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Emmanuel Sanders needs to be a bigger part of the Broncos game plan

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)

The Broncos lost in their first game of the 2019 season to the Raiders by a score of 24-16 on Monday night. One of their best playmakers, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, didn’t see the ball that much in the defeat. In fact, two of the four quarters saw Sanders get zero targets.

The lack of using this premiere weapon was a bit baffling indeed – especially since when they did use Sanders he produced and scored the only touchdown for the Broncos on Monday night. On Tuesday, I asked Broncos head coach Vic Fangio about why Sanders was used so sparingly in the first half and his answer was quite surprising.

“He’s a guy, too, that is fighting the fatigue part because he is not through his injury and lack of practice time. He’s still rounding into football shape to play every play. I thought he had a good game. He had some catches there. I think he’ll improve weekly,” Fangio said.

Is Fangio onto something here with Sanders or was the blame to be placed instead on offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello? Let’s examine this situation and look at why more Sanders is nothing but a good thing.

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Autonomy No More?

We learned on Tuesday that Scangarello has the autonomy to call his own plays. Fangio explained that he likes the play-calling from Monday night and if he in essence “signs off” on the game plan.

“He’s got the wherewithal to call those plays. Obviously, if I want something, we’ll do it. Or I can veto something. Overall, we’re going to go with what he calls.” Fangio said.

The game started out with an unusual play – that didn’t work and put the team in a hole right from the get go. Scangarello came out against the Raiders on the first play and called a jet sweep, which was basically a run play with tight end Noah Fant.

With a Pro Bowl back on the field in Phillip Lindsay, for some reason Scangarello went with a carry for a rookie tight end. That wasn’t the only play that left Broncos fans scratching their heads. Later in the contest, with momentum building for the Broncos offense, Scangarello used an odd formation with multiple players – including offensive linemen – bunched to the left side. The swinging gate play ended up being a pass to running back Royce Freeman that went for minimal gain.

After Monday night, perhaps Fangio should update his stance here. It was clear that Scangarello was struggling against the Raiders, and he went deep into the bag of tricks of his playbook when he didn’t need to.

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What are You Waiting For?

Sanders didn’t get his first target against the Raiders until near the end of the second quarter. With 1:59 left in the first half, Sanders finally saw the football and caught the pass for a gain of six yards. He was targeted again with only :09 left in the quarter but the pass fell incomplete on a third-and-20.

The Broncos went into the half against the Raiders down 14-0 and Sanders only had one catch for six yards. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Sanders was targeted again.

What in the world took so long to get Sanders involved? Was he actually winded and fighting fatigue as Fangio indicated?

You couldn’t tell that from the snap count for Sanders. The Broncos played 64 offensive snaps against the Raiders in Week 1. Sanders was on the field for 57 of those plays, the same number that Courtland Sutton received on offense too. Sutton didn’t seem to be fighting fatigue and it’s interesting to note that if Sanders was the team did not give him more rest.

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The Spark They Needed

When Sanders did finally get regular targets, it was in the fourth quarter with the game almost out of hand. With the score 21-6 in the fourth quarter, Sanders received his next target – and it was a big one.

He caught a pass for 53 yards that moved the sticks from the Broncos side of the field to Raiders territory. Later in the fourth quarter, this time with the score 24-9, Sanders had another explosive play at 22 yards. Later in the drive, Sanders caught the only touchdown for the Broncos in the game.

The film study of this game shows that coverage on Sanders was a bit tighter earlier in the game. When Sutton started to go off, the Raiders rotated things away from Sanders and he was able to flourish late. That’s a natural progression, but there are ways the Broncos can force feed the ball to Sanders regardless of the coverage and they didn’t utilize those techniques on Monday night.

Emmanuel Sanders provides the spark this offense needs. And the Broncos would be wise to involve him as early and as often as possible going forward.