It’s been a frustrating last few weeks for avid Denver Broncos watchers. Coming into the season, pretty much everyone who holds the Broncos near and dear to their hearts expected them to win every game, or at least come close in tough games. But the team hasn’t lived up to those expectations the last few weeks, save for a blowout win against the now 1-10 Oakland Raiders. But even in that game they struggled to get going, with Peyton Manning throwing two picks in the first half.
After their embarrassing loss against the New England Patriots in Foxboro a couple weeks ago, I talked about my frustrations and how the Broncos need to start beating good teams on the road. I also pleaded for them to show some mental toughness and beat the “stuffing” out of the Raiders, which thankfully they did. However, they regressed last Sunday against the Rams, losing 22-7. I’d like to think the Rams loss is more embarrassing than the Patriots loss, but it’s kind of depressing to even compare the two, so I won’t.
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After Sunday, I was really upset. We all have our own theories about what went wrong. This includes, but isn’t exclusive to: Adam Gase not calling enough run plays (the Broncos ran it nine times, unless you want to count the kneel down by Manning to bring it to an even 10); the pass protection being atrocious; Jack Del Rio not calling enough blitzes. Honestly, all of those contribute to why the Broncos couldn’t score like they usually do and couldn’t rush the passer like they usually do. On the latter point, the Broncos did get a couple sacks from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. However, going into that game, the Broncos were averaging 14.6 quarterback hurries per game, according to Pro Football Focus. Against the Rams, the Broncos hurried the quarterback three times, over four times less hurries than they usually generate.
In short, things that we thought could go wrong went wrong. And unfortunately, things we didn’t think could go wrong also went wrong. The only thing not wrong about the game was the score.
I wanted to come into this week to implore for better play as I did after the Patriots loss and after the loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But even after only a few losses this season (we’re spoiled), I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall whenever I ask for something drastic like actually letting the defensive players play to their strengths and not try to fit them into a scheme.
As I’m sure almost all of you did, I watched Champ Bailey’s retirement press conference earlier in the week. When asked about the current state of the Broncos, he had this to say:
It’s nothing really earth shattering; I bet we hear it about at least one team every year. Heck, we probably heard it when the Broncos started 2-3 in 2012.
I pretty much shrugged it off when I first heard Champ say it. When you look at the specifics of what’s been happening with the Broncos, there are some real issues on this team that could be hard to fix and could be the teams’ Achilles heel. This includes the offensive line, defensive breakdowns in zone, and an unbalanced offense. The fact that these problems could be irreversible was perhaps backed up when former Bronco offensive lineman Mark Schlereth teed off on the current unit battling in the trenches.
But then I went back to Champ’s quote. I thought about it. Then I tried to apply it to the Broncos. I don’t think the Broncos are immune to this cliché. Maybe it’s just me trying to be desperately optimistic, if there is such a thing with Peyton Manning at QB.
Then another piece from the Denver Post got the hamster running on the wheel in my head. In Mike Klis’s mailbag from this week (fifth question down), he touched upon teams making it to the Super Bowl that had incredible weaknesses.
To expand on Klis’s point, there are also teams that have gotten into the Super Bowl in the past decade that came out of nowhere to do so. Remember when I brought up the 2012 Broncos starting 2-3? Well, after that they went onto win their final 11 games, earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. We all know what happened next. The Broncos lost in double overtime to a Ravens team the Broncos beat in their own stadium 34-17 almost a month prior. That year, the Ravens were 16th in total offense and 17th in total defense. They also went 1-4 in their last five regular season games. Despite all that, they got their stuff in order, Joe Flacco threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason, got hot at the right time, and became Super Bowl Champions.
The NFL truly is a week-to-week league. The Kansas City Chiefs just went from beating the World Champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday to losing to the winless Raiders on Thursday. Before the loss, KC was considered one of the hottest team in the league, winning their last five games.
The Patriots were declared dead and Tom Brady was thought to be over the hill when they were thrashed by the Chiefs on a Monday Night game in late September. They’ve responded by winning their next six games, five of them by 15 points or more.
Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) motions on the line during the first half of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Denver won 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
We can sulk because the Broncos haven’t responded to their loss against New England like the Patriots have after their loss in Arrowhead. Or, we can look at history and hold out hope that this rough patch is an opportunity for the Broncos to fix their problems now, instead of having to deal with them on the fly in a playoff game.
Aside from looking at history as method to feel optimistic, there have been some tangible things that have come out of this week that could lead toward some progression going forward for the Broncos.
After the New England loss, all we had were reports of the Broncos being quietly angry in the locker room after the game and that week during practice. Better, but not great.
This week, almost all of the focus has been on the offensive line. This is a great thing. Gase talked about running the ball more to help them out. This tells me that they know what the big problem is. After Thursday’s practice, all five offensive linemen – Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Will Montgomery, Manny Ramirez, and Louis Vasquez – all spoke to the media. This is a rare site for a Broncos unit that has a history of trying to keep quiet. Go ahead and watch Franklin speak, if you haven’t already. This should give you the feeling that at least he has a sense of urgency, and that he might have a career as a professional wrestler in his future.
The lineman talking set me at ease a little bit. Not necessarily because of what they said, but because them talking to the media shows that they are actively trying to right the ship, a motion that I think most fans appreciate.
The two losses over the last three weeks still sting, but the Broncos are still favorites to win the division. They do have problems across the line that no one can ignore. Their defense needs to be better; with these players the sky is the limit for them. The coaching can be more efficient across the board as well. But they still have Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Chris Harris. With these guys, the Broncos have a better chance than most to get hot in the playoffs. They still have time to fix their problems, even if it might look like pulling teeth as they close out the regular season. Hopefully it’ll all be worth it in the end.