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Broncos at Raiders: The No Bull Review

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The Denver Broncos lost on opening night to the Oakland Raiders. Here are my thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the Broncos’ most recent game.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Every offseason I get hyped for the first game of the year. In the NFL, every team has a chance to start fresh and turn over a new leaf each year...I have a very clear understanding of that. It is one of the biggest reasons I’m a fan of the NFL game.

When the game is on and the players are battling, I’m with them in spirit yelling, screaming, groaning in agony, and always hoping for that next big play or break we need to turn the momentum.

The problem with this is it doesn’t make for good No Bull material. I’ve been writing these reviews for years and have always waited at least a day to sit down and start putting together my reviews.

Why? Because if I were to write these the night of the game, you wouldn’t get even an ounce of what I try to do and bring to Broncos Country. After a loss, it would be some really dark, negative, angry nonsense replete with three metric butt loads of knee-jerk reactions.

But that’s not how I roll and after a good night’s sleep and a day of work I’m sitting down and honestly not feeling too bad about this loss.

For those of you out there in Broncos Country feeling like the sky is falling, please take a deep breath. It isn’t all bad. The sky isn’t falling. There were some good things that happened on the football field. And this team isn’t out of anything yet.

Defense

I really feel like the defense (or lack thereof) was the biggest surprise of the game. I expected a front seven that was going to lay some wood and create pressure. I expected a secondary that would be on top of routes and come away with some picks.

I expected the team to be dialed in and confident about what they were doing.

But that’s not where this team is at yet on defense. Vic Fangio has a lot of work to do in order to get this defense in any kind of top 10 shape. The players aren’t comfortable yet. They aren’t trusting their reads and able to flow properly to take away plays in front of them.

My big hope is that game 1 of the 2019 season is one HUGE learning opportunity for the defense and that they really come away understanding that it is all of those little things...death by inches that is causing losing football to happen when they step out there. None of the downsides I saw out there weren’t correctable.

Front 7

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Broncos at Rams Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were missing in this game. Sure, they lined up. Both had 90% or greater of the defensive snaps in the game. But neither one really made an impact in the game. This could be because of the match-up. The Raiders have huge linemen and for whatever reason in the past couple of years have done a great job on our front 7.

But I wonder about this snap count. Both of these guys are used to getting some breathers to keep them fresh. Neither of them really got a prime chance at pass rushing. Also, I noticed both in pass coverage quite a bit more than I would like to see.

Obviously the scheme is different up front from what Denver has historically been running and Fangio uses linebackers differently than what we are used to. I can trust the process, but in general I sure like seeing both of these guys getting after the QB more than I like seeing them sitting in a shallow zone.

I liked a little of what we saw up front from Adam Gotsis and Shelby Harris. I feel like both guys did a decent job of pushing in the middle.

I wasn’t thrilled of course with the inside linebacker play at all. Sure, Josey Jewell had a good number of tackles, but most of them weren’t from a position of advantage or in any way imposing his will.

This team is missing Todd Davis in a really big way and obviously missing talent at inside linebacker given how Jewell was in on 100% of the snaps and Corey Nelson (who we just added to the team last week) had 84% of the snaps.

Secondary

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Isaac Yiadom got taken to school had a pallet of rules broken off on his rear in this game. I’m honestly a little surprised because he looked very solid in the preseason with his coverage and play. In this game, his size was used against him and he never looked even a little bit competent. It will be interesting to see if the team adjusts personnel around him or gives him another chance. His performance was bad enough that I’m not sure he can be trusted as a starting corner the way he was abused by Oakland.

Kareem Jackson and Chris Harris Jr. on the other hand looked very good in the secondary most of the game. This team is going to need both of them to be excellent in the coming weeks if this defense is going to turn it around.

The safeties I thought played pretty mediocre. Justin Simmons and Will Parks saw plenty of play time and had very little impact. It was really indicative of the whole overarching theme I saw of the defense in week 1: they aren’t comfortable yet or playing anywhere close to instinctual.

Offense

As woeful as the offense seemed in the 1st half, I was honestly pretty pleased with their performance overall.

No, 16 points isn’t good in today’s NFL.

But I’ll tell you what is: throwing over the middle multiple times for 10+ yard gains, breaking off runs for 5+ yards, and having a QB who can make multiple reads and get the ball at least close to the target when given time to throw.

Quarterbacks

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco had a very solid game on Monday night. I thought he protected the ball well in the face of a bunch of bad situations (either from bad blocking or lackadaisical route running...more on that later). It is only one game, but I can definitely see what Fangio and John Elway are talking about with how comfortable they are with him as the quarterback of the team. He’s confident and capable which is more than I can say for any quarterback we’ve had since 2015.

Line

We keep hoping every year to see solid tackle play from this offensive line. And I’m honestly tired of the disappointment. Ju’wuan James going down is a killer loss to the team and hopefully he returns quickly as Elijah Wilkinson did not look the part of a solid right tackle.

Garett Bolles is still the same guy he was last year losing fairly consistently because of bad technique and getting our quarterback hit more than he needs to be because of it. I’ve been one of the guys preaching patience with Bolles in the past couple of years because of how little he’s played football, but this is year 3 and we need to see better at left tackle than what was out there this week.

I was also pretty disappointed with Ron Leary who got beat more than he should of, gave up penalties, and allowed too much pressure in pass blocking. The sad part of this story is that there’s literally nothing the team can seriously do as they’ve given his such a big contract and have so little quality guard depth at this point.

Of the other two guys, I thought Connor McGovern looked like an average NFL center which is a good thing compared to other areas of the line. I thought Dalton Risner looked hands down like the best lineman we had on the field all game. He was far from perfect, but his technique was sound and he held his own consistently and capably.

Running Backs

Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Royce Freeman is a big plus on this game. He looked like a consistent powerful back who made the most out of what little holes he was given to work with. He seems to me to have sneaky burst for a back of his size that I don’t remember seeing as much last year. I’m looking forward to seeing him work in the coming weeks as I think he’s going to be a good back for the team.

Phillip Lindsay suffered from the same problem Freeman had: not many holes to work with. Teams know about his speed and really key in on bottling him up. I feel like Denver is going to be able to get more out of him on misdirection plays as the season wears on and obviously the guy has serious skills. His change of direction and ability to change gears quickly is impressive to watch.

Receivers

Courtland Sutton was the brightest spot I saw of the game. He looked every bit the part of a #1 wide receiver on Monday night with over 100 yards. He made catches against tight coverage using his size and showed that he’s a consistent reliable target for this offense.

It took awhile to get Emmanuel Sanders involved for some strange reason, but he still looks every bit of the #2 WR with burner speed to me who leaves it all out on the football field. I love seeing this guy play and am very happy to see that he doesn’t seem to have lost anything from his Achilles injury.

DaeSean Hamilton honestly broke my heart with his TD drop. The Broncos need him to be better than that. He’s gotta make that catch because you honestly can’t ask for anything to be perfect in the NFL...catch the ball with your hands, not your shoulder pad. This is NFL WR 101.

Noah Fant was honestly up and down for me. He had a good 20 yard catch that was exactly the kind of option we need from a TE in this offense, but he also looked poor at times in his blocking execution and route running execution. He’s a rookie, so I expect a lot of growing pains honestly. Hopefully we see him polish his craft more and more as the season wears on.

Special Teams

I was very excited to see Brandon McManus get a shot at a 64 yard field goal. He was just one yard off on distance from what I could tell, which is a bummer. Thankfully he was money on all of his other (too many) attempts for field goals in the game.

We weren’t really impressed with our kickoff coverage in the preseason and they gave up a huge return in this game. 72 yards is absolute nonsense and I hope Fangio gets his special teams coverage units some quality work this week.

Final Thoughts

You hate to see a loss on opening night like this. It was a winnable game and sadly too many small mistakes kept us away from a win.

I don’t for a second think that the Raiders are anything special, but they sure were far more ready to play on Monday night. They looked more hungry than our team and that means something in the NFL.

I hated seeing the freak injury to Gareon Conley and immediately said prayers for him. The news so far is positive for him. The Raiders don’t know if he can play next week yet, but he apparently didn’t have any major injury from it which I’m thankful for.

This team is a work in progress. They have been playing bad football for two years and it is going to take more than one extra long preseason and one regular season game to right all the wrongs they’ve been piling up.

Have some patience Broncos Country.

We have a decent quarterback finally and a defense that is fighting to get its legs underneath it. The first quarter of the season may be some rough football, but I’m seeing some positive signs. Hard work paired with sound coaching can do wonders.