Broncos: Futures of Vance Joseph, Case Keenum in peril after Raiders loss - Sports Illustrated

Broncos Face Major Questions Throughout Franchise After Dismaying Loss to Raiders

Losing to the Raiders on Monday night continued a downward trend for Vance Joseph and Case Keenum. What is next for the Broncos?
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The Raiders claimed their first division victory of the season on Monday night, defeating the Broncos 27-14 at the Oakland Coliseum. Monday’s victory marked Oakland’s best defensive performance of the season, holding Case Keenum and the Broncos to 232 yards passing.

Here are three takeaways from the final MNF matchup of 2018.

Vance Joseph is running out of time

Reports have swirled about the fate of Denver’s head coach over the past few weeks, as general manager John Elway weighs bringing in another coach and quarterback for 2019. And Joseph hasn’t done much to help his cause in December. Monday’s loss marked the Broncos third straight, following defeats to the Browns and 49ers. The Broncos sat at 6–6 after Week 13. Now, a loss in week 17 against the Chargers would give the Broncos back-to-back 10-plus-loss seasons for the first time since 1966-67.

Joseph is 11–20 with Denver, the second-worst mark among Broncos coaches with 30-plus games under their belt. The Broncos sputtered on offense for much of 2018. They’ve gotten middling-to-poor quarterback play since their Super Bowl 50 win. Elway could opt to stick with his plans and give Joseph and Keenum another shot in 2019. But a new direction may be needed in Denver.

Keenum’s murky future

The Broncos bypassed on selecting a quarterback with the No. 5 pick in the 2018 draft, instead hitching their wagon to the former Vikings quarterback and executor of the Minnesota Miracle. The commitment wasn’t Kirk Cousins-sized, as Denver inked Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal, expiring in 2020 with a potential out after this season. Keenum didn’t have to be the Broncos quarterback forever, but Denver would need quality quarterback play through two seasons.

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Keenum hasn’t been poor in 2018, but the results have been underwhelming. Denver entered Monday night 22nd in scoring. Denver is 23rd in yards per attempt and passing yards. Only five teams have fewer passing touchdowns. The Broncos attack has been anemic, crossing the 30-point mark just once, an October blowout of the Cardinals.

Monday’s defeat continued the downward trend for Keenum. He completed a respectable 23 of his 37 passes, throwing for just 202 yards while adding two touchdowns and a pair of picks. The weapons aren’t spectacular, rookie Courtland Sutton is the top receiver on the depth chart while undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay carries the load in the backfield. Yet Keenum hasn’t showed much ability to elevate Denver’s offense above mediocrity.

Don’t expect Denver to fully cut ties with Keenum. Kevin Hogan isn’t the answer, nor was Chad Kelly, Paxton Lynch or Brock Osweiler. Keenum could be a solid bridge to a rookie if Elway is impressed with this year’s draft class. He’ll need to improve in 2019 to be the Broncos' long-term answer.

A glimpse of light in the Black Hole

It’s been largely a disaster in year one of Jon Gruden’s second go-round with the Raiders, who sit at 4–11 heading into Week 17. Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper are shining in different destinations, while Oakland’s battered offensive line has led to Derek Carr’s regression. Where the Raiders will play in 2019 is unclear. If they can compete is 2019 may be an even bigger question mark.

But even in a nightmare year, the Raiders have closed 2018 respectably. Oakland has won its last two home games, defeating the Steelers 24-21 on Dec. 9 before Monday’s victory. The most important development has been Carr’s mini-revival. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 7. He averaged 290 yards per game in the last three weeks, adding six touchdowns in the process. Doug Martin carried the load with 107 yards rushing, yet Carr avoided an interception for the 10th straight week.

Carr’s fantastic 2016—headlined by 28 touchdowns and six interceptions—led Oakland fans to believe the best has yet to come from the young quarterback. Perhaps he regained some of his early-career progress in the waning weeks of 2018.