Sunday’s loss reveals that the Broncos lack playmakers on both sides

Sep 11, 2023, 4:00 AM | Updated: 2:20 pm

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Blame Sean Payton. Blame Russell Wilson. Blame Wil Lutz. Those are the people who will be on the receiving end of the arrows on Monday; they’ll feel the heat for the Broncos losing to the Raiders in the season opener.

And it’s not without merit. Payton’s decision to start the game with an onside kick backfired. Wilson’s offense only put 16 points on the scoreboard. And Lutz’s missed extra point proved to be the difference in the game. They all deserve some blame.

But they aren’t the reason why the Broncos lost. In fact, they’re the only reason the game was even close.

Denver is 0-1 on the season, appearing to be on their way to another frustrating year, because they don’t have any playmakers. On either side of the ball.

The Broncos problem is their roster. It’s just not very good.

A fourth-quarter play illustrates the point perfectly. With the game on the line, Denver faced a 3-and-11 at their own 24-yard line. There was 5:50 left on the clock, with the Broncos trailing 17-16. They needed to move the chains. They needed a play.

What happened? No one got open, other than Adam Trautman on a crossing route. Wilson hit him in stride, putting the tight end in a one-on-one situation with Tre’von Moehrig. If he could make a move or break a tackle, the drive would stay alive. He didn’t. And it wasn’t even close.

The Broncos were forced to punt. And they never touched the football again.

Game. Set. Match.

On the most-critical play of the game, Denver was forced to throw it to a blocking tight end. They were relying on a player with 60 career receptions.

Why? Because they don’t have a lot of other options.

Jerry Jeudy is the Broncos most-explosive player on offense. He missed the game with a hamstring injury. Greg Dulcich is allegedly a matchup problem at tight end. He left the game with a hammy.

That left the cupboard pretty bare for Wilson. He didn’t have a lot of weapons at his disposal.

Courtland Sutton isn’t the player he once was; post-ACL, the wideout simply can’t create separation. Brandon Johnson is a practice-squad player on most rosters. Marvin Mims is a rookie. Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Phillip Dorsett were activated for the practice squad for the game.

That’s a laughable group of wide receivers. Yet, that’s what the Broncos tried to win an NFL game with as their outside threats. It didn’t go well.

Sutton had four catches for 32 yards. Johnson had two for 31. Humphrey had two for 11. Mims had two for nine. Dorsett ran out of bounds when trying to catch his one target.

None were a threat to the Raiders. Las Vegas jammed them at the line, played one safety and stacked the box, making it tough for the Broncos to run the ball. Denver had no counter.

It’s inexcusable that this is the situation. The fact that it’s happening for the second-straight year, for the exact same reason, is mind-numbing.

Yes, Denver misses Tim Patrick. But the wide receiver was lost for the season with an Achilles injury weeks ago. Just like last year, the Broncos had plenty of time to replace him. But in a definition-of-insanity move, they chose not to.

George Paton believed in Sutton. He trusted Jeudy. He thought his young players could step up.

He was wrong. Again.

He compounded the issue by not adding a playmaker at running back. Javonte Williams is coming off of a major knee injury. Samaje Perine is a plodder. They combined for 93 yards on 21 carries on Sunday. They were fine.

The Broncos also don’t have a tight end that scares anyone. They think Dulcich is that player, but he can’t stay healthy. The rest of that room is a bunch of blockers; they’re total non-threats.

And that’s just on offense. The Broncos don’t have playmakers on defense, either.

The Raiders were able to burn the final 5:08 of the game because Denver couldn’t get them off the field. Las Vegas had a third-and-eight, but converted because of a silly penalty by Kareem Jackson. They also had a third-and-seven at the two-minute warning, but Jimmy Garoppolo was able to scramble for eight yards.

With the game on the line, no one made a play. And they weren’t particularly close.

Justin Simmons is the Broncos highest-paid defender. He had four tackles in the game.

Randy Gregory makes $14 million per season. He had one tackle and never got near the quarterback.

Big-time players make big-time plays. Denver doesn’t have anyone who fits that description. They have a bunch of guys who disappear when the moment arrives.

If the defense makes a play down the stretch, maybe Wilson plays the role of hero in the final minutes. Maybe Payton proves to be worthy of a first-round pick. Maybe Lutz redeems himself.

But none of them got a chance. Why? Because the Broncos defense, a group that didn’t record a single sack on the day, couldn’t get off the field twice on third down.

It was painfully similar to recent years. The Raiders did the same thing a year ago in Las Vegas, running out the clock in the fourth quarter of a close game.

It’s the same thing over and over and over again for the Broncos. Coaches come and go, but the results remain the same.

Why? Because they keep relying on players like Sutton, Simmons and Jackson to make key plays in critical moments.

They don’t. And they won’t.

George Paton has grossly overestimated his roster. He’s spent money on the wrong players and shipped out the right ones. The result is a group that can’t make plays when it matters. That was never more obvious than in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders.

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Sunday’s loss reveals that the Broncos lack playmakers on both sides