The Denver Broncos 15-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders will leave Broncos fans asking a whole slew of questions this week. Why did Gary Kubiak not give Michael Schofield help when it was clear Khalil Mack was walking over him like a bratty kid walks over their parents at Christmas? Where did the dominant Denver pass rush go in the second half? Finally, was Peyton Manning really all that bad?
The Broncos had not lost to the Raiders since 2011, and this game seemed to be wash-rinse-repeat in the first half. The Broncos jumped out to a 12-0 lead by the break, and the dominant Denver defense had not only held the Raiders offense in check, they had pushed them backward. Derek Carr and the Oakland offense posted negative yardage in the first half.
However, the second half felt like a different game entirely. The Raiders offense started moving the ball at the outset, and the Denver defense failed to contain a suddenly explosive unit. Cornerback Chris Harris was frustrated with his unit's performance. "I'm hot," Harris said. "We weren't supposed to lose this game. We beat ourselves."
While the Broncos defense didn't play their best half of football, losing to the Raiders falls squarley on the shoulders of Osweiler, Kubiak, and the offensive unit. Denver's offense failed to finish on three red zone drives in the first half and were forced to settle for field goals. Those drives came back to bite them.
Kubiak admitted red zone inefficency was a key factor in the loss. "We were really poor in the red zone," Kubiak said. "We had a chance to really do some first half damage and didn't do it."
Much of Denver's offensive inefficency can be blamed on quarterback Brock Osweiler. Despite finishing with a fairly impressive 308-yard passing statline, this was by far Osweiler's worst game of his short career as the Broncos starter.
He looked frustrated and lost at times in the second half, fumbling in the Denver endzone in the third quarter, and throwing multiple passes that could have easily been intercepted. Each time Brock had a negative play, the CBS telivision crews could be counted on to cut to five time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, who was watching the game from the sideline. They did so 12 times over the course of the broadcast.
While Osweiler's play may very well create conversation about whether he'll start next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is important to note he did not get much help in the second half. Osweiler's recieving threats let him down in the fourth quarter. Demaryius Thomas and Vernon Davis both dropped critical third and fourth down passes that could have extended the Broncos' offensive possessions late in the game. However, that still was not the death knelll for the Denver Broncos. It took a Mack truck to do that.
Second year linebacker Khalil Mack took over the game in the second half, manhandling tackle Michael Schofield in multiple one-on-one matchups, recording an incredible five sacks during the game. The Broncos coaching staff never gave Schofield help on the edge, even long after it was clear they were facing a mismatch. Kubiak knew he had made a mistake. "We lost the line of scrimmage," Kubiak said. "We had many chances. We needed a dang play, and we didn't get it."
Not getting those plays cost the Broncos an opportunity to control their own destiny on the way to homefield advantage throughout the postseason. Now, they will need a whole bunch of "dang plays" next week against Pittsburgh if they're going to walk out of the Steel City with a victory. Between now and then, Broncos fans will have a mountain of questions to ask and the team's coaching staff better find a way to come out with answers.
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