Broncos-Raiders grades: A week of almosts
DENVER — The Broncos offense had better flow with new play-caller Klint Kubiak, and their defense contained the Raiders for most of Sunday afternoon. And yet … the Broncos left with a sixth loss in seven games, in part due to the close plays that weren’t made. This week’s grades reflect that lamentable reality.
“The completion rate was up, and we are running the ball pretty effectively. We just have to finish at the end of the day,” WR Courtland Sutton said Tuesday.
Russell Wilson was more accurate than at any previous point in not only this season, but most of last season, too. He did well in the first half of not only getting the ball out quickly, but making off-platform and beyond-the-play-structure throws. But what cost him an A was a final, crucial decision to not take a sack inside of the 2:00 warning in the fourth quarter and instead make an optimistic attempt at a completion. With a sack, the Raiders don’t start their final possession until under 70 seconds remained. The incompletion left the Raiders with 1:43, from which they operated without duress.
RUNNING BACKS: C-minus
It wasn’t just Melvin Gordon’s fifth fumble that brought down the curtain on his two-and-a-half seasons as a Bronco. It was struggles in pass protection, too. He ran hard, but ultimately, the negative plays were too much. Latavius Murray runs with authority, is good in short yardage and remains a load to bring down, but explosive moments are still elusive. The Broncos need Marlon Mack to bring a spark next week.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-plus
It was a day of almosts. Kendall Hinton almost had a deep catch down the right side of the field on a free play, but Wilson’s pass sailed through his grasp. Sutton almost had a key reception in Las Vegas territory, but dropped the pass; he now has one drop in each of the last three games. Sutton and Hinton each delivered explosive plays, and Brandon Johnson came achingly close to one of his own on a near-touchdown-catch in the second quarter. Sutton’s illegal-blindside block flag was — at best — questionable.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Eric Tomlinson and Eric Saubert had solid run-blocking days, for the most part, and Greg Dulcich was effective, if not explosive. Albert Okwuegbunam dressed, but was a DNP — or as would be said in the NBA, “DNP-CD.” The use of 3-tight end sets with Dulcich, Tomlinson and Saubert was effective and should be revisited in the future.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-minus
Graham Glasgow remained a stabilizing force at center, and didn’t allow a single pressure throughout the day. It was rougher for Cam Fleming, who struggled against Maxx Crosby at times. Still, the Broncos’ best play for now appears to involve Fleming at right tackle and Calvin Anderson at left tackle; Anderson was steady for a second consecutive week working at his natural position.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-minus
Dre’Mont Jones continued to do yeoman’s work playing away from his natural spot and filling in as a stand-up edge rusher, although a 15-yard penalty proved costly. But with Baron Browning back, the Broncos may not need Jones to stand up as much, and could give extended looks to Nik Bonitto, Jonathon Cooper and Jacob Martin, all of whom are playing for a shot at being part of the edge rotation beyond this season. D.J. Jones was his usual disruptive self, and Matt Henningsen did a nice job responding to a rough moment against Josh Jacobs early in the fourth quarter with penetration that snuffed out a run.
EDGE RUSHERS: B-minus
Browning’s return provided a spark. He didn’t get to Derek Carr, but he generated pressure and was particularly strong against the run. Jonathon Cooper had multiple pressures in limited work. Nik Bonitto struggled to generate pressure and had a frustrating day after a promising one seven days earlier in Nashville.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B-minus
The strength of Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell is against the run — and when asked to blitz. Singleton had a sack wiped out by an accepted penalty, but then Jewell got one that counted. But the Raiders diced them up late in the passing game. First, they found an advantageous matchup when they aligned Josh Jacobs against Josey Jewell in the final minute of regulation. Forty-three yards later, Las Vegas sat in goal-to-go. In overtime, Foster Moreau split Jewell and Singleton and hauled in a 33-yard pass behind both that saw 18 yards accumulated after the catch.
Pat Surtain endured a rough day. He was quick to accept culpability for Davante Adams’ 35-yard overtime touchdown catch. Surtain bit on a double-move, but the truth is, there was plenty of blame to go around on that play. Excellent Las Vegas play design and hesitant reaction led to three wide-open targets, and Carr chose the one farthest downfield. One frustrating afternoon doesn’t change the fact that Surtain is among the very best at what he does. Essang Bassey struggled in his work as slot corner, and a holding penalty on third-and-11 with 10:01 left in regulation proved damaging and led to a game-tying Las Vegas field goal. Damarri Mathis had a penalty, too, but held his own and continues to improve.
Kareem Jackson was a twitch behind in reacting when Surtain passed Adams off to him on the Las Vegas wide receiver’s second-quarter touchdown. Jackson was close, but a perfect throw and catch beat him. Both Jackson and Justin Simmons had at least one missed tackle apiece on a day that they’ll quickly try to forget.
What went wrong on the 25-yard field-goal attempt that Crosby blocked? It was a little of everything, as Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett explained. “It’s not just one person,” he said. “Obviously, we have to stay a little bit lower. We have to have better technique on that one there and then we have to get the kick up a little bit higher. It’s combination of a lot of things that ended up getting it blocked.” So, in his estimation, part of the culpability fell on McManus, whose field-goal success rate now ranks 18th of 25 kickers with at least 15 attempts this season.
Unfortunately for Waitman, he started Sunday where he left off the previous week in terms of hang time. His first two puts had hang times clocked at under 3.6 seconds, with an average net of 34 yards. His final two punts had hang times of 4.5 and 4.27 seconds, with net yardage of 47 and 44.
KICKOFF/PUNT RETURNS: C-minus
Montrell Washington’s muffed kickoff return wasn’t damaging in terms of resulting in a turnover, but it did result in a drive-start position of the Denver 13-yard line. One of those kickoff returns came after Dre’Mont Jones’ post-touchdown unsportsmanlike-conduct infraction, which allowed Daniel Carlson to kick from the 50-yard line. Still, that’s three kickoff returns that ended short of the 20-8ard line. Only Washington’s 18-yard punt return saved the day from being completely forgettable.
KICKOFF/PUNT COVERAGE: C
The operation was cleaner on punt returns, although two short-hang-time punts by Waitman didn’t help the cause. On kickoffs, Las Vegas’ Ameer Abdullah had too many lanes and averaged 23.0 yards per kickoff return.