Nov 16, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach John Fox looks on during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
After an embarrassing loss to the St. Louis Rams on the road, the Denver Broncos are left scratching their heads and wondering where they can find the reset button on these last few games, where they got bludgeoned by New England, trailed for nearly two quarters against the Oakland Raiders, and then lost 22-7 against Jeff Fisher and the boys.
It’s not the end of the world for the Broncos, but a road loss against a bad team (no offense to the Rams, who have beaten some good ones this year) is an indication of poor preparation on the part of both the players and the coaches and it started off what turned out to be the worst possible weekend the Broncos could have come up with when they kicked off on Sunday morning.
After the Broncos’ loss, the Kansas City Chiefs somehow came up with a win over the Seattle Seahawks who, after beating the Broncos in overtime, decided to become an average football team that might miss out on the playoffs this year entirely. The Chiefs and Broncos now are both 7-3 this season with a game in Arrowhead two weeks from now.
Then, the San Diego Chargers squeaked out a win against the Oakland Raiders, which is a lose-lose situation for the Broncos but at least if the Raiders had beaten the Chargers, it would have pushed them further into irrelevancy.
To put the cherry on top of it all, the New England Patriots were flexing on Sunday Night Football over the host team Indianapolis Colts, who looked incompetent against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick yet again. The Colts have been one of the league’s hottest offenses, but they couldn’t muster up more than 20 points against old Bill and the crew, who won on the strength of four touchdowns from Jonas Gray.
You and I are both wondering the same thing — who the heck is Jonas Gray?
At any rate, the Broncos are now essentially two games in the hole to New England in the AFC race, which means that the Broncos need to win at least five of their next six games to have a shot at home field in the playoffs, perhaps even a mandatory 6-0 to close out the season if they want the road to the Super Bowl to come through Denver and not Foxboro.
The great news is, the Broncos’ only loss in the AFC is against New England, so if they finish with the same record as the Patriots, they will own the tie-breaker with a better AFC record, assuming the Broncos don’t lose from here on out (all remaining opponents are AFC foes).
Now that we’ve ranted on about the playoff race, let’s take a few minutes to look at some glaring issues I see with the Broncos’ coaching staff, which was once again out-done by the coaching staff of an inferior team.
1. The Offensive Line — A Problem
The Broncos have made one mistake after another when it comes to the offensive line, starting with not addressing it in the offseason properly.
If the Super Bowl weren’t indication enough, Manny Ramirez has made it clear that he does not belong in the starting lineup whatsoever. While he does have power and toughness, Ramirez is not a very good center or guard for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations, and the Broncos are weakest on the interior OL where he is currently starting.
Their solution to that was to move Ramirez to guard from center and put Will Montgomery in at center, where he should have been all along, and put All-Pro right guard Louis Vasquez at right tackle. That wasn’t overly successful last year against Indianapolis, but they figured they’d try again.
The failure also was bringing in Richie Incognito for a two-day visit, making it public knowledge, and then not signing him because of the next two opponents being his former teams. This has been part of the problem for the Broncos all season long. They have a lack of aggressiveness starting with the coaching staff that stems from what appears to be an unwillingness to step on other teams’ throats. They are not unwilling to take risks, but taking a risk with this team is like pulling teeth.
The combinations on the offensive line have failed, including having Orlando Franklin at left guard instead of right tackle, where the Broncos have used three starters this year (all of which have been terrible).
2. Von Miller — Dropping Into Coverage?
This is by far the dumbest thing that the Broncos are doing right now. Even the women in the room who don’t really care about the game are asking, “Why is Von Miller always in the backfield?” not meaning the offensive backfield, but the defensive backfield.
That is a really fair question, wouldn’t you say?
Why would the Broncos’ best defensive player and best pass rusher be dropping into coverage? Furthermore, why is he dropping into coverage and they are not blitzing or are having no success blitzing?
The personnel the Broncos have right now is favorable to generating at least a good four-man rush, but they aren’t doing even that. Shaun Hill personally knit me a sweater on Sunday, and it said, “Screw The Broncos” on the front of it.
3. Andre Caldwell < Cody Latimer
I already wrote an entire article about this, but Andre Caldwell is a liability on the field at this point in any capacity. Yes, he caught three passes — that doesn’t matter. What matters is that when he tries to bring a kickoff out of the end zone or anytime he touches the ball, it’s a threat to be a turnover or a terrible starting field position for the Broncos.
Caldwell has worked hard over the last three years to earn his contract with the team, but this year, he’s not earning it on the field. In fact, he’s been really, really bad.
It’s time for the Broncos to quit blindly putting confidence in a player they know is not performing up to their Super Bowl standard and get the second round pick Cody Latimer in the lineup, if only as a kick returner.
4. Get a Real Kicker. NOW.
Initially, it made a lot of sense for the Broncos to trade for Brandon McManus and let go of Matt Prater when his suspension was up. Prater is a shell of his former self, even less than a year removed from draining a 64-yard, NFL-record setting field goal. He’s lost strength and accuracy in his leg, and despite the fact that he is one screw up away from being suspended a full year, I would still trust him to make a 50-yard field goal when the offense is struggling and the defense can’t get a big stop.
The Broncos do not have that trust in McManus, and it’s clear. They went for a handful of fourth downs on Sunday, some that they absolutely had to, but some that they could have at least attempted to put points on the board.
If this coaching staff has no faith in McManus, it’s time to give up the experiment and get a veteran kicker that can be at least trusted to make a field goal when the team needs it. They have zero confidence in McManus, yet continue calling him a great young kicker with a strong leg.
McManus may be that, but the Broncos don’t believe it, and it’s killing them on the scoreboard.
5. And finally…
As if this weren’t all enough, I find myself ever so surprised when the Broncos do something that they have done all year long and it’s killed them…all year long.
Why do the Broncos constantly run third down passing plays with routes that do not meet or exceed the depth of the line to gain? This is a million dollar question that I would be very interested to know the answer to. The Broncos run so many 50-50 pass plays on third downs and routes which the success depends upon someone coming free from a rub-route or making even one guy miss in the open field.
The problem is, Peyton Manning doesn’t have time to throw, so he’s going to his initial read on a lot of third down plays, and there’s no time for guys to get open or get enough separation to move the sticks. This is an area where the Broncos were nearly unstoppable last season, where it seemed like they could not be prevented from moving the chains on third down, despite the length. This year, third and two is a questionable down and distance for them to convert…consistently.
The reason for this is largely due to the fact that they refuse to run deep enough routes. Manning is locked in on receivers who are double covered underneath and while it’s a valid point that he doesn’t have enough time to let longer routes develop, he has to be more aware of the fact that his receivers are well-covered and are not near the first down marker.
If this doesn’t stop, I may have to re-paint my walls.