Notes from Broncos/Raiders

Like most of you, I was pretty thrilled with the Broncos' 37-6 victory over the visiting Raiders on Sunday.

A few first-half errors (you tried a pass from who to who?) left me feeling that Denver should have been up by more than four points at halftime. The lights-out play of Carson Palmer, who had one good WR, a decent TE, and a great running back to throw to, kept the Raiders somewhat in the game.

Three three-and-outs in the third quarter, though, and the ensuing onslaught of the Broncos offense sealed the deal. Overall, I came away impressed with Denver’s composure, elated with Jack Del Rio’s play-calling, and comfortable going on the road for four of the next five, to see what this team really has in store.

These are some thoughts taken from my notes during the game, not always in any given order:

1. Del Rio dialed up some nice blitzes in the first half (second half even more so). Safety blitz, psycho front, nickelback blitz, delayed A-gap blitz, zone blitz...and his pressures came from all over. Palmer played above his head in the first half just to keep the Raiders in it.

According to PFF, by the end of the game, 48.6% of all Palmer’s dropbacks resulted in pressure. That’s a heck of a stat. The Broncos also blitzed on 64.9% of their plays. It worked well.

2. Dear Broncos - when your OL is dominating, freaking go for it on fourth and inches! That Prater throw was just dumb. Denver was beating the Raiders bloody up front, and it was a short distance. You were really just saying that you didn’t trust your OL, and Sunday, that was just not sensible. Thankfully, it didn’t matter, but it was just bad play calling. I hope I’d be honest enough to say so if it worked.

I liked the Andre Caldwell reverse, and I’m not against some level of trickeration.

But the fake was a low-return attempt, and with the OL playing the way they did, I didn’t see the point. On the other hand, I don’t call the plays, either.

3. That was a genuine jailbreak screen on the play that resulted in Demaryius Thomas’s fumble. Definition:

The jailbreak screen is a wide receiver screen that involves the wide receiver coming back to the quarterback at the snap of the ball. The reason it's called a jailbreak is because the offensive line releases automatically downfield to block. It’s often confused with a bubble screen. The offense uses a tight end or wide receiver to go away from the line of scrimmage to pick the outside receiver's man.

The linemen punch the defensive line to stop their initial charge then release downfield to form a wall. The offensive tackle stays in and chops the defensive end to get his hands down so that the ball can be thrown over the top of him. That's particularly important if the QB tends to throw a slightly 'flat' ball over the line 'scrum'. If the hands go up, the ball will potentially be tipped or even intercepted. I’ll look at this for a screenshot this week if there’s time”

4. That was a beautiful piece of inside zone blocking on Willis McGahee’s run to the four-yard line - congrats to J.D. Walton, Zane Beadles, and the rest of the line on a great play.

5. Keith Brooking was moving his players around and getting them into the right positions all game. A few plays were held to little gain immediately afterward - that’s an advantage that Joe Mays doesn’t bring.

6. Second quarter, 0:29 left: Palmer’s already had one sack, six hurries, four knockdowns on Palmer in the first half alone. How long can he play at that level while being leveled himself?

7. Reserved for John Elway, pacing in his skybox and deservedly smiling through a thorough demolition of the Raiders. Yes, for those who wondered, this year’s Broncos understand the importance of trampling a hated divisional rival. So much for the four-year pattern of Oakland beating Denver at Mile High.

8. I’m very sad regarding Walton’s injury. He had been playing extremely well. It’s a good chance to see Dan Koppen in the second half, though. He looks like a very smart pickup, suddenly.

On the plays I saw him in (which was nearly all of them), he was efficient and effective. He’s a smaller guy, and he has an interesting style of blocking - seems to hit and bounce, hit and bounce in pass pro. He can fall away in run blocking with a bigger lineman. He knew his assignments, though, and moved with confidence to the second level when run blocking called for it. Nice overall work.

9. Picky, perhaps, but Joel Dreessen was wide, staring open on the second-and-goal that went off Eric Decker’s hands. Ouch. They’ll see it in film work.

10. Although I liked the pick, Ronnie Hillman hadn’t impressed me much at first. He corrected that on his third-quarter reception - making up for it with a run that was exactly what I hoped he’d be doing for the Broncos (his pass blocking was also pretty good for a player his size). While the Darren Sproles comparisons will get old,  two receptions on two targets, with one for 29 yards, doesn’t. Not a bad job in his runs, either.

11. Congrats to McGahee on his latest 100+ yard game - 112 on 19 carries at the end. What rib injury? That trap play to McGahee at 12:25 was a thing of beauty.

12. LOL on Manny Ramirez and Orlando Franklin picking up and dumping Oakland LB Keenan Clayton (58) on his head at the extra point following the third quarter’s first TD (they showed it after the commercial). After last week, Manny wanted payback. He didn’t give up a sack, hit, or hurry, and his run blocking wasn’t bad either. Way to bounce back, Manny.

13. Jacob Tamme’s behind-the-back, one-handed catch was one highlight of the day’s work. Great catch.

14. A game ball goes to the Denver OL, for Sunday. Manning ended the day without a sack, and with only one hit (Beadles) and one hurry (Franklin, who also had two penalties but kept his QB’s jersey clean). Great team job, with extra credit to Dan Koppen. Excellent run blocking, too.

15. Palmer had such a composed first half that it was amazing to see him come so totally unglued in the second. Ted called it - he said during the game that Palmer has a history of that happening. I hadn’t watched enough of him to know, but it was fun to see. The hounds of hell were after Carson all fourth quarter long. I’m not sure that the Raiders played in the third quarter - does a foursome of three-and-outs count?  I noticed that they were working on Palmer’s arms on the sideline, putting bandages on them. I’m not surprised. That game had to hurt. I did’t envy him his Monday morning bruises.

16. I watched as Wesley Woodyard fought through a triple team - in which he was held from behind - to sack Palmer (with help, first drive of the fourth quarter). Now, that’s football. A more detailed article on the play will follow.

17. Been wondering where Rahim Moore really is in getting better? Here’s a hint - he’s crashing the line on run plays like a linebacker and now has 25 tackles - 22 of them solo, which leads the team. For a young player who couldn’t find the right angles in run support and was confused by play calling last year, he’s come a long way.

18. Get that knee right, Quinton Carter. You’re missed, but don’t fear - the other safeties are keeping it warm for you.

19. With 3:39 left to go in the fourth quarter, according to the broadcast, Palmer had been sacked twice, hurried 15 times, and knocked down 10 times. The official stats were slightly more merciful, but the broadcast stats may have been more realistic. He came out with a Broncos Orange-embossed front to his jersey, with Mile High's turf green and mud black on the back. It’s almost Halloween, and it’s nice that he was just getting into the spirit.

20. Congratulations to David Bruton, Denver’s resident ST ace, who blocked a punt that crawled over the line of scrimmage. Big whoop - it still pinned them in their zone, and the Broncos made a TD out of it. I’ve always been high on Bruton, but at this point, I can’t say enough good about the man. Next time someone claims that Bruton won’t make the team, feel free to flame him.

21. Peyton Manning and Company drove out to a lead early in great part because Manning overcame multiple third downs with six or more yards to gain, as well as a 1st-and-20. They included a 3rd-and-6 at 14:19 of the first quarter that became a big pass play to Stokley, and a 3rd-and-7 at 11:55 that led to a 4th-and-inches, which Denver converted with another quick pass to Tamme (who also made that incredible one-handed catch of a ball behind him for a first down). The TD pass to Dreessen on that drive was equally amazing in its way: perfect location, just a beautiful pass.

Fighting out of third-and-longs is not going to work in the long run - at least, the odds are 5-1 against it - but surpassing them shows how danged good Manning is when he’s on. A word to the guy who wrote last week about how Denver coaches and fans are delusional about Manning’s remaining skills - Pfffffttttttt!

Conclusion

It’s been a long time since I got to watch such an utter dismantling of a division rival from the winning side. Despite the challenge of four of the next five games on the road, I’m entering this stretch with the belief that Denver could take any of them. When they play to their capability, they can stay on the field with anyone.

I’m looking for wins in both games - I think this team has it in them. Whatever the outcome in New England, though, it’s how they bring it to San Diego, who’s vulnerable despite their 3-1 record, that will truly concern me.

Philip Rivers is being protected by an undrafted rookie named Mike Harris at left tackle, and the speed-rush-vulnerable Jeromey Clary at right tackle. They haven’t met the Elvis Dumervil/Derek Wolfe/Von Miller trio yet, but that’s about to be remedied. Wolfe didn’t have a lot of stats against Oakland - in great part because they tended to run their plays away from him - but he redirected the runner or passer on several plays, helping Doom/Miller to gain more pressure.  He did add some of his own, and nearly notched a tackle for loss on a Darren McFadden run.

Crushing the Raiders at home: kind of gives that nice warm glow to the whole week, doesn’t it? Now it’s off to New England, to see if Peyton can play with the same level of verve. Winning the division battle should put whoever that team is into the playoffs, and it’s anyone’s game from there. Since San Diego has a one-game lead on the Broncos, taking that away is first on the Broncos' to-do list.

It’s going to be an interesting road trip.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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