"Immature" Broncos hard to figure

After 11 games, it's impossible to predict the Denver Broncos. Denver took control of the AFC West with back-to-back road wins against Cleveland and Atlanta, then came home and lost 31-10 to Oakland, one of the worst teams in the NFL.

The Broncos sit at 6-5, including losses to lowly Oakland and Kansas City, which is indicative of their inconsistency heading into Sunday's game against the New York Jets. The Broncos use many young players, which might be catching up to them.

"Immature," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "I think we're a fairly young team and we've been battling ups and downs all year."

Against the Raiders, the worst of the Broncos was on display. Offensively they turned the ball over twice. The first one was a key mistake that helped the Raiders get some confidence. At the end of a long drive, the Broncos fumbled a handoff at Oakland's 7-yard line. The play call was a pitch outside but Jay Cutler tried handing off to Peyton Hillis inside. Hillis didn't handle it and the Raiders recovered.

"My fault," Cutler said.

Cutler also threw a fourth-quarter interception that put the game away. He tried getting a pass to tight end Tony Scheffler but Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard stepped in front of it. Oakland scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

"Obviously an interception doesn't help," coach Mike Shanahan said.

The entire Broncos passing game struggled. Cutler completed only 43.2 percent of his passes, the lowest mark of his career. He struggled to complete any deep passes, which was a big part of Denver's game plan.

Denver's defense allowed Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell to complete 10 of 11 passes and the running game to pile up 158 yards.

Special teams was an issue for Denver as well. Matt Prater missed two field goals. He has missed five field goals in four games. And the Broncos also allowed an 89-yard punt return that was a turning point in the first half.

The loss to the Raiders was stunning and was a blown opportunity for the Broncos to take a step closer to the AFC West title. The Broncos have a young team but promised they didn't overlook the Raiders, but just had some inopportune breakdowns.

"I don't think we took Oakland lightly," Hillis said. "It's just one of those things where we had freakish football mistakes."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought we would still come back in the second half and take control. They were 7-for-7 on third downs in the second half, and we couldn't get much going after the first drive." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, on Denver's surprising 31-10 loss to Oakland. The Raiders scored 21 unanswered points in the second half.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The Broncos have no sacks in their last three games. The Raiders only passed 11 times in Denver's last game, but had given up sacks at a high rate and Denver still couldn't get any pressure. Elvis Dumervil in particular has struggled. He had a slow start to the season because of a broken pinkie on his right hand, and aside from a two-sack game against New England hasn't showed the form that made him one of the best pass rushers in the NFL the past two seasons.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--S Roderick Rogers made his first career start for the Broncos. He replaced Calvin Lowry, who had been filling in for Marlon McCree. McCree was inactive with a sprained ankle and could miss another week.

--RB Peyton Hillis didn't start at tailback for the Broncos but got most of the carries. Tatum Bell started at tailback and Hillis at fullback in a two-back set, but most of the game Hillis ran out of a one-back set. Hillis had 74 yards on 17 carries.

--CB Champ Bailey was held out of Sunday's game. He has missed four games with a groin injury. He practiced on a limited basis all week but the Broncos didn't want to use him before he is completely healthy.

--WR Eddie Royal had a quiet game against Oakland. He was held to two catches for 14 yards. He was targeted a few times and should bounce back next week.

--S Josh Barrett was signed from the practice squad before Sunday's game. He is a fantastic athlete and the Broncos hope he can help them on special teams for the rest of the year.



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