The Donatell Diary: Derek Carr Shreds Broncos’ Overmatched Secondary

Dec 26, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders tight end Foster Moreau (87) is defended by Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson (22) in the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A date with the Raiders in Week 6 dropped the Broncos to 3-3. Their once-promising start to the season disappeared, and many were skeptical about the success that came at the expense of the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets. Recent weeks involved tougher games against the Ravens and Steelers. Like the AFC North predecessors, the Raiders found plenty of success against Ed Donatell’s group.

Readers who haven’t been following along or who’d like a refresher can feel free to read the reports on the Broncos’ defensive performance in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, and Week 5. It’s now time to take on Week 6.

The Positives

For a decent portion of the opening half, the Broncos were able frustrate Derek Carr. An opening-drive TD didn’t lead to the dam breaking. Instead, the secondary did a pretty good job of bending but not breaking. Part of the defense’s success – if we can call it that – is that Daniel Carlson missed a field goal, so things looked a touch better than they could have been. Even still, the Broncos were a late-2Q TD away from heading into the half at 10-7.

The Raiders were committed to Josh Jacobs; the Broncos were committed to shutting him down. LV’s running back finished the day with 16 carries for 53 yards. In other words, Denver was able to correct some of the issues from the previous week when Najee Harris created so many problems.

Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions in this one, consistently putting his defense in a challenging spot. For a time, they were up to the challenge. As the game wore on, the defense started to slide.

They ended up losing Alexander Johnson in this one, which made life a lot more difficult. So, it was far from a strong performance, and yet life wasn’t easy out there.

The Negatives

Rich Bisaccia’s first game as a head coach ended up being a good one.

Henry Ruggs III roasted the Denver secondary. Kyle Fuller had been horrible through the opening five games, so he was benched coming into this one. His backup didn’t do much better:

The big plays didn’t end there. By the 4th quarter, the game broadcast indicated that Las Vegas had gone for 20+ yards seven times. It wasn’t all Ruggs, either. Darren Waller and Kenyon Drake were also a problem. Drake actually had both a receiving and rushing TD.

Bryce Callahan is a good player, but he had a difficult time in this one. In the fourth quarter on a critical 3rd & 6, Callahan got roasted by Bryan Edwards. The kid hauled in a great one-handed catch and went for 51 yards. It was that kind of day.

One of the benefits of committing to Jacobs early is that the Broncos started committing more to stopping the run. Linebackers bit hard on play action at a couple points, leaving the middle really open for the Raiders. The Vikings will need to be careful in this regard. Some sustained focus on shutting down the run can lead to large patches of grass in the middle of the field that are easily exploited. Simple in-breaking routes 10-15 yards down the field can be highly effective.

Another indicator that the Raiders had Denver off balance rests in the success of this screen:

The Broncos did very little right in this one. Injuries hurt, and Denver’s starting QB didn’t help matters. Even still, it was a rough day at the office for Ed Donatell and friends. Waller, Jacobs, and Renfrow are an underrated group of skill players, so it shouldn’t be totally shocking that they had some success. Dropping 34 points, though, is a strong indicator that it was a rough day for the defense.

The Send Off

After 6 games, Ed Donatell and the Broncos are 3-3. The defense isn’t without blame in this return to mediocrity.

The 34-24 final score obfuscates the reality of the game. Denver wasn’t in this one; Las Vegas deserved to win. Carr finished his day having gone 18/27 for 341 yards and a pair of TDs. Bridgewater, in contrast, 35/49 for 334 yards, 3 TDs, and 3 INTs. Teddy’s stats are the sort of thing that happens when a team is way behind and needs to throw a lot to claw back into having a chance.

Week 7 features the Broncos taking on the Cleveland Browns. Another loss would put Denver below .500 after a promising 3-0 start.

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