We're just one week into the 2011 NFL season and the Denver Broncos still look as though they are playing in 2010. The John Elway-John Fox-Brian Xanders (EFX) era began with a loss to the hated Oakland Raiders at Mile High, 23-20. The score seemingly indicates that this was a close game, but it was far from it. Yes, the difference in the game can be boiled down to Sebastian Janikowski's 63-yard field goal at the end of the first half, but if he doesn't make that we don't know the chain of causality that would have occurred in the second half.
Because the Broncos finished 4-12 in 2010 and looked nowhere close to an improved team on Monday night, Broncos fans are certainly ready to wring out their frustrations after this loss. No, the season is not lost yet, but there should definitely be concerns about this team.
Let's look at five key issues (in no particular order) from this game:
1. Where is the rushing attack?
John Fox was preaching a return to the running game, but he never attempted to stick with it. Second-year players Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton failed to provide much blocking on the offensive line. The Oakland Raiders' defensive line dominated everyone on the Broncos' offensive line for the entire game.
Before Matt Prater sliced a 56-yard field goal attempt, Kyle Orton attempted three straight passes and all fell incomplete. That entire drive consisted of one rushing play, a three-yard loss by Willis McGahee to start it. This is exactly what we saw Josh McDaniels call. It's just one game, so let's see how this evolves.
At one point Kyle Orton was the team's leading rusher with his 13-yard run. Knowshon Moreno struggled to reach 22 yards on his eight carries. Not good at all.
There's not a lot to say about this one, but it is huge. Elvis Dumervil left the game with a shoulder injury and was limited to nickel and pass plays. Champ Bailey left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring strain, as did Knowshon Moreno. Brandon Lloyd has a groin injury. The Broncos were burned by injuries in 2010 and the battle with attrition is already here.
3. Kyle Orton
Yes, late in the game ESPN cameras picked up Broncos fans chanting "We want Tebow!" It's going to be a popular response should the Broncos' struggles continue. And no one should be singing the praises of Orton. He just wasn't good enough. The play that best sums up Orton's game was his inadvertent fumble. He had a wide open Daniel Fells to pass to, but before he brought his arm up the ball just fell to the ground and into the Raiders' possession.
Not to belabor the point much more, but Raiders safety Matt Giordano read Orton perfectly for an interception late in the second quarter. That turnover became Janikowski's key 63-yard field goal.
4. Rush defense
Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden was at it again. While he didn't find the end zone like last October, McFadden was able to penetrate the Broncos' defense for 150 yards on 22 plays. He had a 47-yard run that ended short of the end zone thanks to a Champ Bailey tackle. But Jason Campbell pushed the ball into the end zone on the next play for a score. The Raiders as a team had 190 yards on the ground.
5. Eric Decker
There had to be one good thing from this game and it was Eric Decker. He scored the Broncos' first touchdown of the game when he returned a punt for 90 yards. It was a bit of a surprise that Decker came out as the kick and punt returner, but, at least for this game, it worked out well. It was the first punt return touchdown in a season opener by a Broncos player since 1960. And after a quiet first half, Decker finished the game with three receptions for 53 yards.
And for a bit of a bonus issue, the two teams combined for 25 enforced penalties. The Raiders kept coming up with foolish penalties: offsides, unsportsmanlike conduct and the like. The Broncos wasted them by not putting the ball into the end zone.
It's only one game, but at first glance the new Broncos look much like the old Broncos.