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5 things I think I think after the Broncos’ humiliating 34-24 loss to the Raiders

Broncos lose must-win game. Now what?

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
Another week where the Broncos didn’t do enough.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Mike Shanahan was inducted into the Ring of Fame as the Broncos had perhaps their most disheartening loss of the 2021 season. In a game that was never as close as the final score, the Broncos lost to a Raiders team that spent the past week with a new head coach after Jon Gruden resigned because of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic emails. They fell flat when there was an opportunity to reclaim the lead in the AFC West. For the third consecutive week, the Broncos looked outcoached, outclassed, and outplayed in the first half and they wound up dropping the ball in a must-win game.

In a game that felt a lot like groundhog’s day, here’s a few things I noticed.

Shurmur wasn’t the only problem, but he didn’t help.

While Pat Shurmur’s offense scored an opening drive touchdown for the first time since he’s called plays for the Broncos, they also failed to cross midfield until the 3rd quarter. Meanwhile, the Raiders found ways to create four different scoring drives and capitalized on three to go up 17 points.

Pass protection, penalties, and missed throws by Teddy Bridgewater all factored into the Broncos anemic production. So too did Shurmur’s play calls, which continued to depend heavily on Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick winning 50-50 balls downfield.

Denver had no answer for the Raiders pass rush.

If you’ve read my work for any length of time, you’ll know I believe that sacks are a QB stat. I stand by that. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t do enough to keep himself clean as he completely melted down in the blowout loss. The veteran QB never looked comfortable and as the game progressed, he became erratic in the pocket and rushed too many decisions. The results speak for themselves: three interceptions, a lost fumble, and five sacks.

Shurmur’s own role in the Broncos’ issues is worth digging through once on the off chance the all-22 comes out later this week. Based on what I could tell, Shurmur was committed to leaving extra players in for protection to help the tackles against the Raiders’ edge rushers. On its face, this does make sense, but it didn’t look like there were many places for Bridgewater to go with the ball underneath when Las Vegas answered the call with extra rushers. Without clean dump offs, Bridgewater was left hanging in the pocket or scrambling to try to make something happen.

Vic Fangio looked like he wasn’t ready for Greg Olson in the first.

Due to Jon Gruden’s resignation, the Raiders came into this game with a new play caller. The last time Greg Olson called plays was his final season with the Jacksonville Jaguars five years ago. Blake Bortles was his quarterback. The lack of a résumé meant the Broncos defense went into today with five games of tendencies for Olson to plan for while Fangio didn’t. It showed early and often when Las Vegas was able to create mismatches and exploit them for chunk plays all game.

It started with the Raiders opening drive. I’ll need the all-22 to get a better feel for what happened in coverage, but it looked like the Broncos were trying to disguise the shell, which ultimately left Justin Simmons out of position to help on Henry Ruggs.

The Las Vegas score marked the third time this season that Fangio’s defense allowed an opening drive touchdown. Both the Jaguars and Steelers also found a way to dial up a long pass on the Denver pass defense.

Following the Broncos touchdown, the Raiders took the ball over with a tick under 6:50 left in the first quarter. After a couple short throws wrapped around a Josh Jacobs run, they found themselves with a first and 10 at their own 36.

The Broncos come out in what looks like a cover 4 shell and the Raiders take advantage by bringing Henry Ruggs in motion to create a 3X1 that draws Justin Simmons out over the trips. On the snap, Carr fakes the handoff to Jacobs and throws a crosser to Hunter Renfrow in the vacated space behind the linebackers.

The chunk play helped Vegas get into scoring range and they capitalized with a field goal.

Following the Broncos’ mistake-filled, 2-minute drill, the Raiders got the ball back with a minute on the clock in the first half. They only needed 31 seconds to score a touchdown. Carr found Darren Waller for 33 yards to set Vegas up at the Broncos 36. On 1st and 10, the Raiders came out in a 3X1 bunch set to the right and the isolated receiver split out in the slot to the left. The lone receiver ran a post while Kenyan Drake ran an out and up from the backfield, which left him alone on Alexander Johnson.

Easy pitch and catch.

Fangio’s game management was brutal.

Before the game truly fell out of reach, the Broncos had a chance to make it competitive. On their second drive of the second half, Bridgewater found Noah Fant on 3rd and seven and the 2019 first round pick couldn’t find a way to keep his foot inbounds. Fangio challenged the play call, which cost Denver a timeout. On fourth down, Brandon McManus kicked a field goal and cut the deficit to 10-21.

Following Teddy Bridgewater’s lost fumble, the Raiders offense took over at the Broncos 42. After a couple of miscues Derek Carr dropped back and threw it up for Henry Ruggs, who came down with the ball against Ronald Darby. I have to assume Fangio challenged the catch because the receiver bobbled the catch on his way to the ground, but if Denver employs someone to advise the coach on replays, I don’t know what they told him. It was ruled a catch on the field and there is no universe where the call would be overturned.

After the review, the Broncos were down to one timeout and lost their ability to challenge any call. The Raiders went on to score a touchdown two plays later, so the challenges may get lost in the wash of yet another debacle. But as someone who has defended Fangio’s acumen as a defensive coordinator, it was a frustrating half. As someone who believed Fangio deserved a fair shot to prove he was capable of being the right head coach for the Broncos, it was extremely disheartening. In a game where Denver was down big and every timeout and call would matter, Fangio burned two of each before the fourth quarter.

On to Cleveland

As bad as things got for the Broncos today, they’ll have to turn around quickly to prepare for a trip to Cleveland. After injuries to Baron Browning and Alexander Johnson, it looks like there’s a decent chance Justin Strnad and Micah Kiser will be asked to shore up the second level against Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy offense. After Thursday Night Football, the Broncos will have a mini-bye before their matchup with the 2-4 Washington Football team. If Fangio wants to maintain any semblance of hope at a dark horse playoff bid, both are must-win games.

What happens across the remaining 11 games probably comes down to how the Broncos look in those two contests. At 3-3, the season has officially reached a crossroads before the trade deadline on November 2nd. If Denver collapses to 3-5 to close October, George Paton could have a fire sale. With a new general manager in place and what looks like a lame duck coaching staff, it could make sense to begin tearing down a depth chart that’s heavy on expiring contracts. Draft capital could be appealing to whoever owns the Broncos in 2022.

For all the ugly in today’s fiasco, there were bright spots. Von Miller was a force in run defense and I look forward to seeing how he played a role in freeing up others. Melvin Gordon was a steady contributor on his carries and a reliable outlet receiver when called upon. Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick both made gutsy catches, and Sutton’s touchdown flashed the deceptive quickness he has in his 6’4 frame. It seems like a small consolation when the game was rough from start to finish, but if I can offer any advice, it’d be to try to enjoy the veteran contributors while they’re still wearing orange and blue.