BRONCOS

Three observations from the Broncos loss to the Raiders in Week 11

Nov 20, 2022, 9:40 PM | Updated: 9:54 pm
Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos returned home for a divisional matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. They lost in overtime by a score of 22-16, and the team continues to look for the answers to make their team better.

The Raiders are not a good football team. However, against the Broncos twice this season they’ve come out victorious. Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is now undefeated against the Broncos in 2022, even though his Raiders team has only won three games this year – with two coming against Denver.

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is on the hot seat. At least, I should say he remains on the hot seat – and the temperature continues to rise because of the loss in Week 11. Hackett still believes he’s coaching for his job every day – even though that’s a cliché statement.

“For me, everything is about this team and this staff. I’ve told you guys that before. I just want to do everything I can to help this team win. We’ve been so close, we’ve had so many opportunities. We’ve had a lot of things happen this year that are unfortunate, but we have to continually find ways to win. That’s my sole purpose. That’s all I’m looking to do. Whatever happens—those things I can’t control. I always communicate with everybody, talk about everything, show them all the different things that are going on so that they can have all their questions answered and go from there,” Hackett said.

Here are my three biggest observations from the loss to the Raiders.

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Early Hope

Early Sunday morning, reports surfaced that Klint Kubiak was taking over the play-calling duties from Hackett. Kubiak, the son of former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, is the team’s quarterbacks coach but he’s got experience calling plays from his time with the Minnesota Vikings last year.

I felt like this was the right move, and early in the game there was hope that this change was going to be key as Kubiak called the plays from the coach’s booth. The Broncos scored an opening-drive touchdown for the first time this season on Sunday. That was under the guidance of Kubiak, and things looked good after that too. On their second drive, the Broncos had some struggles but fought their way into field goal range and kicker Brandon McManus kicked one through the uprights.

It was the third drive that saw the Broncos get really close to scoring another touchdown. They only touched the ball three times in the first half, but the Broncos almost scored another touchdown but running back Melvin Gordon lost a fumble. That was right before halftime, and the Broncos were getting the ball back after the half. With the way the offense had been playing, moving the ball into scoring position on three drives, that fumble stopped what could have been back-to-back-to-back-to-back scoring drives. That early success was clearly the Kubiak difference – but things could not maintain in the second half.

Hackett talked about the decision to make Kubiak the play caller against the Raiders.

“For me, I want to do whatever I can to help this team. We’re so close, we continually talk about this over and over again. A couple plays here and there, and there’s a lot of different outcomes. I have to look at myself first, to see if there’s something that I can do to give some kind of spark to the offense. So I thought it would be good if I stepped away from that, let (passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach) Klint get upstairs to be able to see it from a bird’s eye view up in the box and see if that would help us. It allowed (offensive coordinator) Justin (Outten) to be down on the sideline and be able to talk with Russell, talk with him about the runs. I thought that would help us, and I wanted to be sure I had that opportunity to give that to him,” Hackett said.

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More Than 15

Before this game, the Broncos had not had a running back exceed 15 carries in a single game in the 2022 season. Even when second-year starter Javonte Williams was healthy, Denver was using multiple backs in the backfield, so any player maxed out at 15 carries – if they even got to that mark on a weekly basis. Against the Raiders in Week 11, running back Latavius Murray finished the game with 17 carries for 49 yards and one rushing touchdown. That’s just 2.9 yards per carry, and that’s not great, but it was good to see the emphasis on running the ball in a close game.

Murray might not have received that many carries had Gordon held onto the rock, and perhaps even scored a touchdown on the Broncos’ third drive. Instead, Gordon fumbled again and forced the ball to Murray more than perhaps they planned. Chase Edmonds had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury, and with only three backs active against the Raiders (Marlon Mack was inactive) that led to more touches for Murray.

I so want the Broncos to feature a back like they did with Murray on Sunday. In fact, I think Murray or Mack could handle 17-22 carries per game. The intent of running the ball, even if you’re around 3.0 yards per carry, does wonders for setting up your offense. You’ll wear out the defense, and those short runs turn into longer gains (as we saw with Murray on Sunday) as the game goes on. I’m emphasizing Murray and Mack because after five lost fumbles, I think Gordon should be cut.
Hackett talked about Gordon’s fumble.

“He’s scored a lot of touchdowns down there for us. He’s been in our tank package, our goal-line package. He’s had a lot of opportunities there and he’s scored a lot of touchdowns for us. In that situation, he has to be smart with it. He can’t fumble. He knows that you just can’t do that. That’s unacceptable. We have to find a way to get the ball in the endzone and at that moment, it was Melvin. We had another running back go down, so we only had two, so he was in there and he had a fumble,” Hackett said.

***

Can’t Stop Adams

The game went to overtime, but at the end the Broncos could not stop superstar wide receiver Davante Adams. He’s one of the best in the game, and Adams was going up against second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain. It was a fantastic matchup to watch the first time around, and Surtain forced more tight-window throws (5) than he did receptions (4) back in Week 4. Adams did go over 100 yards receiving in that game, but most of the damage he did was not against Surtain.

Well, the veteran might be the best receiver in the league, and he learned from his first matchup against Surtain. In Week 11, Adams caught seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns – including the game winner in overtime. Not every catch on Sunday was against Surtain, but Adams clearly beat the Broncos’ shutdown corner on the last play to secure the win.

The Broncos defense had trouble when the Raiders moved Adams around the formation. Surtain can hold his own most of the time, but at the end of the game he was outmaneuvered by Adams to get open for a 35-yard touchdown. No matter if it was Surtain or someone else, the Broncos could not stop Adams.

Hackett didn’t watch the secondary on that final play and instead was focused on the guys trying to get pressure on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

“I was watching the pass rush. Looking back, I obviously saw [Raiders WR] Davante [Adams] was open. I imagine there might have been a match, or maybe somebody fell off or something like that. So we’ll have to look at the tape and figure that out. It was pretty crazy at the end there, so I didn’t get to talk to the defensive guys yet,” Hackett said.

***

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