Broncos’ strategies backfire in dud of season opener
AP Pro Football Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — John Elway’s draft dealing and Vic Fangio’s strategy on preseason playing time both backfired in the Denver Broncos’ 24-16 loss at Oakland that snapped the NFL’s longest season-opening winning streak at seven.
Both may still pay off in the long run, but not on a cool night in the Bay Area where the Raiders and the “Black Hole “ were fired up to show they didn’t need Antonio Brown anyway.
Elway traded away the 10th overall draft pick in April to Pittsburgh, which grabbed Michigan star linebacker Devin Bush, who led the Steelers with 11 tackles Sunday. The Broncos GM used the pair of picks he got in return to select tight end Noah Fant at No. 20 and project QB Drew Lock in the second round.
Linebacker Todd Davis, the team’s leading tackler last year, tore a calf on the first day of camp and hasn’t practiced since, Lock (thumb) is on IR and Fant had a dud of a debut, gaining 29 yards on two catches but costing Denver 31 yards in losses.
He was dropped for minus-5 yards on a jet sweep on Denver’s first snap and committed two costly penalties — an illegal block that wiped out 16 yards and a hold that pushed them back 10 yards and just out of range as Brandon McManus came up short on a 64-yard field-goal try as the first half ended.
This came a day after the other Iowa tight end that went in the first round, T.J. Hockenson , piled up 131 yards and a touchdown on six catches for Detroit.
Joe Flacco’s rhythm with his receivers was off as Denver’s out-of-sync offense predictably struggled at times, not surprising after playing so little in August.
Blunders either pushed the Broncos out of field-goal range or kept them from reaching the end zone as they stalled repeatedly in the red zone before Flacco finally hit Emmanuel Sanders with a 1-yard TD just before the two-minute warning.
That was Flacco’s eighth drive — 12th if you count his preseason cameos.
“It’s just the first game man,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “It’s a new team, new coach, new guys playing together.”
That’s the rub: every other team played their starting QB sparingly, if at all, in the preseason . But Flacco was running a new system installed by first-time offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello after coming over from Baltimore. Yet, he played in just two of Denver’s five preseason games and directed just four drives.
Fangio sat all of his offensive starters for the last two preseason games, giving them a 20-day break before the opener.
“Maybe we could have left them in there for another series in the second and third game,” Fangio said.
Perfect in the preseason, McManus kicked three field goals and came within inches of tying Matt Prater’s NFL record-long 64-yarder set in 2013.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The pass rush. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb expect to easily surpass the 26½ sacks they combined for last year, but they couldn’t get close to Derek Carr (22 of 26 for 259 yards, TD).
The Broncos’ prized free agent singing, Ja’Wuan James, whose four-year, $51 million deal made him the league’s highest-paid right tackle, went for an MRI on his left knee amid concerns his injury was serious. WR Tim Patrick sustained a broken left hand and will miss at least a month.
Free agent CB Bryce Callahan (foot) was inactive, and Raiders reclamation TE Darren Waller (seven catches, 70 yards) repeatedly burned his replacement, Isaac Yiadom, who rarely had any safety help.
“That part of it’s on me,” Fangio said. “But he’s going to have to win some 1-on-1 battles.”
105.3 — Flacco’s passer rating, the highest by a Broncos QB since Trevor Siemian’s 107.7 mark against Oakland on Nov. 26, 2017. Flacco completed 21 of 31 passes for 268 yards and one TD with no interceptions and three sacks .
Fangio doesn’t figure he has any inherent advantages Sunday when his old team, the Bears, visit Denver. Fangio directed one of the league’s top defenses for four years in Chicago before getting his first head coaching job at age 60.
“If anything,” Fangio said, “they may have an advantage because they worked with me for four years and there’s still two defensive coaches there” that were on his staff.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.