3 Up, 3 Down: Sutton bounces back, Joseph flops in Monday night finale

Dec 24, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) catches a pass against Oakland Raiders cornerback Nick Nelson (23) in the first half at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On a night where Santa Claus delivers all over the world, the Broncos, as a whole, did not.

The offense looked entirely inept when it came to moving the ball on a Raiders’ defense that consistently has ranked among the worst in the league over the course of this season.

The defense was unable to stop the Raiders’ attack, which lacks weapons and a line to protect star quarterback Derek Carr. Though, if this was the first Raiders’ game you had watched, you wouldn’t think that was the case. The line kept the dynamic duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb at bay, not allowing even a quarterback hit to either.

The special teams topped it all by having one of the worst outings in recent memory.

That being said, it wasn’t all bad.

Three up:

1. Out of all the Broncos to play on Monday night, none saw their stock improve quite as much as rookie receiver Courtland Sutton.

Following two poor performances since Emmanuel Sanders left the lineup with a torn Achilles tendon, Sutton’s stock had reached its low point of the season. The Broncos were at their most desperate, yet most of the weight fell on the shoulders of DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick. 

Sutton made his triumphant return to the spotlight by making the critical plays for the Broncos, when they needed it most, from the very beginning. On the very first Broncos drive, Sutton fought off a Raiders defender to move the sticks on Denver’s first third-down attempt of the game.

Just two possessions later, Sutton made another great effort play on a short reception to set up a fourth-and-short. One the Broncos would’ve gone for had it not been for a delay-of-game penalty before the snap. Sutton also managed to make a huge catch at the end of the first half, giving the Broncos the chance for a field goal to end the half. Sutton put the cherry on top by finding an awkward Case Keenum floater in the back of the end zone for the Broncos’ second score of the game.

If Sutton can find more consistency in year two, Denver’s receiver core could make a quick leap from one of the more shallow position groups on the team to one of the deepest.

2. Sutton wasn’t all alone on the perimeter. Tim Patrick had another solid performance (three receptions for 44 yards), and DaeSean Hamilton continued to flash his potential as the slot receiver of the future.

Hamilton caught Keenum’s first touchdown of the game, and tied Sutton for the team lead in receptions with six for 40 yards, along with the score.

Despite his struggles with blocking for the running game, Hamilton has shown an ability to run excellent, crisp routes, with a pair of some of the most reliable hands on the Broncos.

Hamilton is just another young Bronco, along with, Phillip Lindsay, Patrick, Sutton, Matt LaCosse, and Shelby Harris to play well above their preseason expectations.

3. Add Adam Gotsis to the list of young Broncos to have made the leap from rotational piece to impact player this season.

Last week, Gotsis had one of the best of games of his young career against the Browns. He both led the team in tackles with five, and forced the second fumble of his career. The Aussie followed up his career game with another excellent outing. Although it didn’t stuff the stat sheets quite like his showing against the Browns did, Gotsis was one of the most valuable players on the Broncos defense Monday night. He filled holes across the offensive line, got his hand up at the line for a nice deflection, and recorded Denver’s lone sack of the game.

Three down

1. Nothing cost the Broncos on Monday night quite as much as their embarrassing special teams play.

The game took on an ominous tone early on in the game, when Oakland transformed what would have been an excellent special-teams play by the Broncos to down the Raiders inside their own one-yard-line, to a horrendous one. Rookie cornerback Isaac Yiadom didn’t fully secure the ball, allowing Oakland return man Dwyane Harris to scoop the ball up on his way to a 99-yard punt-return touchdown.

Though things never got uglier than that on special teams, continued gaffes by Denver put themselves in a hole.

There was returner River Cracraft passing on a punt that took an odd bounce, pinning the Broncos back 15 yards deeper than if he would have taken the fair catch. There was the holding on the kickoff following Oakland’s second score, pinning the Broncos back at their own 12. The rare kick from Brandon McManus that was right down-the-middle, but didn’t have enough leg. When was the last time you saw that from McManus? Before finally finishing it off with a questionable pooch kick which — paired with poor coverage — led to the Raiders getting the ball on their own 40, up 10, with time running out.

2. Not only was the special-teams play embarrassing, but the team as a whole didn’t deliver. The play was very reminiscent of the Broncos’ previous trip to the Bay, when they played the 49ers. For much of the first half, the team looked lackadaisical and as if they had forgotten they were playing this week after being eliminated from playoff contention.

Then, there were the poor coaching decisions which, similarly to the special-teams gaffes, were numerous. On fourth-and-short, the Broncos chose to run an option-pitch play in an effort to convert the first down which, had it not been for Phillip Lindsay and a very lucky bounce, would have been disastrous.

Another poor handling of a fourth-and-short situation came on Denver’s third possession. With the ball at midfield, facing a fourth-and-one, Vance Joseph opted to go for it, yet neither Keenum nor Joseph seemed to be paying attention to the play clock, taking a delay of game and killing the drive rather than burning a first-half timeout. Denver would finish the first half with one of their timeouts unused.

3. Denver’s offense has struggled mightily for much of the season, but Monday night may have just been its worst game yet.

They were only able to score seven points before the Raiders put the game in garbage time. This is against the Raiders’ defense, which easily finds itself among the league’s very worst. According to Football Outsiders’ metrics, the Raiders entered Monday’s game with the third-worst defense in the entire league.

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