Well, that sucked. Yet again.
Last week’s 3 keys to victory were on point: Contain Derrick Henry, avoid narcolepsy on offense, and get an early lead. The Denver Broncos even managed to more or less accomplish 2 of the 3. But apparently I had the order wrong, because the (extremely) narcoleptic offense ruined the opportunity to right the ship.
Now the Broncos welcome their division rival Las Vegas Raiders to town, in a showdown of arguably the two most woebegone-yet-still-employed head coaches in the NFL. Whether both are still employed after the game... well, based on this week’s rumors that the Raiders literally can’t afford to fire Josh McDaniels, that may well hinge on whether or not the Broncos win.
If there’s been a silver lining to the first half of this season, it’s been looking down at the silver & black in 4th place in the AFC West. Yes, 1 of their 2 wins came against the Broncos. But 4th place is 4th place, and if there’s anything more fun as a Broncos fan than seeing the Raiders in misery, it’s seeing both the Raiders and Josh McDaniels in misery.
Let’s take a look at what the Broncos need to do to come out of this weekend with the less miserable of these two sorry seasons.
#1: Play Offense
We might need to try for more games in Europe, because so far that tilt against the Jacksonville Jaguars is the only time we’ve seen this team put up even two consecutive quarters of good offensive football. It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, right? And everything else has proven to be weird, so...
If it weren’t for a single play where rookie WR Jalen Virgil was wider than wide open for the long TD, this Broncos offense would have generated a measly 3 points against the Titans. That’s practically non-existent offense, so this week I’d like them to actually, y’know, play offensive football. Granted, the Titans at least have a respectable defense and the Raiders very much do not. Normally that would be the kind of difference we’d be salivating to see our team take advantage of. Unfortunately, so far they’ve looked pretty much equally inept against most of the defenses they’ve faced.
But we should expect to see the team play with some passion this week. It’s a home game against a division rival after all. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s probably the best shot we have at avoiding being completely swept in the division this season.
If they can’t do even that much at home against this putrid, injured, dysfunctional Raiders squad... honestly, someone needs to be fired. There may be no tangible benefit from firing Hackett now vs later in such a screwed up season, but there is at least demonstrable accountability in the act. And, really, it’s not like it could make our offense any worse.
#2: Lock down the top 2 weapons.
This Raiders offense is beaten up. Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller landed on IR recently, leaving an offense that has just a shade more depth than a puddle outside of Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs. So the formula here should be pretty simple: Surtain on Adams, maybe with some safety help to make sure Carr can’t even consider desperation targets, and lock down Jacobs like they did Derrick Henry.
Accomplish those two things, and then it’s mainly a matter of not letting Mack Hollins or Foster Moreau get lost in the shuffle of bodies. If we can get some pass rush back on the field to pressure Carr, and get a strong showing out of Damarri Mathis, there’s no reason that this defense can’t throttle the Raiders’ offense. It just comes down to execution and energy. If the offense sucks and the Raiders eventually start moving and scoring late in the game, it’s not the guys on the field who will be primarily to blame.
#3: Stop hurting ourselves.
The Broncos are averaging just over 8.67 penalties per game this season, with 78 total. For perspective, last year under Vic Fangio the Broncos had 83 penalties for the entire 17 game season. We still have 8 games left to play, and it’s entirely possible that we will double our number of penalties accepted from one year to the next.
It’s clear at this point that this coaching staff can’t instill the discipline necessary to avoid penalties. Moreover, we saw abundant proof last week that Nathaniel Hackett wouldn’t even use the benefit of the team’s Bye to make any kind of significant changes to a formula that’s been thoroughly proven to be deeply flawed. So I’m hoping the veterans will step in and mentor the young guys, and the players themselves will hold each other accountable for avoiding penalties. Because that’s about the only solution I can see happening at this point.
Honorable Mention: A miracle for the big men.
The Broncos’ offensive line is a wreck right now. Dalton Risner and Quinn Meinerz are the only original starters remaining, with backups and even 3rd stringers seeing starts and considerable playing time at center and both tackle spots. This is a unit that’s going to need valiant efforts to avoid penalties, sacks, and blown up runs. And if they can’t put such an effort together effectively, no other part of this offense is going to work without far better QB play than we’ve gotten so far.