BRONCOS

The Broncos’ loss in Vegas felt like the Fangio era — except for one thing

Oct 2, 2022, 9:48 PM
Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — The worst part of Sunday’s 32-23 loss to the Raiders was the familiarity of it.

But amidst the wreckage was the one reason why this can all be different for the Broncos

First, the stuff we’ve seen before:

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JOSH JACOBS TRAMPLING THE BRONCOS

The Broncos are Jacobs’ get-right opponent. He has nine games with at least 2 touchdowns; four are against the Broncos. He didn’t have a 100-yard game or a single touchdown this season coming into Sunday; he left with a career-high rushing total — 144 yards — and his first two scores of the season.

Some of it was on Jacobs, who once again ran through some defenders and made others miss entirely. But the Raiders also schemed to help him flourish, frequently spreading out the Broncos defense pre-snap and then calling draws to Jacobs, who gashed the Broncos time and again.

“I thought they had a good plan,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “They didn’t want to get into long down amd distance for passing situations where we could rush the passer, and they tried to slow the whole pace down.

“So, I thought it was a really good plan by them.”

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THE MISCUES ON REPEAT

First, the drops: Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone and Jerry Jeudy each saw passes bounce off of their fingertips.

Drops were a problem last week, too. In fact, according to the data by Pro Football Focus, no QB had more passes dropped in Weeks 1-3 than Russell Wilson. That may remain the case after Sunday’s trio of drops.

“We just got to see where that ball placement was, why those things happen because that obviously goes with the quarterback-to-wide receiver connection,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “We can’t have drops; that’s always an issue. You can’t put the ball on the ground.”

And yet the Broncos do … way too often.

Another familiar refrain was penalties. Left tackle Garett Bolles drew two holding infractions Sunday; he now has three in the last two games. Bolles now has four holding calls in the last five games after having nine in his previous 29.

Denver had a fairly average day in terms of infractions — 7 penalties for 50 yards — but Bolles’ spate of penalties will be cause for concern.

***

AND FINALLY …

Gordon’s fumble — his third in two games, his fifth in his last five games, and the third lost fumble taken to the house in the Broncos’ last 12 outings.

It is not hyperbole to say it was the difference in the game. Gordon fumbled at the Las Vegas 34-yard line. It would have been second-and-3 if he had ended the play with the football in his hand. Three more yards, and Brandon McManus is nearly automatic. That’s 3 points.

Instead, Las Vegas had 6 as Amik Robertson dashed through the Broncos for the Raiders’ first defensive touchdown in three years.

That’s a 9-point swing in a game Denver lost by … 9 points.

There is no denying the work Gordon puts in on the practice field to try and remedy this. One would have to possess neither heart nor soul to not empathize with him.

But at the same time, when your giveaway rate spikes, you will eventually lose your grasp on the job. Drew Lock led the NFL in interceptions in 2020; four months later, he found himself in a QB competition.

Even before Javonte Williams’ knee injury, Hackett used Mike Boone more than Gordon. But Gordon remains the superior back in pass protection. And his work near the goal line remains notable.

The Broncos need Gordon to fix this fumbling trend — fast.

“In the end, you can’t put the ball on the ground,” Hackett said. “It’s that simple. We always say take care of the ball, it’s the most important thing. It’s not like he’s trying to do it, we understand that.

“But we just have to be even better with our ball security across the board. The other guys did a good job, and Melvin had that one.”

***

SO, WHAT’S DIFFERENT?

The Broncos changed coaches, coordinators, schemes and a quarterback in the offseason. In the results, not much has changed.

The Broncos were a .500 team when Teddy Bridgewater started last year. They’re a .500 team now.

But on Sunday, they still had a chance.

Russell Wilson gave them that.

Wilson passed the Broncos out of first-and-25, hitting Courtland Sutton for 18 yards and KJ Hamler for a 55-yard strike on a post route. He then finished the job himself with a 3-yard scramble for a touchdown.

He’s led the Broncos on fourth-quarter touchdown drives in each of the last three games. In the first two, he put them in front; Sunday, he got them within two points before Jacobs and the Raiders gashed a fatigued Broncos defense.

When the ground game stalled, the only thing working was Wilson. He led Denver in rushing, too — 29 yards on 4 scrambles, including the score.

The Broncos might have wanted their offense to look a certain way. A balanced way. But with Williams potentially out for a while and Gordon’s fumble proclivity not ebbing, they might have to abandon their kitchen plan in favor of three simple words:

Let Russ Cook.

Because when he does, he gives the Broncos hope.

And that will be the difference in the long haul, despite so much feeling the same after four games.

***

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The Broncos’ loss in Vegas felt like the Fangio era — except for one thing