ReFo: Broncos @ Raiders, Week 14
Entering this Thursday night game you would have been excused for thinking that the Broncos were ‘due a loss’. They were sporting a seven-game winning streak, and facing off against a divisional opponent enduring another devastatingly disappointing season in the wins column, on a night when the Raiders were honoring the franchise’s Hall of Famers. You would have been excused for clinging to the logic that the Broncos have to lose at some point, but Denver showed absolutely no interest in giving up the winning streak as they extended it to eight games and strengthened their claims to a first-round bye.
The only letdown for Denver was a solitary defensive drive that saw the Raiders charge down the field for six points — that, and the fact their red zone execution left them kicking too many field goals. But for these minor letdowns the game would have been as comfortable on the scoreboard as it was on the field. The apparent ease with which they ran out the final five minutes was an indication of how comfortable this victory was for the Broncos.
For the Raiders, they have now lost six straight and, with so many all-time Raider greats in attendance, their fans were left pining for better days as they were consigned to their first double-digit loss season in three years. While the Broncos get ready for playoff football, the Raiders must look at the next step in their rebuilding process.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Passing Game Clicks Along
Against a secondary that was decimated at corner by salary cap moves and then by injury, this was always likely to be a profitable game for Peyton Manning and his passing game. There were a few head-scratching moments from Manning, with a couple of badly forced throws, but for the most part we got what we expected from the future hall of famer. The pressure the Raiders were able to bring to bear on the quarterback was limited by a strong game from the offensive line (pressure on only 11 of 39 drop-backs) and the receivers had little trouble getting open. At wideout, Demaryius Thomas had one of his highest graded games of the season (+3.1). His impact on the game was hardly affected by his temporary departure due to injury as he picked up plays throughout. Meanwhile, Eric Decker managed to be productive while not dropping a pass for the second straight week (the first time he’s managed that this season). Combine that with Joel Dreesen, who took the lead among the two TEs this week, and Denver just had too much for the Raiders to cover.
Jekyll and Hyde Pass Rush
In terms of total pressure, this was a poor week for the Denver defense. All of the pressure was produced by linebackers and safeties, while Von Miller (+6.2) recorded more than half of the team’s total. The Broncos pressured Carson Palmer on only eight of his 31 drop-backs, as Elvis Dumervil in particular was just completely unable to generate pressure to complement Miller on the opposite side. Dumervil was blanked as a pass rusher for the second time this season, and if you remove his two games picking on Michael Harris of the Chargers, he has a pass rush grade of -8.8 since the last encounter between these two teams in Week 4. It is then fortunate for the Broncos that Miller made the most of the pressure that he got on Palmer, forcing a fumble on a sack and getting into his face quickly the other four times. Miller is a potential game-winner on his own, but this defense is at its best when they have Miller and Dumervil working together to harass opposing quarterbacks. The defense is holding up for now, but against the likes of Tom Brady in the playoffs they will need Dumervil to find his form again.
Closing the Game Out
With the form that he has shown since his return to the active roster (+4.8 in three games), you have to wonder how Knowshon Moreno got so firmly planted in John Fox’s doghouse. Moreno contributed as a runner, as a receiver and in pass protection. The loss of Willis McGahee could have really hurt the Broncos’ offense, but Moreno’s redemptive performances in the past fortnight has ensured Manning’s offense hasn’t skipped a beat. Most impressive from Moreno and his offensive line was the way in which they closed out the game. One of the chief measures of a running game is being able to run when the defense knows it’s coming and wants to load the box to get the ball back. The Broncos did this and ground out the last five and a half minutes for the win, with Moreno finishing the game with a flourish to beat Miles Burris with a cut in the hole on 3rd-and-1 to pick up the conversion that allowed the Broncos to kneel out the game.
Oakland – Three Performances of Note
Re-finding his Form
Preseason All-Pro picks are a fun thing to do, and Jared Veldheer was tabbed in some quarters as a potential All-Pro selection this season as he continued his development in Oakland. However, his inconsistent start to the season, and a spectacular season by Duane Brown in Houston, have made that a moot point. What may have been lost with the Raiders’ disappointing losing streak is the turnaround in Veldheer’s form, particularly as a pass protector. The only blot on his copybook in recent weeks was a poor display at home to the Browns. Since he yielded five pressures (1 Sk, 4 Hu) to Jacksonville in Week 7, he has conceded only 13 pressures in seven games, with more than half of those coming last week. If you pick your Pro Bowl ballot based on form, then Veldheer should be starting to enter your thoughts in what is a tough choice at left tackle in the AFC.
The return to the starting lineup of Darren McFadden brought with it the expected diminished role in the offense for Marcel Reese. Due to the presence of ‘Run DMC’ one of the form backs in the NFL was limited to only five touches last night and, outside of the one run to start the third quarter, a play that was defended terribly by the Broncos, it was tough to see what the Raiders gained from McFadden’s presence. Even on that 36-yard run you could clearly see that McFadden was not at full health and full speed — a fully fit McFadden would surely have tested the far side safety up the sideline to present a scoring threat even from that far out. His head coach certainly seemed to think so on the sideline with his excitement at the opportunity clear on one of NFL Network’s replays. What the Raiders got consistently from McFadden was his insistence on bouncing the run outside with even the slightest hint of a defender working off a block inside, even if the edge of the defense wasn’t sealed off. With his inconsistency on the field, and his inconsistent ability to stay on the field, is it time for the Raiders to move on from McFadden?
Adams a Rare Bright Spot
This was certainly a difficult game in coverage for the Oakland Raiders’ defense, and sub corner Phillip Adams (+2.9) was a rare bright spot — most starting players struggled to stay with the Broncos’ receivers in man, and couldn’t lock them down in zone coverage either. Adams collected one pick from Manning midway through the second quarter, and broke up another ugly pass from Manning late in the second quarter as he dominated Matt Willis at the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, slot corner Joselio Hanson allowed 56 yards on his four targets covering wide receivers, picking up most of his positive grade on stops against tight ends and running backs. Michael Huff similarly struggled up against Eric Decker and Burris was caught a little lost in the middle of the field at times. Up against Brady Quinn (unless he gets benched again) next week the likes of Tyvon Branch and Matt Giordano will be hoping to replicate their Week 8 success and break the Raiders ever-extending losing streak.
— Not a single member of the Broncos’ starting defensive line recorded a pressure in this game, on a combined 79 pass rushes.
— After his perfect game in pass protection this week, Jared Veldheer has now graded negatively in pass protection only once (last week) in his past seven games.
— For the third straight week Demaryius Thomas forced a missed tackle as a receiver, taking his season total to 11 and tying him with Golden Tate for sixth in the league ahead of the Seahawks game with Arizona on Sunday.
PFF Game Ball
Another week and another exceptional performance. With the diminishing pass rush efforts on the opposite side of the defense, the consistency of Von Miller just becomes more and more impressive.