Ten points. That’s what Denver’s offense left on the field last night in Oakland. At the very least.
In any game, that’s too many. In a 24-16 loss, it’s even more painful.
The Broncos had every opportunity to beat the Raiders in their season opener on Monday night. Unfortunately, their offense couldn’t get the job done.
Overall, Denver’s numbers weren’t bad. They posted 344 yards of total offense, averaging 6.0 yards per play. But it didn’t amount to much, yielding just three field goals prior to a touchdown drive in the waning moments of the game.
Therein lies the problem. Against the Raiders, the Broncos weren’t able to efficiently translate yards into points.
Blame for this issue can be spread far and wide, as players committed untimely penalties that stalled drives and dropped easy touchdowns in the end zone. But the primary culprit for the small number of the scoreboard at the end of the night was Denver’s new offensive coordinator.
Rich Scangarello, making his NFL debut as a play caller, had a tough night. And his blunders cost the Broncos mightily.
On their second drive of the game, Denver had a chance to score points. Facing a third-and-12 at the 33-yard line, the team was well within field-goal range. The smart decision would’ve been to call something conservative, like a draw play or a screen pass, and settle for a very makeable Brandon McManus attempt; the odds of converting in that down-and-distance weren’t great, so take the three points.
Instead, Scangarello went for the first down, putting Joe Flacco in a seven-step drop to give the quarterback time to look downfield. The play resulted in a sack, pushing the Broncos out of field goal range.
There’s three points.
At the end of the first half, Scangarello made the same mistake. After a holding penalty by Noah Fant pushed Denver out of reasonable field-goal range, the team faced a third-and-20 at the 46-yard line with 10 seconds to play. The wise move would’ve been to get a few yards, kill the clock and give McManus a shot for points as time expired.
Instead, the Broncos threw the ball deep, as Flacco missed Emmanuel Sanders. It was a silly decision, as it was a low-percentage play. As a result, Denver was forced to try a 64-yard field goal at the end of the half. The kick, which would’ve tied the NFL record for longest in history, fell two feet short; a couple of yards would’ve made all the difference.
There’s three more points.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos were trailing 21-6 but were moving the ball. They faced a third-and-2 at the 14-yard line. Moving the chains would put them in prime position to finally punch the ball into the end zone and make it a one-score game.
A quick pass would’ve been the right call. Perhaps something to Fant, the first-round pick who was supposed to be tailor made for these types of situations. Instead, Scangarello calls a slow-developing play and Flacco gets sacked, forcing Denver to settle for a field goal.
There’s four more points.
The list goes on and on. Multiple questionable decisions derailed other drives, as Denver managed to turn second-and-2 into punting situations.
These were just the three most-glaring examples. These were the plays that ultimately come back to haunt a team.
They did on Monday night, although they were far from the Broncos only problem.
Denver’s defense wasn’t great, either. On the opening drive, they let Oakland march right down the field for a touchdown, putting the Broncos in an early 7-0 hole that felt eerily familiar to last season. And once Flacco and Company had made it a one-score game late, Vic Fangio’s much-ballyhooed group couldn’t get the key stop needed to have a chance in the final minutes.
But it was the offense that ultimately failed the most on the night. They were the group that didn’t quite seem ready for primetime.
That said, there were some positive signs.
Flacco throws the ball with zip, squeezing it into tight places unlike any Broncos quarterback in recent years. He repeatedly dissected the Raiders in the middle of the field, throwing precision passes to move the chains. All told, he was 21 of 31 for 268 yards and a touchdown, respectable numbers by any measure.
Courtland Sutton looks like a star in the making. On the night, the second-year wide receiver had seven catches for 120 yards, looking downright uncoverable at times. His combination of size and speed is reminiscent of a young Demaryius Thomas.
And the Broncos running game was fairly productive. Royce Freeman had 56 yards on 10 carries, while Phillip Lindsay racked up another 43 on 11 chances. In total, that’s 99 yards combined on 21 opportunities, a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry.
But these positives didn’t add up to what they should’ve because Denver’s offense had no rhythm. They kept derailing themselves just when they were starting to get something rolling.
That’s on the play caller. That’s on Scangarello.
The Broncos offensive coordinator needs be quicker to find what’s working. He also has to do a better of job of sticking with that formula once he discovers it.
In addition, Scangarello has to be more aware of the situation. That’ll help him take the more prudent course of action.
These are certainly fixable problems. Most likely, they’ll come with time, as the new offensive coordinator gets more comfortable in his role.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, that’s only going to happen with experience. Scangarello will be learning on the job, which could make for some painful and costly lessons.
Monday night was one such example. A victory was there for the taking, but in-game mistakes by a new offensive coordinator squelched Denver’s chances.