The Broncos got back on track with a 16-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders in a key divisional matchup, but it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Once again the Broncos mixed the good with the bad on offence, while the defence, barring a couple of lapses, seem to be returning to their dominant best.
Pocket presence and pressure
On the opening possession Mario Edwards Jr used a stunt move to fly by Left Guard Max Garcia and swallow up Trevor Siemian for a sack, this would be a common theme throughout the game, with the young QB facing pressure all day.
On the next drive Siemian again faced pressure, but managed a lovely pass to Bennie Fowler on an out to the left sideline. AJ Derby made a nice catch and smashed into the would-be tackler, before Siemian overthrew Derby into the waiting hands of Fowler again.
Then, we were treated to a sublime play. AJ Derby lined up in the fullback spot and went out to the right on a wheel route, Siemian put the ball over the defender and Derby made a spectacular one handed catch and tiptoed into the end zone.
Emmanuel Sanders and Jamaal Charles delivered nice plays for first downs in the next drive, but the Broncos had to settle for a field goal after Siemain was again running for his life and had to throw the ball away on third down.
CJ Anderson broke out a galloping 40 yard run, but again a field goal was the result. Devontae Booker marked his first game of the season with 3 carries for 14 yards and Jamaal Charles is looking like his elusive old self. There was concern when Charles took a helmet to the knee and limped off, but it seems to have been a cut rather than anything more serious.
Unfortunately, there was not much more from an offensive highlights point of view as Siemian was hurried, harried and sacked for the rest of the game. Menelik Watson was yielding pressure at the Right Tackle position all day, but we got a small taste of life without him when Donald Stephenson subbed in for one play and was instantly beaten around the outside by Khalil Mack for a sack. Indeed Mack was a terror all day getting himself two sacks and chasing Siemian everywhere.
The sum total of scoring was the Derby touchdown and three field goals from Brandon McManus, who also had an uncharacteristic miss from his shortest attempt of the day.
The amount of pressure that Siemian was under would make any Quarterback struggle, but on a few occasions he showed his inexperience. The second sack was a result of him holding the ball too long and on the third he stepped up into the pocket when there was no space and ended up stepping into the waiting tackler.
It is difficult to assess the Quarterback when he has so little time to pass, but he will need to work on his pocket presence and evasion if he wants to reach the next level. It is certainly not panic stations, as last year’s three-and-outs have been replaced with long drives resulting in field goals. But as coach Vance Joseph admitted, they need to be more clinical in the red zone and make better decisions.
Ground Control and Major Von
On the defensive side of the ball, things were a lot better. Denver’s secondary has always been good, but it is their rushing defence that has been the standout this season.
Denver’s “Ground Control” had stymied elite running backs Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliot and LeSean McCoy in their first three games and this week saw Marshawn Lynch come to town. “Beast-Mode” was held to 12 yards on nine carries.
Gordon, Elliot, McCoy and Lynch were held to 96 yards between them at an average of 1.9 yards a carry. After four weeks, the Broncos are the best team in the NFL at defending the run, compared to 28th for last season. Another week where credit has to go to the defensive line for a job very well done.
As usual, Von Miller received a lot of attention, but even with that he and Shaq Barrett managed to keep Lynch and Derek Carr contained and put the pressure on Carr.
Carr had a miserable time, converting only 11 first downs on the day. He was also sacked by Miller, Wolfe and Shelby Harris. Harris’s sack came on the play where Carr unfortunately injured his back and was a real group effort with three players getting their hands on the Raiders Quarterback.
No Fly Zone inconsistencies
The Denver secondary was once again proficient and played their part in the lack of Oakland first downs. Bradley Roby had some nice pass breakups and the tight man coverage throughout left Carr with few options.
The one major blemish was a 64 yard Touchdown where Johnny Holton ran right by safety Darian Stewart. The Raiders were also able to pick up some receptions late in the game when, surprisingly, backup Quarterback EJ Manuel was able to find his receivers.
With the Broncos having missed a crucial Field Goal and Manuel closing in on an unlikely victory, second year safety Justin Simmons rose higher than Amari Cooper to snag the game ending interception, saving Denver’s blushes.
So, what did we learn?
Denver’s offensive line is improved from last year, but still a concerning weak spot.
Trevor Siemian will not carry the team, but given sufficient help, he will not halt their progress either.
Domato Peko was an excellent signing.
Justin Simmons is a ball-hawking playmaker allowing far more flexibility than TJ Ward.
The running game is a multi-faceted breath of fresh air following years of frustration.
Bye weeks suck.