In a meaningless game where fans spent the time between drives keeping up with draft implications, the Broncos lost to the Raiders 32-31. It happened as the Broncos defense found a way to steal four different possessions away from Derek Carr and the Raiders, securing a top ten pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Here’s what we learned.
Bradley Chubb’s absence hurt the run D late.
The Broncos play today without their Pro Bowl edge rusher and his 57 pressures. The loss meant more time for Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu. It also led to snaps for rookie seventh-rounder Derrek Tuszka. Going in, I expected the Raiders to find success running against light boxes. Instead, Vegas dialed up more two tight end sets which helped the Broncos hide their callow secondary. Fangio didn’t hesitate to bring out base personnel against Jon Gruden’s 12 personnel sets or even four defensive lineman with Reed. Josh Jacobs had all of seven yards on five carries in the first quarter and finished the half with 12 on six.
In the second half Jacobs started finding lanes to run through, with the vast majority heading left. It wasn’t a surprise Jacobs ran off the left side on the 4th-and-goal touchdown.
The Broncos had two rookie corners on the boundary.
Vic Fangio benched De’Vante Bausby during the loss to the Chargers, so I was curious what the plan would be today. Rookie Parnell Motley played the closing snaps in L.A. and held up on a drive into the red zone when Justin Herbert went after him, but also gave up a completion on the following drive. The Raiders tested him on the first drive today, but Carr found more success going after Fangio’s other rookie corner early.
Malik Reed drops off in coverage as the Broncos send four. No one gets to Carr and Michael Ojemudia is burnt. Again. pic.twitter.com/qCgUFnd8qm— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
I’ll need to go back over the All22 to see exactly what happened on the Agholor catch, but it looked like the rookie tried to hand off the route to Kareem Jackson, who was focused on the No. 2. If you’re looking for signs of growth from Michael Ojemudia, you didn’t have to wait long. Earlier this year a mistake like the Agholor catch seemed to haunt O.J. through the rest of the game. Not today.
O.J. forces a fumble! Broncos ball! pic.twitter.com/2OoQeihrYO— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
On the Raiders penultimate drive before the half, Gruden dialed up a bomb against Motley. It almost worked. Nelson Agholor got him off the line, but the rookie kept his cool and had the wherewithal to get his head around. For someone who joined the Broncos the week before Christmas, that’s not too shabby. It wasn’t enough to keep Chucky from going back to the well before the second quarter came to an end, however.
Bryan Edwards toasts Motley on 3rd and very long. pic.twitter.com/qqFDooozZq— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
In the second half Carr gave Ruggs a ball on an end around and both rookie corners shot to the ball. Motley missed, which gave Ojemudia another chance to play hero.
O.J. with another forced fumble and the Broncos have the ball! pic.twitter.com/rtdc2Qoyzw— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
Tyree Cleveland showed out in the first half.
The Broncos “other” rookie wide receiver hasn’t had many reps with the offense this year. He came into Week 17 with just 47 offensive snaps, none since the second Chiefs game. With K.J. Hamler landing on Injured Reserve and Tim Patrick ailing in the first quarter, that changed today. He saw six targets before halftime, including a 4th and 1. It speaks to Lock’s faith in the young pass catcher that the crucial drop didn’t deter him. On the Broncos last drive before the half, he went to Cleveland on a third down and was rewarded with a pass interference call.
Tyrie Cleveland has 3 catches for 41 yards in the first half.— Jon Heath (@ByJonHeath) January 3, 2021
Going into today's game, he had 2 catches for 18 yards as a pro. https://t.co/ZfwrJR6EtB
Risner, Glasgow, and Patrick couldn’t finish the game.
It’s been a painful close to the 2020 season for Glasgow, who signed with the Broncos after four years with the Lions. He missed the Carolina game due to a foot injury and left the Raider game because of a bum shoulder. His absence meant another opportunity for Netane Muti, who’s shown some promise as a run blocker. Risner also left the game in the second quarter, which led to more snaps for Austin Schlottmann.
True passing downs remains a work in progress.
Vegas came into the game with the third worst passing defense in the NFL and it showed early and often. The Broncos hit on three 10+ yard plays in the first half as well as a couple big pass interference calls. In fact, the Broncos converted half their third downs and even two third-and-longs, so it caught my attention when Shurmur conceded on the last real scoring drive of the first half.
If you run a tight end screen on 3rd and long, you planned to punt. pic.twitter.com/qvzUqC0Jf5— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
The Broncos found their way into the redzone on their first drive of the third quarter thanks to a nice pass by Lock as the pocket crumbled and a pass interference call. Rod Marinelli dialed up the kind of pressure look Lock crumbled against in week 10 and the second year passer threw it to green grass.
Drew Lock airmails it on 3rd and 6. pic.twitter.com/nFuPl5amKU— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
Netane Muti saved a touchdown.
At the end of the first half, Vic Fangio gave Brandon McManus a chance at history. The problem with long kicks is that they need to stay low to keep the distance, which makes them easier to block. Henry Ruggs scooped up the ball and looked like he’d have a path to six until the Broncos’ rookie guard stepped in.
Raiders block McManus' kick at history. Netane Muti stops Ruggs from punishing the Broncos for the attempt. pic.twitter.com/2zkqL3MoSS— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
The Broncos safeties make plays.
Okay, we didn’t learn this. I did learn Justin Simmons is the only safety to notch multiple picks in each of the last five seasons. So that lazy narrative people kept throwing around last year will hopefully die the painful death it always deserved. He’s an elite player. It’s long past time Elway recognize$ it.
Justin Simmons with an interception! pic.twitter.com/q4nEsQRB20— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 3, 2021
I’ve said it before, but I also got to say Kareem Jackson has quietly been one of the defensive rocks this season. If the Broncos plan to run it back with the majority of their offense locked into rookie contracts, they ought to keep Jackson and Simmons together for 2021, even if they’re the highest paid safety duo in the league.
Jeudy bounced back.
Let’s pretend I’m surprised.