3 up 3 down: Same old, same old for Broncos under new regime

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Sep 9, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After waiting the longest to get the 2019 season underway, perhaps the Broncos should have waited a little longer.

For the entire game, it felt like the uniforms of the two teams should be swapped.

The Raiders’ defense shut down the Broncos. Their pass rush put Joe Flacco under constant duress, while their secondary took Denver’s weapons away. Meanwhile, the Raiders offense drove the ball effortlessly against the Broncos, as Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were reduced to non-factors.

Here are the three players that showed up for the Broncos Monday in Oakland, and three that were especially dreadful.

3 Up

Courtland Sutton

On a night when the rest of the Broncos’ offense was completely anemic, Courtland Sutton was one bright spot.

For much of the game, Sutton outplayed Sanders and looked ready to take over the No. 1 receiver job sooner rather than later. He got things started with a huge reception on a crossing route from Flacco that was reminiscent of Demaryius Thomas’ game-winning overtime touchdown in the playoffs. Later on the same drive, Sutton made a huge contested catch right in the middle of three Raiders.

Flacco found Sutton again for a couple more big plays in the middle of the field late in the fourth quarter to get him over 100 yards on the day and set up Emmanuel Sanders’ touchdown. Both catches came on the same in-breaking route that Sutton had burned the Raiders on earlier.

Joe Flacco

The Broncos had plenty of problems in Oakland, but for the first time in a long time, quarterback wasn’t among them.

Flacco did an excellent job of protecting the football and looked better than he has in years, finishing with 21-for-31 for 268 yards and a garbage-time touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders.

Maybe John Elway wasn’t so crazy when he suggested that Joe Flacco could just be entering his prime. It’s possible the Ravens’ bottom-of-the-league quality skill position talent is to blame for Flacco’s recent struggles.

That being said, even despite how good Flacco looked, the Broncos shouldn’t lean on him to throw the ball 30-plus times on a consistent basis. Their formula for winning is simple and it reared its head in the second half of Monday night’s matchup. Run, run, run the football, hit the defense with a boot or play action, then run it some more.

Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay looked strong and should continue to be the focal point of this offense. Speaking of…

Royce Freeman

The last positive to be taken away from the Broncos’ depressingly poor effort Monday, was the unveiling of their two-headed monster in the backfield.

Although they were barely utilized until the second half, the duo still went for almost five yards per carry and 100 yards rushing, but Royce Freeman was the better-performer out of the two.

On ten carries, Freeman gained 56 yards, including a 26-yard run that was Denver’s longest ground play of the night. The former Oregon Duck looked a lot more like the compact power-runner that John Elway drafted in third round than he did a season ago.

If the Broncos offense learns from its mistakes against the Raiders and continues to play similarly to how they did in the second half, both Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay could go over 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season for sure.

3 Down

Isaac Yiadom

Yiadom was the worst player on the field for either team Monday night.

He looked completely lost filling in for the injured Bryce Callahan and Jon Gruden made sure to pick on him early and often.

All three of training-camp-phenom Darren Waller’s first three receptions came against the overmatched Yiadom to the tune of 44 yards. He was also targeted on seven of Derek Carr’s first 14 attempts, all of which were completions. Worst of all though, was when Tyrell Williams passed by Isaac Yiadom like a ghost through a wall for a 43-yard bomb on third-and-one.

Yiadom wasn’t the only one to blame on the backend though. The rest of the Broncos’ secondary was miserable as well.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr didn’t throw his second incompletion of the game until there were under four minutes left in the third quarter, as he opened the game 16-for-17, picking up 178 yards and a score.

Maybe it was just the absence of Bryce Callahan mixed with a completion-focused Jon Gruden, but the Broncos secondary looked like it took a step in the wrong direction despite its offseason additions.

Coaching Staff

With Vance Joseph, Bill Musgrave and Joe Woods out of the building, and Vic Fangio, Rich Scangarello and Ed Donatell put in their place, the coaching staff was supposed to be much better.

Instead, it looked like more of the same against the Raiders.

The defense had no answers for Derek Carr, allowing him to go 22-of-26 for 256 yards and one score. Darren Waller was another problem the Broncos had no solution for. Gruden kept lining him up one-on-one against Yiadom and it took the Broncos far too long to adjust, even when it was clear Yiadom didn’t stand a puncher’s chance against the behemoth tight end.

On offense, the play-calling was peculiar, especially in the first half. The Broncos opened the game with a handoff to Noah Fant and proceeded to rush for just four yards through the first 27 minutes of game time.

That can’t happen to a team whose foundational identity should be running the ball and the clock to shorten the game.

Trenches

It’s too hard to pick between whether it was the defensive line or offensive line that saw their stock tank the most Monday night, so they both land on this list.

The Denver pass-rush, forecasted to be the best in the league, rarely pressured Derek Carr and was unable to record even a single sack. Star pass-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb did combine for six tackles, but against this offensive line, they should’ve had the quarterback running for his life consistently.

It’s nearly impossible to stop any offense, including the Raiders sans Antonio Brown, when your secondary couldn’t cover a twin bed with a king-sized sheet and the pocket is kept more pristine than a high-altitude lake.

On offense, the Broncos’ line didn’t look improved at all, despite the addition of Mike Munchak to the coaching staff.

The Denver line allowed Flacco to be sacked three times by a defensive unit that managed to collect a mere 13 sacks over the course of the 2018 season. Raiders’ journeymen like Josh Mauro and Benson Mayowa looked like All-Pros against the Broncos, terrorizing their backs and swarming Flacco on a regular basis.

To make matters worse, Ja’Wuan James suffered a knee injury and the Broncos have to face Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense next week. Yikes.

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