ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Amid the penalties and drops and missed opportunities, Head Coach Vic Fangio saw signs that his team can respond after losing in 24-16 in the season opener to the Raiders.
Whether in offensive situational football or defensive play-making, Fangio said small changes can bring the Broncos far more success than they found in Oakland.
"If we can just get our points when they're there to be gotten and not get sacked or penalized out of field-goal range," Fangio said on Tuesday. "Make a play in the passing game. I think we only had two passes defensed, not counting batted balls by the rush. We got one from Bradley [Chubb], I know. We've got to make some plays in pass defense, and we've got to shore up the run defense a little bit better."
Small improvements rather than a drastic overhaul could help the Broncos earn a win against the Bears on Sunday. But in the team's season opener, there always seemed to be a small error that stalled a drive.
"We actually started running the ball better in the second half," Fangio said. "Made some big plays in the passing game. But our issues offensively were we got in field-goal range three times and got knocked back either by a sack or a penalty and couldn't attempt the field goal. We tried the 64-yarder at the half and another five yards, even another couple yards, that thing might have been good. So I think those were lost points there — three drives where we are in field-goal range with the wind at our back. And then obviously the red zone, we didn't come through there."
The same was true on the defensive side, especially on third down. The Raiders finished 10-of-14 on third-down attempts.
"Yeah, one of the biggest issues was they had so many third-and-3 [or shorter]," Fangio said, "… which was more of a reflection of our first- and second-down defense than the third-down defense. But you're right, we've got to be able to make some plays and make some stops no matter what the yardage is, and we didn't get them."
The team's evaluation process, though, is no different than it would be after a win. After each game, Fangio said, the Broncos must quickly move on.
"The most important thing you do every week is critique yourself and improve from your errors," Fangio said. "Learn from your good stuff and then move on to the next opponent."
SCANGARELLO'S FIRST EFFORT
Monday's game against the Raiders was also Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello's regular-season debut as a play caller, and though the offense didn't muster a touchdown until the late in the fourth quarter, Fangio seemed pleased with Scangarello's performance.
And there's good reason to be pleased. The Broncos put together four red-zone drives in the second half, including two drives to start the third quarter that traveled inside the Raiders' 10-yard line.
The possessions didn't all result in touchdowns, but the Broncos were able to move the ball with relative efficiency in the second half.
But no one's perfect when it comes to calling a game.
"I thought it was good," Fangio said. "I thought our operation was good for the most part. Obviously, any time you call plays — same for me calling defense — there's always a few you'd like to have back or call something different. That's just the way it goes. You're never going to call every play the perfect play, so I thought it was fine."
Fangio also clarified that while he has the authority to choose or veto a call, the Broncos will "overall" go with what Scangarello calls.
MANAGING THE GAME
In Fangio's first game as a head coach, he faced several game-management decisions that proved critical down the stretch.
He seemed to handle timeouts wisely both at the end of the first half — when the Broncos were driving for a last-second field-goal attempt — and late in the game as the Broncos tried to get the ball back.
The team wasn't able to execute in either situation, but Fangio seemed to make the proper decisions to set the Broncos up for success.
With 9:23 to play in the fourth quarter, Fangio faced his first true fourth-down decision of the game. The Broncos, who were down 15 points, faced a fourth-and-9 after Joe Flacco was sacked. Fangio chose to take the points and kick the field goal.
And even though the Broncos still needed two touchdowns to take the lead, the decision to cut into the lead ultimately put the team in a situation where it could've tied the game. If the Broncos had gotten off the field on third-and-8 with two minutes remaining, they would've had the ball down just one possession.
"It was fourth-and-9," Fangio said. "I just thought it was too far with close to nine minutes left. There's still a lot of football. Anything could happen. I didn't want to leave there without points. And I think in retrospect, it turned out to be the right decision because we still had a chance there if we could've gotten a stop there at the end. We'll never know if we would've converted the fourth-and-9, but that was the choice I made at the time and I feel fine about that choice."