The Denver Broncos had their playoff hopes on the line this week against their hated rival, the Las Vegas Raiders, and yet, they still came up too short.
Which Broncos had the best performances in the disappointing loss and which hurt their team the most? Let’s take a look.
It was the big headline entering the game, so it only makes sense to start with the Broncos’ third-year, oft-debated gunslinger.
In his first — and potentially only — start of the season, Drew Lock played good, clean football. He was smart with his decision-making but also was willing to take some downfield shots that Teddy Bridgewater likely wouldn’t have attempted.
The offense had more explosive plays through the air and could have had even more if not for a bevy of drops.
All-in-all though, it wasn’t terribly different from how the passing game looked under Bridgewater, just with a mild amount of extra zest. That’s not to deny the existence of that extra pop, but it wasn’t like the passing game was exceptional whatsoever. The team only generated 13 points of offense, despite winning the turnover battle three-zip, and seven of those points were purely the result of Chubb’s efforts.
They were clean and smart. Again, much like Bridgewater was before his injury against the Chargers.
Now, the fact that Lock was able to play that mature, controlled style of football certainly gives his stock a boost. It seemed like Lock just had no ability to flip that switch, but today, he proved it was possible for him. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, and the four drops make that total appear much worse than the tape did.
It was a promising start for Lock, but it certainly wasn’t remarkable either. Let’s attempt to remain measured.
The Broncos’ defense has struggled to create big plays under Vic Fangio’s watch, despite performing pretty well otherwise, but that wasn’t an issue against the Raiders this week.
Bradley Chubb is one of the Broncos’ most underrated players, and over the past couple of weeks, he has made a number of nice plays, even if the sacks continue to elude him.
Last week the Broncos were unable to finish the job and get a sack, but Chubb pressured Burrow consistently throughout the day. This week, he made an amazing play to set up Denver’s only touchdown of the game. He perfectly read the Raiders’ attempted screen and then made a hyper-athletic effort to tip the ball up to himself, which he then returned to Vegas’ one-yard line.
One could easily argue that one play was responsible for more than half of the Broncos’ scoring production.
The Broncos also recovered to Raider fumbles, thanks to Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, and Mike Purcell, but were only able to turn those takeaways into three points.
The Broncos’ seventh-string linebacker also deserves some brief praise for his pretty impressive play over the last three weeks.
He’s been all over the field and has led the team in tackles each of the past two weeks as a result, despite playing fewer snaps than Browning in both. He’s making a hard run at Young’s starting job and is making a case to start next season, or at least have a much higher role in Denver’s defense.
The Broncos will be able to bring Griffith back on a minimum contract next year, which is considerably cheaper than either Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, or Kenny Young can be retained for, and Griffith is also markedly younger and healthier than those three.
This was the worst game from the Broncos’ ground game all season.
The Raiders threw everything and the kitchen sink at stifling Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon and were successful in doing so. Gordon was held to negative-four yards on the ground and Williams was held to just twelve yards.
Lock gained more yards on his two rushing attempts than Denver’s lead backs did over the course of the entire game. That’s unacceptable for a team that desperately wants to be a run-first team with a physical identity.
The absence of starting center Lloyd Cushenberry was certainly a factor, but losing your fourth- or fifth-best offensive lineman is a poor excuse for a shipwrecked ground attack.
Denver was entirely dominated in the trenches throughout this game, as they had no ability to stop Vegas’ rushing attack as well as being unable to get their own backs started offensively.
Being unable to stop that Raider ground attack is extra embarrassing though, considering that the Raiders have the second-least efficient rushing attack according to Expected Points Added (EPA) and fifth-least efficient rushing attack according to Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).
The Raiders rushed for 160 yards on 40 attempts and just ate the clock up on offense as they wore the Broncos’ defense out.
Denver has to invest heavily in both the offensive and defensive side of their trenches this offseason.