Broncos fans wanted this one. Bad.
After Oakland's 59-14 beatdown of Denver at home last year, the Broncos were hoping that a revamped defense and a new run-first philosophy on offense would make the difference against their long-time rivals.
If last night's game was any indication, the Broncos still have a long way to go.
Here are the four crucial areas the Broncos will need to improve on if they want to be competitive in 2011:
Make no mistakes about it: The unit that underperformed the most in Denver's 23-20 loss against Oakland was the offensive line.
The unit allowed five sacks of quarterback Kyle Orton, and the ground game didn't fare much better, netting just 38 yards on 13 attempts. Take out a 13 yard scramble by Orton, and the Broncos' running backs gained a mere 25 yards on 12 carries, or 2.083 yards per attempt.
While Orton did manage to throw the ball 46 times, many of the pass attempts were rushed or had to be thrown to a check-down receiver to combat the heavy rush. Only 24 of his 46 pass attempts were targeted at wide receivers, while the rest were short dump-offs to running backs and tight ends. Many drives seemed to stall after various holding penalties relegated the team to long second and third-down attempts.
While rookie right tackle Orlando Franklin and veteran left tackle Ryan Clady seem to have secured their spots on the Broncos' O-Line for years to come, the team could be looking for as many as three starting interior linemen come the 2011 offseason.
If you tuned into any national sports station today, there was a lot of conversation about a "quarterback controversy" brewing in Denver.
Let's be clear, John Fox is not going to bench Kyle Orton for Tim Tebow or Brady Quinn over last night's performance. The Denver fans, though, may have already turned against Orton one game into 2011.
After more than a few ugly passes, many viewers during the Monday Night Football broadcast could hear the boo's pouring in from the raucous Mile High crowd. When ESPN's cameras focused on one fan chanting "Tebow, Tebow," the night seemed to only spiral more out of control for Orton. Throw in a fumble, er, drop, during a critical fourth quarter drive, and Denver fans could barely maintain their composure, watching any chances of a victory simply slipping through Orton's hands.
After a preseason that showed neither Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow are ready to emerge into full-time starters, the Broncos went with the player they felt gave them the best opportunity to "win right now." Unfortunately, when that quarterback is 5-19 over his last 24 games, one can understand how the "win right now" argument leaves fans scratching their heads and hoping for a major upgrade.
In forecasting the Broncos' future at the quarterback position, one thing remains clear: The franchise's quarterback of the future isn't yet on their roster.
While much of the optimism surrounding the Broncos this offseason was directly correlated to the defense, such as the drafting of linebacker Von Miller and the triumphant return of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, the team could rarely muster a stop against the Raiders' run.
Though they managed to keep him out of the end zone, the Broncos were thoroughly dominated by the Raiders' rushing attack, led by Darren McFadden. Denver fans could only sit and watch as McFadden gobbled up yards by the chunk, ending the game with 22 caries for 150 yards, a 6.8 yard average.
When asked if he saw any improvement in the Broncos' defense since 2010, Champ Bailey said "None," adding "If we don't stop the run, it's going to be a long season."
Many Broncos' fans were perplexed by the team's decision not to pursue a big-name free agent defensive tackle during the offseason. Although the Broncos did pick up Ty Warren from the Patriots, he suffered a triceps injury during training camp and will be on the sidelines through at least November.
If the Broncos can't find a way to stuff the run soon, their 2011 defense could end up looking very similar to their 2010 defense, which was ranked dead-last in the NFL defending the rush.
The Broncos weren't the only team on the field Monday making costly mental errors. They combined with the Raiders to have 19 combined penalties through the first three quarters, but the Broncos' errors seem to have had a much bigger impact on the final outcome than their Bay-Area rivals. Denver ended the game with 10 penalties for 91 yards, the result of a chippy day on the field.
What hurt most, though, was the Broncos turnovers.
The Broncos were almost certain to pin the Raiders deep in their own territory late in the first quarter, but a blocked punt by Darryl Blackstock put the Raiders at the opposing 36-yard line, and the Broncos defense was unable to stop them from scoring.
What was more horrifying was Kyle Orton's fumble, or better put, drop of the football, as the Broncos were threatening to score in the fourth quarter. The Broncos were only trailing by three points at the time and were well-positioned at Oakland's 24. After a quick play action, tight end Daniel Fells, one of Orton's favorite target during the game's first half, was streaking, wide-open, to the end zone when the ball inexplicably slipped out of Orton's hands and was recovered by the Raider's Lamar Houston, a Colorado Springs' native
"I just feel sick about the ball slipping out of my hands like that," Orton said. "It's just one of those deals that's sickening to have happen to you. It never really happened to me before."
If the Broncos want to avoid that same sickening feeling again in Week 2 against Cincinnati, they'll need marked improvement in all categories.