Broncos vs. Dolphins a Huge, Pivotal Game


Simply put, the game vs. the Dolphins this Sunday is huge for the Broncos.

The implications for the game have been magnified due to a number of key events; chiefly among them is the Broncos stunning loss last week to a nearly 10-point underdog, 3-win team in the St. Louis Rams.

Add in the fact that the Patriots, the Broncos predominant competition for the #1 overall seed, beat the Colts last Sunday to pull a game ahead of the Broncos (2 considering the Pats hold the tiebreaker).

Then throw in the result of Thursday night’s game between the Chiefs and Raiders where the Broncos predominant rival for the division title lost to the Raiders.

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Every game in the NFL is a big game, but with these recent events turning how they did, this Sunday’s game is huge for the Broncos.

A home loss to the Dolphins would drop the Broncos to 7-4 and virtually eliminate any chance of a #1 seed. It would drop them into a tie again with the Chiefs (and potentially the Chargers as well) for the division lead with a trip to Kansas City looming next week.

A win would put them a game clear of the Division with a chance to put a stranglehold on the division title next week against the Chiefs.

A win would keep them on the heels of the Pats for the #1 overall seed, with the Pats playing two very difficult games in the next two weeks vs the Lions and Packers.

A loss would put the chances of a first round bye altogether in peril as well. Dropping to 7-4 would give a number of teams a very real shot at the #2 overall seed and potentially force the broncos to play a first round playoff game.

A win would give them some breathing room on a top-2 seed with a win vs the Colts already under their belt and games against the Chiefs and Bengals still on the schedule and a chance to squash their hopes of a first round bye with victories in those games.

A loss would mean a two game losing streak, something the Broncos haven’t done since the beginning of Manning’s inaugural season with the Broncos.

A loss would mean 3 losses in 4 games and produce some very serious concerns about the state of the team.

This simply means the Broncos must not lose this game.

The last few weeks have produced some real questions and weaknesses for the Broncos to address. The loss to the Rams was shocking, but can be explained by a number of factors.

Nov 16, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams outside linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) reacts after intercepting a pass from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (not pictured) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams won 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The in-game injuries to Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas and to a lesser extent Montee Ball were clearly huge factors. After they went down, the Broncos lacked explosiveness outside of Demaryius Thomas. Andre Caldwell, Wes Welker and Jacob Tamme are reliable, but they are far from explosive. I think many in Bronco nation are more than ready to see Cody Latimer get a chance to join his incredible rookie WR class and show what he can do.

Although the Rams had only 3 wins coming in, 2 were against the Seahawks and 49ers. They also played the Cowboys and Eagles down to the wire. They’ve played their best football against their best competition.

The Rams are littered with young talent, particularly on defense, who will be inconsistent but highly effective on any given week and they were last Sunday.

Call these reasons, call these excuses, call them whatever, but the Broncos should have won a game that they did not.

We are in a similar situation this week. The Broncos should win the game against the Dolphins. The Broncos are home and are favored by a Touchdown.

The Broncos could still easily win the division with a loss but the biggest issue a loss to the Dolphins would create is that it would very likely mean the road to the Super Bowl would go through New England.

The Broncos haven’t won in New England since 2006, going 0-5 since then. Peyton Manning has lost 3 times there as a Bronco.

In order to win in New England, or even get to New England, the Broncos have to find their running game. This is currently the biggest weakness for the team. The Broncos are 27th in the league in rushing, and the coaches seem less confident in the run game as it continues to falter.

The most shocking development last week was that the last running play called by Gase and Manning was at the 7:49 mark of the 3rd quarter with the score 13-7 Rams. The Broncos were down by less than a TD and literally abandoned the run game. They did not run the ball a single time after the mid-point of the 3rd quarter.

This is not the way to win a tight road game and opposing teams are clueing in to the fact that the Broncos struggle to run the ball. They are dropping defenders and forcing the run game to beat them, and it is not beating anybody.

We saw in the Rams game that even the best QB’s and greatest offenses can’t beat an NFL defense, especially a quality NFL defense, by being completely one-dimensional. With literally zero threat to run the ball, the Rams were able to drop defenders and shut down the Broncos passing attack.

Whether or not this is fixable in the near future is something only time will tell. The Broncos have tweaked the line, given 3 different backs carries and still can’t rely on the running game.

This week’s game against the Dolphins will be a good barometer of where they are at in the run game, and how dedicated the coaches are to it. The Dolphins have a talented group of pass rushers, headlined by Cameron Wake.

Nov 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Detroit won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The best way to neutralize this is to hammer away with the run game. If the Broncos drop back to pass 54 times again this week, there will be ample opportunity for game changing plays by Wake and company.

In the Broncos 3 losses they have run the ball 17 times for 40 yards vs Seattle, 15 times for 40 yards vs New England and 9 times for 29 yards vs the Rams. A total of 41 carries for 109 yards.

The problem is obvious, but the solution is less so.

The Broncos have had spot success with Ronnie Hillman, but even he got totally shut down vs the Patriots and may not be back for several weeks.

So, where do they go from here?

I think they should give CJ Anderson and Juwan Thompson a legitimate shot at making an impact on the game. Anderson showed a lot of promise against the Raiders and, while he didn’t run the ball very effectively vs the Rams, he was only afforded 9 rushing attempts.

I would give Andreson and Juwan Thompson 20+ carries between them and divvy them up by who is running the best.

I would love to see Gase and the offense get a little more creative with their formations and play calling. They tend to be a little vanilla with their formations simply because Manning doesn’t need bells and whistles to be effective, but the running game needs something new.

Nobody would expect a couple of QB sweeps with Manning to start the game (I’m kidding), but they need to implement some plays that the Dolphins haven’t seen and aren’t expecting.

I would love to see Cody Latimer get a shot at making an impact on this offense. There are rookie WR’s all over the league tearing it up and Latimer is as talented or more so than a lot of them. Welker and Caldwell don’t scare anybody anymore.

The Broncos have to find a way to run the ball, and run it effectively. They have to find a way to beat the Dolphins because a loss would put them in a very perilous spot.

A win tomorrow would put a lot of anxiety to rest and put them in a very good spot to close in on a division title and first round bye.

My prediction is that the offense will get the running game going. CJ Anderson and Thompson will combine for over 100 yards rushing. Manning will light it up backed by a solid running game. The defense will force Tannehill into some bad decisions and get at least 2 turnovers.

Final score: 34-17 Broncos.