The Denver Broncos came out as the favorites, at home against a “weak” opponent in the Oakland Raiders. Even though they had all the victories on paper, Josh McDaniels’ boys found themselves in a good ol’ fashioned AFC West battle.
Denver was 8-5 entering the game, atop the muddled AFC Wild Card slugfest that has emerged, and basically needed two wins to secure a playoff spot in McDaniels’ first year.
They had already won more games than most thought they would, and any that predicted they would be in this position is further than fanatic.
And while McDaniels and Co. might have seen this game as a walk-through against an inferior opponent, as the Raiders stood at only 4-9, they forgot to look at the deeper implications of the contest at hand.
The Broncos/Raiders rivalry is alive and well, one of the best in professional football (even though many Oakland maniacs argue the contrary) and part of what makes it so great was witnessed on the field of New Mile High Stadium Sunday.
For one team, it was a must win that would further cement their playoff hopes, for the other, a chance to play the spoiler. The Raiders haven’t put up much fight all season, but in Denver, they went all-out every play and completely embarrassed the Broncos.
Sure, Denver had all the momentum early in the game, but they couldn’t convert drives into touchdowns—and the Broncos overall offensive woes Sunday were due to McDaniels’ McBlunders.
Denver’s first drive started rather successfully, as the play-calling was balanced until McDaniels got much too conservative and started over thinking the game.
On first-and-10 from the Oakland 13, LaMont Jordan ran the ball up the gut for a fast six yards, but the next play was McDaniels’ first big mistake of the game. He told the offense to hurry up and quickly get to the line—all to run a QB sneak for a measly one yard. On third-and-three from the six yard line, McDaniels chose not to even attempt to attack the end zone and instead ran Knowshon Moreno ineffectively for one yard again.
End result, another failed attempt at getting into the end zone. The Broncos went up by three, but it should have been seven.
On their second drive, Denver had the ball in favorable position again, but McDaniels out-coached himself and his team, again.
A 24-yard pass from Kyle Orton to Brandon Marshall started the drive, and Moreno gained five yards on the next.
Then the McGenius made himself look like a McMoron.
On second-and-five from Oakland’s 12 yard line, McDaniels called in his trickiest of trick plays—a screen to the most valuable player on the offense, tackle Ryan Clady. Sure, Clady caught the ball, but was immediately blown up, hit hard in the knees by corner Nnamdi Asomugha and lost three yards. Plus Marshall forgot to line up off the line and Clady illegally touched the ball.
Besides that, Clady could have been seriously injured and losing him would mean losing the Broncos anchor on the O-line.
Later in the drive, McDaniels called a screen to Eddie Royal on third-and-15 instead of giving the team a chance to pick up a first down and continue an important drive. Again the Broncos had to kick a field goal. Again their offense was sabotaged by the preposterous play-calling of McDaniels.
The Raiders then scored 13 straight points and took all the momentum into halftime.
Denver rallied to score 13 straight of their own, but their last field goal needed to be a touchdown instead. Brandon Stokley caught a short pass and turned it up field for 63 yards. And even when Denver had the ball with a first-and-goal at the two yard line, they couldn’t hit pay dirt.
Multiple Broncos’ players have been vocal about the scoring slump including Daniel Graham and Brandon Marshall. Marshall told the Denver Post, “It’s been hurting us all year. Our offense, we’ve just been mediocre, if that.” Graham said, “You never want to settle for field goals. They did a good job of stopping us and getting us out of the end zone. We have to do better. We have to get seven.”
In all, Denver is only 20th in the league in scoring and could only manage to put up 19 points against a team that allows 23.9 per. If they can’t score against that poor a defense, what makes the Broncos think they can put up enough points against the greats of the AFC in the playoffs?
Just to get to the playoffs, the Broncos likely have to win their last two games, at Philadelphia (10-4) and home against the Chiefs (3-11), a dubious but not impossible task. From here on out every game is a must-win for Denver and it could act as a great learning experience for the young head coach.
While McDaniels’ offense has been hyped as one of the most proficient and complex ever, he must learn to simplify now or Denver will be sitting home early, missing the playoffs.