it isn’t just a fluke or the result of a scheme or just the coaching being excellent (think back to our fan favorite Trevor Siemian).
The patchwork line showed its colors early and often against the Oakland defense. They were constantly giving ground with matchups lost all across the line. Jake Rodgers roster line says he’s 320 pounds. If that is true, he plays like he’s 250.
Also, it would honestly be great if that was the last time we saw Austin Schlottman starting as our right guard. He wasn’t great, though it wasn’t as bad as the poor play we saw at RT, which is a problem that has been plaguing the Broncos all year long.
It was very cool to see Phillip Lindsay break 1,000 yards again. He’s a hell of a football player and a force for the Broncos. Hopefully this offseason he can add some pass-catching skills to his tool belt as that is the way for his game to step up to the next level.
Royce Freeman on 3rd-and-6 was asked to run outside laterally, which is not a strength of his. It was a bad call and bad execution by both the line and the runner. Late in the game Freeman uncharacteristically fumbled the ball away on a drive that could have sealed the game. We’re through two seasons of Freeman, and I’m honestly ready to look for something better. On paper he’s a great fit for what this team does, but I think this team can find someone who can bring a higher level of playmaking to what they are doing in the run game.
DaeSean Hamilton had a day and is absolutely on the same page with Drew Lock. He looked like everything you want from a slot receiver: speed, quickness, great routes, and the ability to find holes in coverage on third down. This honestly was a very impressive game that Hamilton put on film for the coaches. He’s not the deep threat Emmanuel Sanders is, but he’s shown with this game that he’s developing into the kind of slot receiver you can lean on to keep the chains moving on third down.
Courtland Sutton bailed Lock out of a poorly thrown ball with a great jump to pull it down. His route running got him a big gain in the second half on a crossing route. The guy had a hell of a season and the future is bright for him.
Noah Fant had a pretty quiet game outside of one derpy play losing yards by running the wrong way which was honestly more than a little cringey to watch.
Brandon McManus talked Fangio into the long try at the end of the game and that will likely be the last time he gets to do it in his career working with Fangio. If you are going to tell your coach you got it, you better follow through and McManus didn’t do it. I honestly applaud Vic for backing McManus in his press conference, but from what we saw on the sidelines, I’ll be surprised if Vic makes that same decision in the future.
We wrapped up the season with another win against the hapless Oakland Raiders. It was sweet, succulent, and a great way to finish up a disappointing season.
I really do see this team as a team on the rise and think the future is very bright for the Broncos.
As we wind down the season, let me take a minute to thank all of you who have been reading the No Bull Review whether you just started reading this year or have been with us for years. I love this team and its fans and really enjoy writing about the former to share with the latter. Hopefully next season will see our team back in the hunt for the playoffs if not the division.
Thankfully this season can be put behind us, and we can now look forward to a very eventful offseason for the Broncos. They have over $60 million in cap room, 12 draft picks, and finally look like a team who knows who their starting QB is for the first time in five years.