Monday night’s 24-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders on the road was a tough game to watch for Denver Broncos fans, mainly due to the lack of improvement along the offensive line, but especially due to the lackluster defensive performance in Vic Fangio’s debut as head coach.
“It’s a feeling that I don’t like, especially it being the first game of the year. You don’t want to start out like that,” Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders said late Monday night. “But, you know, you’ve got to stay positive.”
That was hard to do for many in the media, since everything needs to be so reactionary seconds after each game ends. Shortly after the loss to the Raiders, Denver Post columnist Mark Kizla penned a column destroying the Broncos for the loss, imploring John Elway and the rest of the Broncos to tank, all due to a 8-point loss on the road … in Week 1.
Talk about a hot take.
Things were a mess right away for Denver as Oakland marched down the field on the first drive for an easy touchdown before Denver went 3-and-out on its first offensive drive. The Broncos looked unprepared and overwhelmed quickly. Von Miller, who averages roughly 0.75 sacks per game over his career, was asked to drop into coverage on 40 percent of pass plays by the Raiders. That number was a 35.5 percent increase from last season, when he dropped just 4.5 percent of the time. What exactly was going on?
Denver’s defense that was tough as nails just a few years ago, bent often Monday night and ultimately broke three times as the Raiders went on touchdown drives of 72, 90 and 60 yards. Oakland went right after Isaac Yiadom time and time … and time again. Derek Carr looked like Tom Brady. Think about that for a moment.
The defense never really adjusted, at least in terms of pass coverage as Yiadom was never given much help. Denver also had a tough time consistently stopping rookie running back Josh Jacobs.
Concern was high for the defense following the game, but I saw a lot of fans and media members lamenting the Broncos’ offense. Aside from the first drive, I really didn’t have a ton of issues with Denver’s offensive performance, especially after rewatching the game twice over.
While Joe Flacco didn’t lead the Broncos on a touchdown drive until the game had 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Flacco looked calm, cool and confident directing the young Broncos’ attack. He was decisive with the football, didn’t turn it over, and had quite a bit of zip to some of his throws.
He was no Patrick Mahomes, or even Carr on the night, but Flacco was pretty darn good and really established a good rapport with Courtland Sutton, who appears poised for a breakout season.
The only major concerns with the offense was the protection up front, and the lack of a consistent running game. Dalton Risner was impressive in his NFL debut, but Garrett Boles continued his struggles, Ronald Leary continued his ways committing infractions, and free agent signee Ju’Wan James went down with a knee injury that could keep him out awhile.
Kizla wants the Broncos to start a tank immediately, ideally for Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Making such proclamations after Week 1 is foolish, especially when hopes for the 2019 version of the Broncos were relatively high coming into the season.
The defense won’t be as porous as it was in Week 1 against the Raiders, and Flacco and the offense won’t struggle to get into the end zone until the final two minutes every week (DaeSean Hamilton won’t drop a touchdown every week either).
Monday’s loss was undoubtedly frustrating for fans and tough to watch, but there’s still hope for the 2019 Broncos and still way too much time to make any sort of concrete decision on what this year’s team should — or will — do from a wins and losses perspective.
Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent. To reach Josh, email him at [email protected].