Yeah. I’m going there. Grow your bread thick and get a little standoffish…because I am about to tell you about the number one thing Jake Plummer did incredibly well for the Denver Broncos.
He owned the Oakland Raiders.
In eight starts, Plummer went 7-1 and the one loss on the ledger was so delightfully entertaining (the snow game in 2004) that it probably shouldn’t count in the standings. Sure, you can tell me all about how bad the Raiders were and about how good the Broncos were between 2003 and 2006, and all of that is true. I will remind you however, that the absolute rock-bottom moment for the Denver Broncos franchise has to be the 59-14 loss to the wildly successful 2-4 Raiders in 2010 (followed the very next week by Josh McDaniels‘ “what happens in London stays in London” travel policy). In fact, the Broncos have lost their last four games in Denver against Oakland while both teams have been pretty evenly matched. The smoking gun? Dud quarterback play. Jake, where have you gone?
Since the four-game home losing streak began in 2008, Broncos quarterbacks have amassed a less than inspiring 71 completions on 146 attempts for a 245 yards-per-game average, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Eh. Likely worse than the raw statistics has been the shocking lack of life that the team (ergo fans) has shown in these four games. The performance has been hard to describe as other than, well, duds.
This is precisely why Peyton Manning (who hasn’t lost the the Raiders since 2001) needs to assert himself over the Oakland Raiders. There has been an abundance of talk this week from local media as to whether or not this is a “must win” game. Parlayed onto that discussion has been the sentiment that regardless of the Broncos’ 1-2 record, they must find a way to end the losing streak at home against the Raiders.
Manning and Mike McCoy need to get back to embracing the no-huddle. After the first game of the season against the Steelers the no-huddle was all the rage and the Broncos have looked most in sync when Manning operates his hurry-up, audible-oriented offense. On top of that, use the altitude. It sounds awfully cliche, but 300-pound defensive linemen don’t respond particularly well to functional up-tempo at altitude. We have all seen plenty of performance players hitting the oxygen masks at Sports Authority Field at Mile High between plays. Keep them off balance.
It’s clear that I’m a statistics wonk, but let me share with you a stat that I believe truly portrays the success or failure of an offense: third down conversions. During the Broncos’ two losses, the offense has converted 34% of its third down situations. At one point last week versus the Texans they were 3-for-13! This simply will not cut it, especially after the Tim Tebow era saw the team converting at an atrocious 31%. Manning has to execute and more importantly, his team needs to do the same to keep extended drives going. Jack Del Rio‘s defense has not gelled enough to sustain the brunt of the time of possession (another stat in which the Broncos are handily upside down).
Since last year, the fans at Mile High have come back to life. Bored/disappointed fans are a result of low-energy play. I mentioned the snowy game against the Raiders in 2004, a loss; but there are three moments of that game that stand out: defensive end Ellis Johnson rumbling back an interception return for a touchdown, the 85-yard touchdown catch by Rod Smith, and the Al Wilson stop on fourth down. If you don’t recall this tackle, Tyrone Wheatley took a hand-off on fourth-and-1, tried to hop over the pile, and was met mid-air by a 747 named Wilson. This stopped the Raiders’ first drive of the game and ignited the crowd. The Broncos need that moment this week, be it on offense or defense. They need to get big plays early and keep this feeling like a Broncos-Raiders game of old.
Manning begins his play against AFC West opponents, and the onus is on him to establish the rhythm against the Broncos’ most hated foe…perhaps like one of his predecessor’s did.