It was boys against men.
There was a lot to digest, as I watched the game again tonight. There was the problem of scoring in the red zone, the fact that the 3-TE set that has worked so well wasn't in evidence near the goal line and that the defense looks like it's played together for years. But in the final analysis, that was really the thing that stood out to me. Boys against men. It wasn't just the inability of JaMarcus Russell to find a receiver. It wasn't even his lack of accuracy in the second half. It wasn't the lousy raiders running game, the one that looked so concerning at first, the way we ran up the gut so easily or the way that our D shut them down. You can (and a lot of us will) complain that the Broncos should have scored 35, but even so - this wasn't really a game. It was more of a schoolyard whipping, a beatdown, an hour-long embarrassment that apparently left the Raiders' faithful - both of the ones who are left - complaining about the referees' calls. They didn't have anything else to do. They couldn't keep saying the same things over again. Their outcries were at first furious, then plaintive, and finally just bored. By the time Kyle Orton took that final knee, there was nothing left to say. The Broncos had dominated this game in nearly every possible phase.
The Raiders did win two battles. The skill of Shane Lechler at least tied the expertise of Brett Kern, punting so well into the coffin corner and Richard Seymour showed that the low-class virus that has often infected the Raiders is contagious by winning the Hair Pull of the Week award. Ryan Clady ended the game on the sidelines with a big ice wrap on his left paw, but you can probably assume from his smiling countenance that he could have played if we needed him. Happily, Tyler Polumbus was more than adequate in backup support.
I wrote this week on the degree to which JaMarcus Russell has regressed this year. The danger with him is, and perhaps will be, that at some point he tends to suddenly rebound. Perhaps he will, but this wasn't that game. Russell was an embarrassment to professional quarterbacks. He had come into the game with a QB rating of 46 and promptly threw two INTs, one at 5 minutes in the first, another four minutes later. The Broncos had given the raiders the ball after going 0 for 4 at the goal line, but Russell had given it back two plays later. The Broncos scored in 6 plays. On the third play after that, Russell and the raiders threw the second pick and the Broncos quickly scored a field goal. The rest of the game turned out to be an anti-climax.
Third Down Efficiency 5/12 - 41%
Fourth Down Efficiency 1/2 - 50%
Total Net Yards 372
Third Down Efficiency 3/10 - 30%
Fourth Down Efficiency 1/2 - 50%
Total Net Yards 137
These numbers can still improve, but we're doing some things better each week. Considering that, I look forward to the week when we put it all together. This is a very good team.
Brian Dawkins continues to be a menace to opposing players. The experience, the drive, the skill and the leadership of the man are beyond words. Look at the way that he handled the re-establishment of his presence after being out of bounds on recovery of the fumble. That kind of veteran savvy can't be overestimated. You can also look at the fact that of the 'old' secondary the Broncos put together, Dawkins got a fumble recovery (of a fumble caused by DJ Williams and Hill and Goodman both had picks. They still rarely throw at Champ - I guess the opposing offenses didn't get the memo about how he's old and lost a step. Um-hmmm.....
Marshall's resurgence was gratifying to see. He made a couple of nice catches, was good about striving for yards after the catch and blocked very well again. I'm also concerned about the missing Eddie Royal, but I have a theory on that, for what it's worth. I think that last season, the opposing D's keyed on Marshall, permitting Eddie to catch 91 passes. This season, they are keying on Royal. It is working, if shutting down Royal is all that you want. It's a disaster if stopping out offense is your goal, though. Today we had people missing and only shared the passing with 5 receivers. It really wasn't as important in one way - we gained 215 yards on the ground. We were running right up the middle, between guard and tackle, around the end - pretty much wherever we wanted to. That's gratifying - with a powerful running game, this O-line, Orton's ability at passing and several good receivers, we're very hard to stop. Some weeks, we'll do it through the air, some on the ground, many we'll do it with both.
We were resting a lot of guys. We have some injuries - they're part of football. Brandon Stokley has become Kyle Orton's favorite target. He goes out and Jabar Gaffney is his other favorite target and Marshall gets more catches. Ben Hamilton's hamstring is bad and Russ Hochstein played well. Ryan Harris is hurt, Ryan Clady was icing in the second half and Tyler Polumbus plays well. This is a deep team. They trust each other and they find ways to succeed. They seem emotionally tough, dedicated and fierce.
And we didn't escape without some new injuries. Peyton Hillis has a concussion. We await hearing about Ryan Clady's injury, and Ryan Harris'. We didn't seem fazed by the substitutions, though, which is one mark of a veteran-led squad. They don't get rattled. Occasionally, they do get even. They play all-out and they're hard to stop on both sides of the ball.
Time of Possession - Broncos, 36:15 - raiders, 23:45. That's one of the things that a great running game will get you. It's tough to score without the ball. Orton was efficient - 13 or 23 for 157 yards, 1 TD and no INTs in over 130 passes. His completion rate was only 55.4, but he threw the ball away when it made sense and he didn't take a sack again. Calm and efficient, Orton has been a huge part of our success.
Here are the numbers that will concern those among us who aren't quite sure of this team yet - Red Zone efficiency:
Broncos 2/6 33%
Raiders 0/1 0.0%
While the ability to hold the raiders to a single FG is soothing, we've left too many points on the field over the past three weeks. We've only given up 16 points in three games - about 5.3 points per game. That's incredible. It doesn't solve the issue of what's going on in the red zone on offense, but it leaves me less unhappy than I would be. I was mostly concerned that we didn't run the 3 TE set when we were around of inside the 5 yards line. With the way we've taken the other teams to task with it, we should be using it when we need a couple of tough yards. John has commented that a short yardage back isn't Peyton Hillis' best role, and I agree. Jordan is better in that role. Moreno and Buckhalter are fine, to be honest. Hillis as a receiving back is about as good as they come, but they may need to look at what they want from him. Moreno and Buckhalter are a heck of a duo. This group can defeat you in a lot of ways.
One of the reporters asked Josh McDaniels, the second coach in Broncos history to start his career 3-0, if he was starting to feel 'vindicated' by his team's performance.
"There's no vindication because there's nothing to be vindicated about," McDaniels said.
This is a man who told everyone that he intended to win. In many ways, he expected to win. Winning isn't about being vindicated. It's the goal of his career, the purpose of his time in Denver and the pattern that he, like his quarterback, tends to fulfill. Winners tend to win. That doesn't change.
The Raiders were held to 137 yards, their second straight week with less than 200 yards of offense. This is just the third time since the start of the 1993 season that Oakland has put together back-to-back games like that, with the other two coming in 2006. Today, they had a lot of help. Doom added another two sacks and is much more than a pass rusher now. He dropped into coverage well on a couple of screen passes and stopped the run, although he's better on the run over on the weakside. He can still be run off the rushing play by the right blocker, but he's getting better there, too. He's a linebacker now, and it's his best use. I saw some 4-3 plays as the ame went on - and a 2-5, some 3-4, etc. Mike Nolan is getting them familiar with a bigger playbook.
After the game, JaMarcus Russell said to the media,
''I know that the guys in my locker room are behind me. When the fans get to that, it's kind of where they seem like they're fed up. But again, until you come out and play like I know we should and get back on track it will be a different story.''
Brave words. But words are cheap and winning has a cost. If Russell doesn't get serious about football, he'll pay the price very week.In the meantime, the Broncos are coming out well-prepared, serious-minded, intense and ready to play. They are getting started more quickly each game as they become used to each other. They are still improving, and will continue to get better. In a way, that's kind of spooky.
I was interested to watch Cincy take out the Steelers in Cincinnati. a last minute TD at the 23 second mark allowed Cincinnati to get the monkey of losing to Pittsburgh off their backs. That's the 2-1 Bengals, of course the ones we were supposed to be lucky to beat. The Steelers are down 1-2, now, and look very human. Washington began their week by losing to the Detroit Lions, who hadn't won in over 20 months. Congratulations to Detroit, but going to Washington doesn't sound as bad now since they are also 1-2. New England is 2-1 but looked vulnerable. The Ravens still look tough. Philly spanked KC, but that doesn't look as difficult as it has in other years. KC is really struggling.
On that point - a lot of folks are going to talk about how tough it is to win in KC for the Broncos. Forget it. This is a new team, a new system and the Chiefs look woeful. We will win in Arrowhead, take it to the bank. We have a good shot in SD. OAK will come to Denver and get keel-hauled again, poor sods. We should win our division at home and perhaps lose in SD, perhaps not. We have a better team right now, but injuries will always play a role. Keep in mind - right now, we're second in the conference in point differential at +46. Baltimore is at +50. I think that they will be the toughest challenge, but let's take it a week at a time. They could have injuries, lose focus, get better. You can't know ahead of time. I do think that we should play well against Dallas next week. They have to come into Denver. Kyle Orton is what - 16-2 at home now? These Broncos aren't any other year's Broncos. They are a unique experience for us, and we should be careful to view them that way.
Finally, has anyone failed to notice the way that Broncos players and coaches are talking about Josh McDaniels? They trust him, respect him and believe in him. They also believe in Mike Nolan, and between the two, we can really see a lot of success coming down the pike. Correll Buckhalter wanted to get the first win for McDaniels. Then it was Mario Haggan and Andra Davis talking about him. Brian Dawkins come to Denver because of him. Does anyone think that he regrets it tonight? This is a team that believes in itself. Chemistry may be elusive around the league, but Denver seems to have it in spades.
In the meantime, this year's Broncos are 3-0. They are playing their hearts out, and just skunked our division rival raiders. I'm looking forward to a nice week of breaking down lots of film and having many chuckles. How about you?