ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The trouble started early.
Not much of the first half of Sunday’s game vs. Oakland went according to plan, beginning with the very first drive.
Oakland received the opening kick and marched 62 yards in nine plays to take a 3-0 lead. The Broncos’ defense held strong inside the 10-yard line to force the field goal, but for most of the Raiders’ drive, the visitors moved the ball at will.
That was especially true in the passing game.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr found wide receiver Jordy Nelson for 23 yards on the game’s second play, and then found fullback Keith Smith for 7 yards on the ensuing first-down play.
Running back Marshawn Lynch added a 10-yard run and then Carr found wide receiver Seth Roberts for a 13-yard gain.
As the Raiders marched, their early-down success proved very helpful. They consistently stayed ahead of the chains — they needed 4 yards or fewer on their first two second-down plays — which allowed Carr to continue to rely on the quick-passing game.
“You want to start faster,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said Monday. “I thought yesterday defensively that we didn’t play aggressive enough in the first half. That’s on me. This offense, obviously, poses problems, because they come in with a lot of different weapons, a lot of different matchup issues. And I thought defensively that we were too cautious about No. 30 [Jalen Richard], No. 12 [Martavis Bryant], No. 87 [Jared Cook], No. 89 [Amari Cooper], the running back [Lynch]. We played way too cautious.
“Our defense is based on rushing five, playing press-man coverage, and in the first half, we didn’t do that. And it showed. We were really non-aggressive, and they took advantage of us. In the second half, we got more aggressive and it showed and we played better. That’s on me.”
Those weapons can create matchup problems, Joseph said, and they may have led the Broncos to over-prepare for the Raiders’ offensive attack. In the second half, though, they returned to their aggressive style of play.
“It starts with me as far as how we call the defense and being aggressive,” Joseph said. “This offense posed a lot of problems as far as matchups, and sometimes as a coach, you can over game plan and make your guys really non-aggressive. It starts with me. Our defense, again, is based on rushing and covering and being aggressive with our coverage. In the first half, we didn’t do that.”
The defense improved drastically in the second half, allowing just seven points, but Denver’s cornerbacks still allowed a slew of Carr completions. The Oakland quarterback ultimately finished 29-of-32 for 288 yards and a touchdown.
Cooper was on the receiving end of nearly a third of those attempts. The Alabama product caught all 10 of his targets for 116 yards. And, perhaps more concerning, he was just one of four Oakland receivers to record a catch of at least 20 yards.
While Joseph said those receptions largely came as the result of mental errors — rather than physical or strategic ones — he said he needs to see more aggressive play from his corners.
That, in part, comes down to trusting the pass rush in front of them. In return, Von Miller and Co. should also benefit.
“[Carr] held the ball twice, and we got two sacks,” Joseph said. “At halftime, he was 18-for-19, and it was really quick passes. That falls back on the corners. We have to press the receivers, because if he holds the ball, we know we can get pressure. If it comes out quick and we’re 7, 8 yards off, it’s going to be a completed ball and he’s going to fall for five or six [yards].
“Our corners have to — have to — play with great confidence all the time. And obviously play press coverage. With our pass rush, as a corner, you should have confidence that if he’s throwing a 9-ball or a 7-ball or a deep in-cut, that our pressure will get there. We were really too soft at corner with our coverage.”
The Broncos will certainly have an easier time making those adjustments after a win, but Joseph said he knows it would be “naïve” to ignore the mistakes.
“We’re going to play teams that are always going to give us their best shot,” Joseph said. “So we have to fix the mistakes moving forward so we continue to win. If not, you’re fooling yourself if you [think you can] keep making the same errors on tape.”
Tackle Jared Veldheer was the only Broncos player to leave Sunday’s game with an injury.
“He’s in the protocol from the concussion,” Joseph said Monday. “Other than that, we’re pretty clean, so we’re very, very fortunate. We’ll see about him as the week proceeds.”
If Veldheer can’t play Sunday against the Ravens, Joseph said he feels confident in replacement tackle Billy Turner.
“He would be the guy,” Joseph said. “I felt great about Billy. Nobody talked about him, so that’s a good sign. We have great depth at the O-line position. I wasn’t surprised he played well. We’ve got Billy, we’ve got Max [Garcia] dressing. Those two guys play as starters, so I wasn’t concerned at all.”
The Broncos did make one precautionary switch on Sunday, as they swapped Tramaine Brock in for Adam Jones at cornerback.
“Adam was a little tight [in his hamstrings] in the second half, so Brock came in and played for him,” Joseph said. “He’s only been here three weeks, so he’s got to get in football shape. That’s half of Adam’s problem right now.”
ALIGNING AT LINEBACKER
Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall received the bulk of the snaps at linebacker with 57 and 53, respectively, but rookie Josey Jewell saw about twice as much playing time as he did in Week 1.
Particularly in the fourth quarter, Jewell saw the field in the Broncos’ nickel package.
“Josey played good football,” Joseph said. “It wasn’t about B-Marsh, it was more about Josey. He played good football. We’re playing more nickel now, so those guys are playing more snaps. Last year we played more dime defense, so our ‘backers didn’t play as much. Now, we would like to have a three-man rotation between Todd and B-Marsh and Josey. That way they’re playing probably 40, 45 snaps and not 60 snaps.”
BACK TO PLAYING BALTIMORE
After spending the first 11 years of his career in the AFC North, Domata Peko Sr. knows the Baltimore Ravens well.
So perhaps there’s no better player to speak about what the Broncos should expect this Sunday when they play their first AFC North opponent of the season.
“Baltimore’s a tough place to play, man,” Peko said. “I played there 11 years in a row in the AFC North. It’s a tough division. … The crowd’s going to be loud as heck — they’re a real strong crowd there. You’ve got to get after them early, show them that you mean business. Get that run stopped and you’ve definitely got to get pressure on [Joe] Flacco, because he can sit back there [and] throw the deep ball [with] the best of them.”