ENGLEWOOD — The odd nature of the game could not dull the pain of losing.
The Broncos dropped their seventh straight to the Raiders, not the outcome desired with new coach Sean Payton, an upgraded offensive line and seven starters returning on defense.
But given the lack of possessions, the Broncos found out what they already knew: the margin for error remains razor thin and is hard to overcome without better point efficacy, discipline and special teams acumen.
Payton relayed his thoughts on the loss Monday morning during a conference call.
“It was a bit unusual. It was rare that both teams end up with six possessions. Points become a premium. Usually, you have 10 to 12 possessions. The thing offensively that stood out is that there weren’t any explosives,” said Payton, whose team had one passing play of more than 20 yards. “If you told me we would win the turnover battle and the rushing battle, I would think (we would win). But it wasn’t the case.”
The Broncos’ inability to push the ball downfield became glaring in the second half. Tight end Greg Dulcich exited with a right hamstring injury – he’s likely to miss time – on the final drive of the first half and Jerry Jeudy, who made progress in a pregame workout with his hamstring injury, was inactive. That left limited options to stretch the defense. The Broncos featured a decent running game – 94 yards on 22 carries – and Samaje Perine and Javonte Williams combined for eight receptions. But the Raiders were fine giving up plays in front of them.
“I would say two things. You miss Jerry and you miss Greg. The other thing is that we got a lot more soft zone coverage. To Russ’ (Wilson) credit the ball came down underneath. You are waiting for the down safety looks that provide those chances down the field,” said Payton, whose team’s leading receiver was running back Samaje Perine with 37 yards.
“I would say we saw a little more shell than expected.”
Payton explained that Wilson made good decisions, reacting to the scheme. He was 18-for-20 in the first half for 125 yards and two scores as Denver led 13-10. But the Broncos finished with 52 yards passing in the second half because of the absent gash plays.
The Raiders also featured a plodding offense as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sat comfortably in the pocket. The Broncos failed to register a sack and their 13.8 pressure rate was the lowest of the 30 teams who have played this season, per TruMedia.
Randy Gregory explained that Garoppolo’s quick release played a role. And Payton believes it went beyond that.
“Well look we are all for pressure. Obviously, it’s an important stat line in our league when it comes to hurrying these quarterbacks. The ball does come out quick with Jimmy, and it comes out quick route-design wise,” Payton said. “There are two things (to create pressure): You win your one-on-ones, or you bring more people. A lot of it is the coverage you want to play within the scheme. There are certain times you want to play a certain coverage to keep the quarterback in the pocket.”
Added linebacker Josey Jewell, “We have to be able to get off the field on third down and eliminate penalties.”
Drew Sanders, the rookie from Arkansas who opened eyes with his athleticism, did not play a single snap on defense. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph hinted that there would be niche roles for him during the season, but none materialized Sunday. Could he help to create more heat on quarterbacks given his experience at inside and outside backer in college?
“Look, he’s got the trust of the coaches,” Payton said. “Part of it is just finding the packages and snaps to play. Both Josey (Jewell) and Alex (Singleton) played well. We’ll consistently look at our personnel and see ways to where guys can help us not only in the kicking game, but on offense and defense. It’s not a trust issue.”
There is no denying that penalties and special teams played a factor in the loss. The Broncos were flagged 10 times for 83 yards and failed to recover the opening onside kick – “If you watch it again, I think (Tremon Smith) probably touched the ball at 10 yards,” Jewell said -- held on a kick return and kicker Wil Lutz missed an extra point and a 55-yard field goal.
If this team is going to win, they must first learn how not to lose.
“You talk about confidence; you win a close game, and you get confidence. Most of the games finish within a touchdown. It is important to understand that we are going to be in a lot of close games,” Payton said. “The fine line of winning and losing is critical. Penalties come into it. The margins change when the game is so low in possessions. (Hall of Fame coach) Bill (Parcells) was fantastic about, ‘How do we win this game?’ … Does it come from experience? Yes. But is it a prerequisite? No.”