5 cold, hard realizations from Broncos' 24-16 loss to Raiders
On Monday night, the Denver Broncos lost their first season opener since 2011, falling to the Division-rival Oakland Raiders 24-16. It was a mostly ugly performance from the Broncos — outside of a relatively promising third quarter.
But nowhere near good enough to cut the mustard. That was sub-.500 football at every level. Scheme, execution and effort.
With the Vic Fangio hire and the addition of Joe Flacco at quarterback, optimism reigned throughout the Mile High City. Each pick in our MHH staff roundtable had the Broncos winning and the same mostly held true across both the blogosphere and local radio.
But the Broncos were completely lambasted by the Raiders, though the final score doesn't quite paint that picture. Where optimism prevailed, now Broncos Country is pessimistic and myopic.
While it's key not to overreact to Monday night's loss — the Broncos' fourth-straight loss in the Black Hole — it is time to reexamine a few offseason tropes and face some cold, hard facts.
Fangio's sideline play-calling will take some time to hone
In the 20 years as a defensive play-caller leading up to his first head-coaching gig, Fangio called his games from the booth 19 of those seasons. Only once has did he call plays from the sideline in the previous two decades before taking the Broncos job.
All summer long, he talked about why the booth is a superior vantage. It allows him to see the whole field with clarity. The sideline angle, combined with his attention now being split between play-calling and having to be present and manage the game, is a great departure from the booth.
If Monday night's trucking at the hands of the Raiders taught us anything, it's that Fangio is going to need some time to hone his play-calling system from the sideline. It can be done, though. NFL coaches on both sides of the ball call plays from the sidelines successfully.
But for Fangio, the five preseason games weren't quite enough of a play-calling dress rehearsal. His trial-and-error process is going to leak into the regular season.
If his players execute better, it would help Fangio out as he gets up to speed. But from the very drop, Jon Gruden had Fangio on his heels as a play-caller.
With no seven-time Pro Bowler to contend with, Fangio's defense allowed Oakland's only real offensive threats dominate — WR Tyrell Williams and RB Josh Jacobs, who combined for 218 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns.
The Raiders dictated on the ground and through the air, finishing with 357 total yards (98 rushing). And all that practice during camp of repping situational football didn't seem to help the Broncos in Oakland, as the Raiders finished 10-of-14 (71%) on third down and were 3-of-4 in the red zone (75%). Ouch.
Scangarello still very much a work in progress
Someone needed to tell offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello that this ain't Wagner College. Gadget plays aren't going to pay the bills.
Mulitple times on Monday night, Scangarello got too cute for his britches as a play-caller. Two situations jump out.
One, the jet-sweep to — wait for it — TE Noah Fant on the Broncos' opening possession, which was laughable. I get that Fant has 4.5 speed but he doesn't have the short-area burst to turn a corner going laterally, like, say, a Phillip Lindsay or Emmanuel Sanders does.
Two, the odd play in the red zone in the third quarter in which Scangarello called a trickeration formation with multiple offensive linemen split out wide to the left. It was a complete failure and robbed the Broncos of the momentum they'd built on what had been a dominating drive.
As a first-time NFL play-caller, hopefully Scangarello learned his lesson. Not getting Emmanuel Sanders involved in the gameplan until the fourth quarter was inexcusable.
That's simply not good enough, Coach Scangarello. The coaches' film study this week is going to be painful for the Broncos' new offensive coordinator.
However, Scangarello did show flashes when he was able to finally get into a groove, especially in the third quarter and when the Broncos had to run their two-minute offense. The running game totaled 96 yards, which wasn't bad for an NFL play-caller's debut.
Right tackle is going to persist as a problem
Just when fans thought it was safe to hope that the Broncos had solved their right tackle woes, free-agent acquisition Ja'Wuan James went down with a knee injury in the second quarter.
At first, James was listed as 'questionable' to return before being downgraded to 'out' in the second half. At the time of this writing, I do not know the extent of James' injury but the only real concern with paying him all that money was the fact that in five NFL seasons, he'd only played all 16 games in a season twice.
Get used to seeing Elijah Wilkinson on the field a lot again this year. He looked solid at times but gave up a few pressures, including a strip-sack on Joe Flacco.
Pump the brakes on the Miller/Chubb hype
Even I have to admit I might have gotten carried away imagining how big of a leap forward Von Miller and Bradley Chubb might make playing under Vic Fangio. The Broncos' pass-rushing duo were almost invisible all night long.
A lot of that had to do with the phenomenal gameplan Jon Gruden put together, which saw the Raiders too often in 2nd- and 3rd-&-short situations. That clipped the wings of Chubb and Miller.
But zero sacks? And not only that, zero QB hits on Derek Carr? No wonder the Raiders' QB only had four incompletions on the night.
The Broncos have a lot of investment in Miller and Chubb and the tandem simply has to be a lot better than they were in the season opener.
Cornerback depth is going to be an issue
Bryce Callahan was ruled out before the game started with a foot injury. The original injury came late last season as a Chicago Bear, which Callahan reaggravated on July 27 during a scrimmage at Mile High Stadium.
With no Antonio Brown to contend with, the Broncos likely thought they'd be okay to roll without their No. 2 cornerback on Monday night. Oh boy, was Denver mistaken.
Callahan likely would have been a no-go, regardless of the matchup, but his absence drew into stark contrast the problems the Broncos have with their CB depth. At least, with the depth the team chose to roll out on Monday night.
Isaac Yiadom was abused all night long in coverage. Chris Harris, Jr. was great, giving up only one meaningful reception in coverage all night long.
But Yiadom was a whipping boy for Derek Carr. The backup corners in Denver were put to the test and found wanting. With the Chicago Bears coming to town next week, here's to hoping Callahan can improve physically with that foot and the Broncos can get better CB production from either Davontae Harris or Duke Dawson — two newcomers since final roster cut-downs.