Sunday (9:25pm UK) in Vegas, the Raiders will be desperate to keep their once-optimistic season from slipping away after just four games. Their division rivals Denver Broncos, meanwhile, will be looking to jump out to one of the more puzzling 3-1 starts in recent memory.
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Every week, there’s a game or two that defies traditional analysis. Now, of course,
we can assess the chances of Derek Carr and a struggling Raiders passing attack against an excellent Broncos secondary, which, through three games, has intercepted five passes and ranks as one of the NFL’s four best teams in terms of net yards per passing attempts allowed (4.9). Similarly, we can consider what a Russell Wilson-led offense that’s seemingly reluctant to try and get the most out of Russell Wilson will look like against a Vegas defense that, while talented, is one of the four worst in the NFL in terms of net yards per passing attempts allowed (7.2) and has forced just two turnovers through three games.
We can dissect that defense’s inability, on multiple occasions, to get a single stop when it needed one in blowing leads of 20-0 (at halftime) and 23-7 (after three quarters) to a Cardinals teams that has otherwise looked deeply problematic. All the while, of course, the offense struggled, on the ground (Josh Jacobs had just 69 yards on 19 carries), in involving franchise wide receiver Davante Adams (he had two catches on seven targets, for just 12 yards) and in the clutch, evidenced most starkly by Hunter Renfrow’s two fumbles in a three-play span in overtime, the second of which was scooped up and returned by Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy for the game-winning touchdown.
We could also delve into the Broncos’ astounding lack of efficiency in the red zone. Through three weeks, Denver has converted just over 14% of trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line into touchdowns. That’s historically bad. Now, it is also a stat that’s likely regress positively, as this level of red zone incompetence is not sustainable. That being said, they’ve been bad. While, by default, basically, they’ve pretty much got to improve, there is no assurance that this is the moment in which they do so. Which brings us to the elephant in the room.
Overwhelming all attempts at traditional analysis of this matchup, however, is the Nathaniel Hackett of it all. Through three games, Hackett – the former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator who, despite all protestations by the Broncos that ‘he was their guy all along’, was almost certainly hired in hoped of luring a disgruntled Aaron Rodger to Denver – has, in three weeks, assembled as embarrassing a resume of in-game haplessness (were not counting the dumpster that was Urban Meyer in Jacksonville) as we’re seen in some time. His handling of timeouts, the play clock and personnel groupings have been more akin to performance art than top-level management. Last week, a national television broadcast actively credited Hackett for getting the Broncos’ field goal unit on the field in time to attempt a kick.
There’s damning with faint, and there’s whatever that is. That the Broncos are somehow 2-1 boggles the mind.
If Hackett’s early ‘growing pains’ suddenly, magically subside and give way to a firm grasp on time management, situational awareness and personnel deployment, the Broncos could well be on their way to being a Super Bowl contender they thought they’d become in the wake of the Russell Wilson trade.
I can’t speak to Hackett’s long-term aptitude for growth and development. I am, however, highly dubious that, in the span of a week, he’s gone from barely recognizing that these games are timed to even an average in-game head coach. Combine this with the fact that the Raiders are the NFL’s lone 0-3 team and will be fighting tooth and nail to keep their season from flaming out before the quarter pole…