OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When a season that started with such promise turns into disappointment, change is inevitable.
That’s exactly the case this season in Denver and Oakland.
With the Broncos (3-7) heading into this week’s AFC West showdown in Oakland on Sunday on a six-game losing streak, and the Raiders (4-6) coming off a lopsided loss that put another dent into their playoff hopes, both teams underwent a bit of an overhaul this week.
The Broncos fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Monday and replaced with him with quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. As if that wasn’t enough, Denver then made its second switch at quarterback, giving Paxton Lynch a chance after Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler failed in their stints.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost six in a row and we’ve had 17 turnovers in six weeks,” coach Vance Joseph. “It hasn’t gotten better for us as far as playing a cleaner brand of offensive football. I thought it was the right change for our staff and for our players.”
The changes on the Raiders weren’t quite as drastic. Coach Jack Del Rio fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and gave the play-calling duties to assistant John Pagano in hopes the new leadership will lead to a more aggressive, opportunistic defense. The Raiders have just six takeaways all season and are the first team in the modern history of the NFL to fail to intercept a single pass in the first 10 games.
“We have to do a lot of things different,” Pagano said. “We have to create turnovers. I think that’s the biggest thing missing from any defense. You have to get off the field on third down. We have to go out there, we have to affect the quarterback and make him uncomfortable. I think when those things happen, that gives you that confidence to keep doing the things that you want to do differently.”
But despite the major changes, there’s only so much that will be different this late in the season for either team.
“You’re not going to reinvent the playbook after 10 weeks, 11 weeks,” Del Rio said. “There’ll be some things that Bill likes that he’ll get to. They’ll be some things that ‘Pags’ likes that he’ll get to. There’s no way that either team is going to completely reinvent their playbook.”
Here are some other things to watch:
CLOSE TIES: The Raiders are very familiar with Musgrave, who spent the previous two seasons as offensive coordinator in Oakland. The Raiders did not bring him back, turning over the offense to former quarterbacks coach Todd Downing . Much was made at the time of the change about the close relationship between Downing and quarterback Derek Carr. But Carr said that doesn’t mean there were any problems with his relationship with Musgrave.
“I went to two Pro Bowls with coach Musgrave,” Carr said. “He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around. Every time I see him I give him a big hug. … That’s definitely the farthest thing from the truth that me and coach Musgrave didn’t like each other.”
LYNCH’S CHANCE: The Broncos traded up in the first round last year to draft Lynch, but he was unable to beat out Siemian the past two camps. Lynch has started two games, completing 49 of 83 passes last year for 497 yards and two TDs to go with an interception. He was sacked nine times.
“His skill set is perfect when you’re young,” Joseph said. “If it breaks down, he can run with the football. I told him, ‘Just play. Don’t try to be a pocket passer. We call a play and it’s not there, take off and run.’ That’s one of his strengths.”
LONG FIELDS: One of the big reasons the Raiders are scoring about six fewer points per game than a year ago is the defense hasn’t been setting up the offense as well. With Oakland generating only six turnovers, the team has started four drives at the opponent’s 40 or closer, with no short fields since Week 3. Last year, the Raiders led the league with 20 such drives.
“When they start getting them, which they will, then we can hopefully capitalize when we get those short fields,” Carr said.
HISTORIC SLUMP: The Broncos aren’t used to long losing streaks, with the current six-gamer the longest single-season skid for the franchise since 1990. With a loss on Sunday, Denver would have its longest losing streak a franchise-worst nine-gamer in 1967. The final loss in that streak was a 51-0 loss in Oakland.