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3 Critical Takeaways from Broncos' 34-24 Loss to Raiders in Week 6

The wheels have come off the Broncos' bus.

All the makings for a hearty matchup between two of the NFL's most bitter rivals was revealed in front of an electrified stadium at Empower Field on Sunday. The Denver Broncos hosted the Jon Gruden-less Las Vegas Raiders — a team reeling in the wake of its head coach resigning in disgrace in the week leading up to the game. 

Both teams sat at 3-2 on the season. It was a must-win game for Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and his team. Mike Shanahan — the winningest head coach in franchise history — was inducted into the Broncos' Ring of Fame at halftime alongside former safety Steve Atwater who received his Hall-of-Fame ring in front of the Mile High Faithful — adding more pressure on Fangio to deliver a win. 

The Broncos traded blows with the Raiders before the road team took a two-touchdown lead late in the third quarter. By then, all the pressure had taken its toll on a Broncos team that continues to hemorrhage and lose games. 

The Raiders won handily 34-24, handing the Broncos their third straight loss. What started out as a hyped-up crowd finished the day lethargic, frustrated, and sadly accustomed to the outcome of what’s now a .500 football club.

There were a few positives and lots of negatives from the Broncos' embarrassings loss at the hands of the Raiders. What did we learn? 

Here are three critical takeaways. 

A New Rock Bottom 

Is it any wonder why the Broncos only have one primetime game this year, which comes against the Cleveland Browns later this week on Thursday Night Football? Denver's fall from Super Bowl grace and the ‘Bowlen way’ hit a new low after losing to the distracted, malfunctioning Raiders team on a weekend that honored two all-time Broncos who embodied passion and competition. 

Instead of delivering a win against Shanahan's hated Raiders, we saw Fangio’s defense give up a season-high 34 points in an abysmal loss. I wish I could say I’m surprised.

Did Denver trade Fangio’s winless September record for this disastrous month of October? Paton has his work cut out for him. 

While the world waits and wonders how the Broncos’ ownership transition or sale will occur, the players are seemingly quitting on Fangio. Body language can speak volumes and these players evidently aren't buying what Vic is selling, if he’s trying to sell anything at all. 

The Broncos were stale, stagnant, boring, flat — take your pick. No, garbage time points don’t factor into the standings, nor does the try-hard mentality. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes recently described losing as the worst thing in the world, and that nothing could feel worse. 

Can the Broncos say the same? While I certainly don’t think the Broncos enjoy losing and being criticized, I’m struggling to find any semblance of fight or pride. The ‘winning is contagious’ mantra was celebrated for the first three weeks of the season, but since then, a trio of consecutive losses has hammered home the reality of this team's situation. 

Until the head coach and team captains (heck, anyone in the building) hold each other accountable, it’s fair to expect to see miserable results. The wheels are falling off the wagon and it’s careening towards a damaging and painful halt. 

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Time to Give Shula a Shot at Calling Plays

The Broncos' offense is broken, ladies and gentlemen. Not in the sense that it's lacking the talent, despite sustaining significant injuries at multiple positions, but in that there isn't any spark on the offense creatively, cohesively, or individually. 

Sure, this team is better off with receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler being available but you can’t convince me that those two dynamic playmakers are the reason for this offense's flatlined pulse.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur continues to stubbornly misuse tight end Noah Fant as a run blocker. Against the Raiders, the former first-rounder from Iowa was penalized twice for holding calls on designed run-blocking assignments. 

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To make matters worse, Fant is averaging a career-low 8.8 yards per reception and is seemingly an afterthought for Shurmur, who started his NFL coaching career as a tight ends coach. Shurmur’s rushing attack is seeing carries increase, only to peter out and go three-wide.

Before things get better, they have to get worse. Before Fangio is ultimately dismissed as head coach, there will most likely be preemptive terminations. Such is the way of the NFL and while I hate to speculate about another human being’s job, the league doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings.

Special teams coordinator Tom McMahon will likely be the first scapegoat to go, but Shurmur won't be far behind. Maybe it’s time for the Broncos' coaching staff to look internally, back at the reflection in the mirror. 

Mike Shula is in his second year as the QBs coach for Denver and was asked to scout and assess prospects alongside first-year GM George Paton last spring. Mike is the son of the late Don Shula, who coached the Miami Dolphins to the NFL’s only undefeated season (17-0) in 1972 and took the franchise to three Super Bowls, winning two World Championships.

Mike played QB for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the late 1980s before deciding to follow in his father’s coaching footsteps. He began his coaching career as an assistant for the Dolphins and Chicago Bears and later worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, and New York Giants. 

In Carolina, Shula was the brainchild behind Cam Newton's MVP season in 2015 and served as Shurmur's offensive coordinator for two years in New York. 

Sometimes all a man needs is an opportunity. While I understand that Shula is loyal friends with Shurmur, if given an opportunity to run an offense with Teddy Bridgewater, I can’t help but think he would take the chance without looking back.

Callahan Auto-Matic

It wasn’t’ long ago when veteran cornerback Bryce Callahan’s reputation in Denver was synonymous with a missing person’s ad on the back of a milk carton. The former Chicago Bears defensive back was reunited with Fangio but struggled to stay healthy for his first two seasons as a Bronco, playing in 15-of-37 games. But the countless hours of rehab and painful work are paying off on the field for Callahan.

Callahan has been the most consistent shut-down defender on the team. Heading into Week 6, the seventh-year veteran had logged 10 tackles (nine solo) and four pass deflections in 213 snaps. The 5-foot-9, 188-pound Callahan has mostly played the slot cornerback role, locking down multiple receivers while also fearlessly tackling ball-carriers.

But just as all corners get ‘had’, Callahan was beaten in the fourth quarter on a 51-yard connection from Derek Carr to Bryan Edwards, which end up being a career-long for the Raiders wideout.

According to Pro Football Focus, Callahan has allowed a passer rating of 40.6 when targeted this season, which is the fourth-best in the NFL. Callahan’s 2.8 yards allowed per target also ranks top-5 among defensive backs.

As if that wasn’t conclusive enough, analysis also reveals opposing quarterbacks had a 31.3 completion percentage against Callahan which is the third-lowest in the league. In Sunday's matchup, he logged three tackles and a sack.

Callahan was also asked multiple times to cover the Raiders Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller. Why the coaches designated Callahan with that task is beyond me, as Waller towers over the Broncos' nickel corner with his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame.

Nevertheless, Callahan played with poise and continually took aim at the tree trunks that Waller boasts as legs with fundamentally sound tackles, and continued to compete. To Callhan's credit, he's been extremely impressive, playing unselfish football in his willingness to do whatever the team asks of him.


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