Broncos Not Ready For Primetime
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And apparently the Denver Broncos won’t be rebuilt in one offseason.
Playing before a national audience on Monday Night Football in the newly-named stadium that has incomprehensibly been painted in red – Kansas City Chiefs red nonetheless – the Broncos found themselves seeing nothing but red.
And black, as in Oakland Raiders black.
And yellow, as in penalty flag yellow.
In what cannot be described as anything other than a sickening display of football, Denver dropped their opening game to Oakland 23-20 (and it was not that close), committing ten penalties along the way to gift the Raiders 91 yards.
The Broncos’ new leadership apparatus led by John Elway and new coaching staff led by John Fox promised a team that would be balanced offensively.
51 pass plays to only 13 run plays on Monday night had to leave Denver fans wondering if Josh McDaniels was still calling plays. Denver gained more yards from Oakland penalties in the first half (55) than they had rushing yards the entire game (38).
After their first three running plays garnered a net total of negative four yards, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy seemed to abandon the run.
Fox said his team did not abandon the run and added, “We could have stayed true to the 1.5 yards a carry, we elected not to.” Fox said that Oakland made a concerted effort to stop the run, stacking the box and forcing Kyle Orton to carry the offense.
Oakland’s strategy worked.
On eight first half rushing plays the Broncos accumulated only 17 yards, 13 of which came on a Kyle Orton scramble. Denver did not score an offensive touchdown until their final possession of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Down 13-3 late in the first half the Broncos had a chance to get back into the game but a bad read by Orton on a pass to Brandon Lloyd resulted in an Oakland interception and killed whatever offensive rhythm Denver had begun to generate.
To add insult to injury, after the pick Raiders’ kicker Sebastian Janikowski made good on a 63-yard field goal to join Tom Dempsey and former-Bronco Jason Elam in the record books with the longest field goal in NFL history. Oakland led 16-3 at halftime.
Orton made another costly mistake in the early fourth quarter – fumbling away a scoring opportunity and ceding whatever momentum the Broncos had gained following a 90-yard punt return touchdown from Eric Decker.
Conceivably, Denver could have tied the game at 16 with a field goal – or taken the lead with a touchdown – but once again Orton made a costly mistake at the worst possible time by fumbling the ball at the Oakland 24.
"I just feel sick about the ball slipping out of my hands like that," said Orton after the game.
Asked about his quarterback’s performance, Fox said, “All in all it was probably like all of us, not quite good enough.”
The over 74,000 fans who packed Mile High agreed with Fox’s assessment that Orton was “not quite good enough” as chants for Tim Tebow began in earnest midway through the fourth quarter.
Denver’s run defense was almost as bad as their run offense.
Oakland accumulated 190 rushing yards, got ten of their 20 first downs via the ground game and controlled the ball for 32:35. The Denver defense tallied only one sack (courtesy of Jason Hunter) and were able to force only one turnover.
The so-called “negative plays” that, in the preseason, were said to be staples of the Broncos’ new-look defense – sacks, tackles for loss and takeaways – were non-existent on Monday night. Denver was able to hit Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell just once (the Hunter sack), notch only four other tackles for loss, defense one pass and recover only one fumble.
Rookie outside linebacker Von Miller forced the Oakland fumble when he jarred the ball loose from wide receiver Jacoby Ford at the 10:50 mark in the first quarter. After that, Miller was a non-factor in the game.
Miller’s forced fumble was one more big play than Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil turned in on the night. Dumervil, who strained his left shoulder in Friday’s practice, felt well enough to play Monday night but obviously not well enough to play effectively. Dumervil split time with Hunter, entering the game sparsely and only on passing downs.
Raiders running back Darren McFadden, the bane of the Denver defense in both contests last season, tormented the Broncos again as he piled up 150 yards on 22 carries.
If Denver cannot find a way to balance itself out offensively and make some big plays on defense, 2011 will be a repeat of 2010. Orton cannot carry a Denver team as deficient in as many areas as they appeared against Oakland.
It was only week one but if the Broncos are not able to improve and improve significantly on Monday night’s performance, they could find themselves getting Luck-y next April.
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