Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
But they need to do it in a hurry as the Broncos go up against their most hated rival this weekend.
Phillip Lindsay gets it.
He’s a native son, after all.
He understands rivalries. And as much as the Raiders haven’t been a formidable opponent the last decade, they are still Denver’s most-hated rival.
And that means something.
“Yeah, definitely. The Raiders have been a rival since I’ve been born,” admitted Lindsay, who was born in Colorado, played high school and college football in Colorado and then signed as an undrafted free agent with Denver. “I’ve always known about the Raiders.”
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 12, 2020
In recent years, the only thing you had to know about the Raiders is that they would start every season with a lot of hype, only to fizzle out in the end.
But now second in the AFC West at 5-3 – and having been the only NFL team to knock off the reigning Super Bowl champs so far – the Raiders have been clawing their way back to relevance.
And they are, unfortunately, very relevant in the NFL right now.
Lindsay definitely realizes that, but he’s not letting the Raiders win this game before it’s even played.
“It’s a physical, physical game and it’s going to be a physical game. We all know that,” Lindsay said, adding that as a divisional game it’s always a must-win game, but now at 3-5, the Broncos have to start winning if they want to compete at all this season. “This is going to be a big test for us when it comes to physicality and being able to be disciplined and being able to win this game and score points.”
Scoring points before the fourth quarter has been a problem for this offense, but Lindsay doesn’t think the remedy it’s rocket science.
“It’s third downs. We go three and out too fast. We don’t get enough yards at the beginning of the drives to make it manageable,” he said. “We don’t make it third-and-two, third-and-three, third-and-four—we’re making it third-and-10, third-and-seven, penalties, that right there kills drives and after a while you can’t expect your defense to continue to hold up when you keep going three and out.”
So it’s really just math.
Denver is the worst in the league when it comes to down and distance on third downs, averaging a distance of 8.3 yards on third down.
Which, as Lindsay points out, is unsustainable.
But fixing it is harder than identifying it. While it’s easy to say “it’s execution,” discovering why the offense isn’t executing is the bigger task. And Lindsay, Drew Lock and the coaching staff don’t seem to quite be on the same page when it comes to figuring that out.
Is it just “execution” by the playmakers? Is it needing to put Drew Lock in up-tempo plays from the get-go? Is it designing better running plays to avoid third-and-long?
For Lindsay it’s more about the offense having the same “sense of urgency” from the start that it has had in the fourth quarter then it is about going up tempo all game.
“We have to have a sense of urgency to get plays in and out of the huddle and then to execute and know what we have and make plays. That’s it,” he said. “Somebody has to make a play.”
Lindsay isn’t opposed to a more up-tempo offense at the start – especially with a young offensive core – but he thinks success is more about avoiding three-and-outs with incomplete passes, short yardage runs and no first downs.
“I think the offense can thrive with [up-tempo], especially with a younger class of men that you can kind of get on the ball and go,” he said. “We definitely do have a young team but that’s no excuse to why we can’t start how we end. …We’ve got to be able to control the ball and get first downs because first downs turn into touchdowns.”
Lock was asked several times about the difference in play calling from the first to second half and even from last season to this season, hinting at Pat Shurmur’s responsibility in this anemic offense.
But Lock wasn’t taking the bait.
“I did [up-tempo] all of college. I saw when it works really, really good and I saw when it works really, really bad,” he said, adding that going up against an explosive offense like the Falcons – with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Todd Gurley II – up-tempo isn’t always your friend. “Sure, if you go up-tempo and push the ball and get things rolling it’s going to be awesome. You’ll be like, ‘Ah, this is breaking science in the game of football,’ but when you go three-and-out in 30 seconds because you’re trying to go up-tempo, it puts your defense in a really bad spot. That’s why I said it works both ways.”
Lock sees the game as a juggling act of knowing when the up-tempo plays are going to be effective.
“I’ve seen us score 60 points in a game and the defense is going out there every minute and a half because you score so fast, but I’ve also seen it where you go three-and-out, you went up-tempo and shot yourself in the foot,” Lock said, recalling his college days at Mizzou. “If you feel like you have great set plays that you feel like you can go up-tempo on then, sure.”
Behind Derek Carr, Henry Ruggs III and former Broncos running back Davontae Booker, the Raiders offense has also been explosive and will be another formidable challenge. ,
Aside from relying on the defense to stop them, the Broncos offense has to put up points to compete.
Lindsay believes that starts by controlling the game on the ground.
“Let’s just face it, the team that can run the ball the best is going to win the game. That’s just how it goes because you set the tempo and you set the tone,” he said. “You’re physical, you’re pushing it down the field, you’re punching them in the face. On top of that, you’re taking clock away. …Football is a game of inches—we all know that—and football has always been about running the football. That’s how you have to win games. You win games by controlling the clock, running the football, and making big plays.”
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