If it were up to me, I would almost rather the Broncos had lost by 30 points so I could have accepted defeat earlier. The problem with a close loss like the one we saw last night is, there were so many scenarios in which the Denver Broncos could have beaten in the Indianapolis Colts, despite the fact that they made so many critical mistakes.
If you’re looking for validation for this game from me, you probably won’t get it. I’ll paint every picture with a giant silver lining, but I’ve gotten used to winning and losing hurts.
Here are five quick reasons why the Broncos didn’t beat the Colts on Sunday night.
1. Defense waited too long to show up
2. Mental errors, specifically by Kevin Vickerson
3. Trindon Holliday
4. Ronnie Hillman
5. Pass protection
I’m pretty sure–in no specific order–those are the exact reasons the Broncos lost the game to the Colts, but it all came down to this.
Ronnie Hillman’s Fumble
Ronnie Hillman is absolutely a talented young running back, who probably has a decent future in the NFL. The Broncos made it a point to draft him in the third round last year, and while he played sparingly as a rookie, he’s showed off some of the speed and quicks that got him picked by Denver in the first place now in 2013.
The problem is, Hillman has a bad problem–he can’t hold on to the ball. The stats say he has only fumbled twice this year and has lost just the one. Why does that seem inaccurate? Probably because the Broncos as a team fumble the ball more than any other team in the history of the game of football.
Don’t quote me on that stat, just ride the sarcasm wave.
Of course, you could point to any number of times in a game where a team fails to capitalize on an opportunity. For instance, the Broncos–trailing by six–had a chance deep in their own territory to drive the ball down the field for a go-ahead score. Julius Thomas let Erik Walden get past him in pass protection, Peyton Manning was hit as he threw, and Pat Angerer picked the pass off setting the Colts up for a field goal and what would eventually be the insurmountable lead.
That was absolutely a huge mistake in the game, but it didn’t cost the Broncos their shot at winning. Thanks to a miraculous catch by Wes Welker and a quick drive by Denver, the ball was promptly moved back down the field into scoring range, two or three yards away (too angry to remember exactly) where Denver chose to give the ball to Ronnie Hillman between the tackles.
Hillman scores, the Broncos go down by two points with three timeouts, all the momentum, and a defense that had been playing shut-down football in the fourth quarter. Despite the Broncos’ screw-ups, it looked like all was going according to plan so Denver would win the game 40-39 and get on the plane with another close call.
Nope. Hillman’s fumble was blatant, and clearly recovered by Antoine Bethea in my opinion. It was unbelievable. Just a crushing blow. The Broncos were then forced to use all their timeouts and play the onside kick strategy, which only works once every 40 years.
Hillman’s fumble will not go down as anything other than another turnover on the stat sheet, but during the course of the game, it was absolutely the mistake that wound up costing the Broncos the game in the end, no matter what anyone says.
I feel bad for Hillman, because we’ve all seen the time and energy it took for Rahim Moore to recover from the “Goat” status this offseason. Luckily, there is another game next week and hopefully we can all forget about Hillman’s mistake with a bounce back victory before the bye week, but for now, it is going to be a rough week for Hillman.
I don’t know what has to be done to get into the doghouse that Knowshon Moreno was put in last year, or the one that Montee Ball is currently in, but I have to think Hillman’s done it. He is going to have to regain the trust of his teammates, most importantly the trust of number 18.
There will probably not be any report of this, but I fully expect Hillman to be inactive next week against the Redskins with C.J. Anderson getting his first action. If not, Broncos coaches obviously have some kind of blind optimism and faith in Hillman that they didn’t have in Knowshon Moreno last year.
The Broncos’ offense has been flat out stupid the last two weeks. The first couple of weeks, it was stupid good. The last two weeks, it’s just been flat out stupid. The Broncos continue to bash this formula in to the ground, wondering why it doesn’t work–“Run for two yards, throw a two-yard out that is stopped immediately, third-and-undesirable distance.”
Actually, there were times against the Colts where I wondered, why are the Broncos running the offense through Knowshon Moreno with all the targets they have?
I refuse to believe, no matter how good some team’s coverage is, that all of the four horsemen (Thomas squared, Decker, Welker) are blanketed every single play. Manning has formed some kind of sick habit where early in games he constantly throws to blanketed receivers, and he did it very often against the Colts.
I realize that Indy managed to get pressure on Peyton unlike any other team we’ve faced, but the Broncos did a poor job adjusting until late in the fourth quarter when the game was seemingly out of reach. It was frustrating to see the offense move the ball AT WILL like they probably should have done all game.
This guy is feast or famine if you’ve ever seen it. He is a big play waiting to happen, whether he’s making it for your team or fumbling it away to the other.
Sunday night vs. the Colts was simply one night where Trindon could not hold on to the ball, flat out. He fumbled away the ball to Indy helping them get a lead on the Broncos in the early portion of the game, and he muffed another ball that he luckily recovered, even though it didn’t prevent the Broncos from losing.
You have to be willing to take the good with the bad concerning Holliday, because he’s such an unbelievable weapon in the return game. It’s hard to say Hillman’s fumble cost us but you’ll take it with Holliday. Who else you gonna put back there? Welker?
Holliday had a big return before he was lit up by Pat McAfee, showing off his wheels a bit but for the most part, Indy held him in check.
Jack Del Rio’s Lack of Creativity
Jack Del Rio is at least somewhat responsible for the Broncos’ lack of ability to rush the quarterback. Andrew Luck wasn’t unscathed by any means in this game, but the Broncos were able to generate basically no pass rush.
It will take some time obviously for Von Miller to re-acclimate himself to the rigors of the NFL trenches, but we need him to figure it out sooner rather than later. Once he gets it going, everyone else will benefit. I guess I just assumed it’d be the immediate Von we all know and love.
Pass Protection Was Rough
The Broncos were called for holding, Manning was hit numerous times, strip-sacked, and hit while throwing resulting in his only pick of the night. Despite the Broncos’ inability to protect Manning, he played pretty well, but this unit looked like it was a man or two down on Sunday night.
Aside from the fact that Robert Mathis is the best pass rusher in the NFL right now and one of the best in the art of the strip-sack, the Colts were able to get pressure on Peyton from all angles. One specifically poor area off pass protection was the play I mentioned by Julius Thomas. The Broncos were never able to get the Colts on their heels, at least not until very late in the game, and Indy made them pay with great scheming.
Denver’s pass pro has been fine this year even without Ryan Clady, but obviously not having Orlando Franklin out there as well turned out to be more impactful than anticipated.
On to the Next
I hated that game last night. Had we won, it would have been a very ugly escape. Because we lost, it is just an ugly loss. I’d hope the team will burn the tape from this game and forget about it completely. It was a complete anomaly for the Broncos and a set of circumstances that 100 percent went in the Colts’ favor to allow them to win the game. They were the ones who controlled the turnover battle, and they were the ones who put pressure on Manning.
They looked like a home team playing with a purpose, and now they’ve beaten arguably three of the top five or six teams in the NFL this season.
The Colts aren’t without flaw, but they didn’t make many errors on Sunday night, and the Broncos did. The fact that we were as close as we were is pretty remarkable, but the Broncos need to go back to the drawing board and stop being so conservative in the early portion of games. It’s infuriating.