The Aftermath: Broncos' Mistakes Costly In Loss To Jaguars

This is 'The Aftermath', my Monday look at the Broncos game.   It will include my thoughts on the loss as well as the answers to questions from you - the community here at MileHighReport. You can e-mail questions for The Aftermath to MileHighReport@Gmail.com.  Please put 'The Aftermath' in the subject line, and let me know where you are from as well! 

By now you have seen the game, or the highlights, and likely spanned the web, radio, TV or the comments in the various posts here to get a feel for what happened yesterday in Denver's 24-17 loss to Jacksonville.  Of course, it didn't take long for the Kyle Orton bashing to start from those in the MSM.  The goal here is not to bash them - they certainly are entitled to their opinion - but to give the WHOLE story.  Shall we begin?

Lack Of Physical And Mental Discipline - I start here because it was, at the core, the root cause of the Broncos losing a winnable game yesterday.  First, a little dictionary work.  There are no fewer than nine different definitions for the word Discipline.  Here is one that applies:

behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control

 

 

Sure, the back-to-back 15-yard face-mask penalties on Ryan McBean is an example of poor discipline.  The Broncos had the Jags pinned deep for one of the few times, with the ball starting at the 17 yard-line after the Broncos had tied the score at 17.  Those two penalties allowed Jacksonville to travel just 53 yards - instead of 83 yards - to score the decisive touchdown.   While not excusable, these things happen and Maurice Jones-Drew is tough to bring down due to his smaller stature.  The first one was easily worse than the second, for the simple fact that McBean already had Jones tackled, yet still found MJD's facemask and gave it a bit of a tug.   Not excusable, no, but these things happen and it's unfortunate that it happened on back-to-back pplays.

There are several other examples of a lack of discipline.  There is something called 'Gap Discipline'.  IT is especially key on defense and the coverage teams.  In terms of the latter,  the Broncos failed.  I mentioned in the Cross-blogging thread over at Big Cat Country that I thought Special Teams would be key.  In fact, here was my response to the question of which Jaguars 'Scared' the Broncos:

Scare? Well, MJD is the key. He’s the one guy you CANNOT let beat you. I like the Broncos DBs, so I’ll take my chances with Garrard throwing the ball. Mike Sims-Walker is a solid WR so the Broncos will have to keep him in check. Something tells me this game will come down to Special Teams and Turnovers…

The two turnovers were huge - especially the Correll Buckhalter fumble - but the Broncos inability to cover kicks was especially troubling.  Sure, Matt Prater didn't do a great job on kick-offs - at least in terms of touchbacks - but his last two kicks were solid.  The first, with the score 14-14, was kicked 6-yards deep into the end-zone before being returned 53-yards to the Jacksonville 47.  That drive lead to a field goal.  The second, after the Broncos had once again tied the game, was a high-driving kick that landed at the Jags 1.  The Broncos covered well, forcing the Jags to start from their 17-yard-line.  The Jaguars scored, of course, with the help of the penalties above.

In reality, Josh Scobee only had one touch-back in the game.  It was the coverage units that made him look better than Prater.  In most cases, it was the lack of lane-discipline that hurt the Broncos.  Guys over-pursued to one side or the other, allowing returners to have cut-back lanes.  The Jags averaged nearly 35 yards per kick-off return.  The Broncos, on the other hand, just 20 yards.  That 15 yard difference is huge to say the least.  The Jags three TD drives were 60 yards, 53 yards, and 83 yards(53 yards with the help of penalties).  Their field goal drive started at their own 47 yard line.  Not one of those possessions came from a turnover.   In a game between two pretty-evenly matched teams, those are the little things that lose football games. 

Rookies Being Rookies - The holding call on Zane Beadles that short-circuited the Broncos first drive was huge.  It is also to be expected by a rookie, and the Broncos are going to have to live with it.  There will likely be some issues with getting protections squared away before the play-clock runs out.  To defend Beadles, he is not a NFL-tackle and is better suited to be a guard.  To further defend him, Aaron Kampman is an elite pass-rusher.  Green Bay made the mistake last season of making him the OLB opposite Clay Matthews Jr., meaning he was dropping in coverage, not attacking the QB.  Back in a 4-3 defense, with his hand on the ground, Kampman is free to do what he does best.

The Jags took advantage of the Broncos young offensive line every time the Broncos needed a big play.  They would stunt right up the middle, where the Broncos are starting another rookie - J.D. Walton - and a couple times Walton - and G Stanley Daniels - missed the stunt completely.

In other words, there are going to be some penalties, there are going to be some sacks.  It is part of the growth process of an offensive line.  What the Broncos need is their book-end Tackles back.  Ryan Clady - other than getting a bit of a rest in the 2nd quarter - looked good and seems to be improving.  What the Broncos need is Ryan Harris.  Denver is now 2-9 without Harris the past two seasons, 6-0 with him.  That stat is definitely a bit skewed, but it does show the Broncos really don't have an option behind him.

Kyle Orton Was More Than Good Enough To Win - Denver is still John Elway's town which means everything starts and stops with the quarterback.  In terms of Kyle Orton, however, it is hard to point the finger at him.  In taking a look at the game a 2nd time, I counted 4 passes that were off the mark.  The interception, while a poor pass, was thrown under-pressure with the Jags knowing the Broncos had to throw - before you say it, Peyton Manning throws the same kind of INT's, think of the Super Bowl.

Orton's pass to Brandon Lloyd in the end-zone missed by 3-inches - the front of Lloyd's foot - and he made several good throw's into coverage.  His five 25+ yard completions were the most of any quarterback that played yesterday.  That's right.  Only Kyle Orton had five completions of 25+ yards.  If you think it was all YAC(yards after catch), think again - here's  the breakdown: 98 yards in the air, 58 YAC (36-5, 27-0, 27-2, 4-23, 4-28).  Orton was slingin' it, and his receivers were making plays.

Lloyd had 5 catches for 117 yards - 23.4 ypc.  Eddie Royal, who so many of you wanted to see back as a weapon in the offense, was with 8 catches for 98 yards(12.2 ypc).  In other words, the passing game was moving the ball.

That doesn't mean the performance was perfect.  Orton was sacked a couple times - he held the ball way to long on each occasion - and he did fail to go to his 3rd or 4th option on a couple of throws, thus missing open receivers.  That could be a product of playing behind a young offensive line and knowing he had less time than usual to throw but there were still some plays left on the field.

We have plenty of questions to get to, so without further ado....

Did you think the D and Wink seemed a little disorganized? - Dan S.

There were definitely a couple moments that the Broncos players and coaches would like to forget.  10-men on the field on a play deep in your territory can't happen.  Would the Jags have scored a touchdown anyway?  Maybe, but it points to either a lack of communication between the coaches and players on who was going to be on the field, or indecisiveness on the part of the coaches on what they wanted to do. It Wink's first game as a DC, and I expect he will improve in that area.

There were several things I did like from the defense, starting with the tackling.  I thought, overall, the Broncos did a nice job of bringing ball-carriers down on first contact.  Yes, MJD did gain some yards after contact, but he earned every one.  If the Broncos can continue to play with that type of physicality they'll be ok.

Seems to me, Tim Tebow was played for no reason in this game. Almost like he was played to appease the fans who came to see him in person. He contributed nothing but empty downs for the Broncos. Now, he isn't the reason we lost, but his appearance was almost comically predictable given the location. So my question is, why DID we play him? What advantage did we gain in having him run twice up the middle for two yards? - Ryan H

There were several questions regarding Tim Tebow, so if you happened to ask one, let this answer be the answer to all of you.

Tebow's early entrance into the game was definitely not a surprise.  My position on Tebow is well known and hasn't changed since I wrote my thoughts on the rumors that the Broncos might take him.  Here is a bit:

If the Broncos were to take Tebow in the 2nd Round - at 43 or 45 - or worse, trade back into the late-1st Round to take him, they would do so with the intention of finding a way to get a tremendous athlete on the field.  At least that has been the argument for the Broncos, a team with needs all over the roster, to take him so high in the Draft.

That is a relative term, by the way.  I think Tebow could get drafted anywhere from 25-45.  What is considered 'high' or a 'reach' for the Broncos is not for a team like, say, the Vikings or Patriots.  They are contending football teams that can put a guy like Tebow on their roster and nurture him until he is ready - and still be in Super Bowl contention.

Back to the Broncos.  Let's say they do use Tebow as many have mentioned - as a weapon in some gimmick offense.  I've heard Tebow could be used as a 'Slash-type' player or even a H-Back.  How about the Wild Horses/Wildcat/whatevertheycallitnext  You name it, we've heard it - short-yardage, goalline, special-teams.  That's all great, and it might work - a bit.

Here's the problem.  If we already agree that Tebow needs work, and we all agree that it will take time, how is Tebow going to work on the things he needs to work on if he is focusing his attention on a gimmick offense or a position other than quarterback?  It defeats the very purpose of drafting this guy - and goes against what Tebow himself wants, which is to be a quarterback in the NFL.

The premise was simple.  By selecting Tebow, especially so high in the Draft as I thought they would need to do, they would be doing so because he was a weapon to utilize now, while at the same time prepare him for the future.  A couple things happened, however;  1) Kyle Orton handled the whole situation - Brady Quinn and Tebow, his contract - better than anyone expected and played the best football of his career this off-season; 2)Brady Quinn did not and Tebow flat-out beat him out to become the legitimate #2 quarterback of the Broncos.

That makes me want to see Tebow even LESS in gimmick formations, simply because he is the 2nd best option at quarterback for the Broncos behind Kyle Orton.  The Broncos NEED to focus on getting Tebow ready to play, should the need arise.

Back to yesterday.  Did I like to fact that Tebow came in and essentially ran the ball up the middle twice?  No.  To play devil's advocate for a second, however, the following thoughts came to mind. 

  1.      It was early in the game, so it allowed the Broncos coaches to see what - if anything - the Jaguars defense did when Tebow entered the game.  The Broncos had him at QB and also lined him up at WR.  That told me they wanted to see how the defense responded.
  2.      The ball was at midfield, so it was low risk.  I always thought that any use of Tebow would be determined by down/distance/situation.  That was the case yesterday.
  3.      The Tebow situation, or any package involving Tebow, is fluid.  That means the game will dictate how/when/where Tebow will be used.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Broncos score on those two early drive and lead 10-0.  The entire game is different, as is the Broncos'  use of Tebow.
  4.      It allows Tebow to get his feet wet in the NFL game, something that IS important since I believe he would come into the game should something happen to Orton.  I think it IS important for Tebow's  first play as a Pro not come in a game-situation with Kyle Orton on the sidelines.

Still, I'm not a fan of it.  The Broncos offense was put in bad down/distance situations on both Tebow runs.  2nd and 9 is not a place I want to spend the majority of the game.  Since Tebow didn't see the field the rest of the game, it tells me the coaches didn'tlike what they saw from the Jags' defense either, meaning they weren't  fooled.  I'm sorry, but right now, there just aren't many times in a game that I want the ball out of Kyle Orton's hands. 

How would you evaluate Robert Ayers game? What do we make of the pass coverage? It seemed the safeties were taken advantage off yesterday.- Carlos H.

Carlos gets the 2-for-1, but don't make it a habit!  In regards to Ayers, I think we are starting to see why the Broncos made him the #18 overall pick last season.  Don't forget, the Broncos moved Ayers from a DE in college to OLB in their 3-4 defense, then told him NOT to be the pass-rushing OLB(That is Doom's  job) and focus on the running game and covering in space.  After a brief holdout, Ayers struggled.

This summer, even with a short stay in the McDaniels doghouse, Ayers has come and has made the type of progress you expect from Year 1-to-2.  He has added some moves to his aresenal, and his play against the run - shedding blocks and run/pass recognition - is vastly improved.  He's not a finished product - not by any means - and there are going to be mistakes.  Ayers is beginning to justify the pick, however, and that is good news for Broncos fans.

As for the safeties, there were certain times that both Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill were taken advantage of.  Marcedes Lewis beat Hill on one touchdown, and Dawkins was beaten by Kassim Osgood on another.  To be fair, both were on very good throws by David Garrard, but still.  The problem lies at the fee of the pass-rush, however.  Both plays were made because David Garrard had time to make them.   That Broncos may have to generate pressue from elsewhere - something they didn't want to do.

I was wondering if you liked the call on 4th and 3 at the end? - Bronco Josh, Ohio

A fellow Buckeye Broncos fan.  Love it!  As for your question, I definitely lean on the side of Josh McDaniels.  You can debate the play-call itself, but as I talked about above, the play missed being a touchdown by 3 inches - hard to say it was wrong.  Now, if the debate is kicking a field goal or not, that is something different.

I like going for it in that situation simply because the way the game had unfolded.  The Broncos coverage teams struggled all day.  Matt Prater tried kicking it long, kicking it short, tried high, tried line-drive.  Nothing really worked.  That means the Broncos, needing a touchdown anyway, were gambling with a part of the game that had not performed well all day.  That's what coaching adjustments are all about.  McDaniels felt better about the Broncos tying the game right there, or at worst, giving the Jags the ball at the 13-yard line. 

When things don't work out there is always time to second guess, but in this situation I think the Broncos got it right.  Unfortunately, Brandon Lloyd's feet are just a little too big.

Is the o-line going to be this bad (penalties, not making holes, not keepin Orton clean) all season, or is this because they haven't played together/at these positions?-Scott D

The offensive line was my question heading into Training Camp, and nothing has changed.  It sucks that, just as the Broncos were getting Ryan Clady back Ryan Harris goes down.  That forces the Broncos to shuffle the line, with guys playing out of position.

All of the issues you talked about are correctable,and the experience a guy like Zane Beadles gets by going up against Aaron Kampman all day is priceless.  The Broncos will be better in the future because of the struggles yesterday.

Perhaps you've heard the expression that an Offensive Line is like the five fingers of a hand.  They need to work in unison to be effective.  That kind of harmony comes with time - and the Broncos simply didn't have time in the preseason to get it synchronized due to injury.

The difference between a decent season for the Broncos, and a complete train-wreck, relies heavily on the O-Line's improvement each week.

The offense yesterday seemed improved even had a spark but failed at 3rd downs yet again! With all that seemed to go well with flashy drives the O looked like they were choking on 3rd down. This is a point you have emphasized a lot but just looking at yesterdays game  what really went wrong on 3rd down? Is it the coach's plays or players?

Great question.  The Broncos went 3-10 on 3rd down yesterday.  A good offense needs to be up around 50%.  I looked at the Broncos failed 3rd down attempts.  What troubled me, more than anything, was the 3 separate times the Broncos failed to convert on 3rd and 3.  Those failures hurt. 

To me, while borderline, a good running team will pick a 3rd down and 3 up on a pretty regular basis.  The one time the Broncos ran in this situation, they picked up 2 yards, allowing them to go for it on 4th Down.  They converted.  The other two were incomplete passes.

There were 3 missed-opportunities on 3rd and Long(3rd and 11, 3rd and 7, 3rd and 15).  Both 3rd down situations involving double-digit yardage were caused by Broncos mistakes.  The Zane Beadles-holding call in the first quarter and a Kyle Orton-Delay of Game penalty in the 4th.  Costly mistakes.

the short of it is the Broncos need to improve their execution on 3rd down from an execution standpoint.   An improved running game would help that along.


Seeing that Denver was 8-8 last year, is it unreasonable to expect them to be at least slightly better?  Is 10-6 an unreasonable expectation? - Gristle M.

As fans we expect to win every year.  While I won't tell people how they should be fans, I can say the kind of fan I am.  I am pissed when the Broncos lose.  I am pissed when they don't play well.  It affects me  - physically and emotionally - for some time.  It makes me sick.

That said, I also look at the roster and know it is a work in progress.  It is going to take time.  It is a big jump to go from 8-8 to 10-6, simply because the teams that win 10 games usually make more plays in close games than they give up.  Think of the Broncos in weeks 1-6 last year. 

What has happened is teams have seen what the Broncos are trying to do, and they figured out how to attack the Broncos defense and they are doing it.  The Broncos need to turn the tide and force teams out of attacking them right up the middle and passing off the run.  Until then, it is going to be tough.

Right now the Broncos biggest enemy is the Broncos.  They simply are not good enough to play sloppy football and win.   A fumble and 3 penalties essentially cost the Broncos a shot at winning the game.  Plays like those are the difference between 8-8 and 10-6.

As for what is reasonable?  That is for each fan to determine on their own.  I do believe, however, that Josh McDaniels is going to be given the time to fix this, so patience is also recommended.

Special teams have been a weak point for us for years. Add an inferior o-line, will we make .500 this year? - Craig S.

You hit the nail on the head, Craig.  Good teams have solid ST units because the depth of their roster - 1-to-53 - is good.  The Broncos, for years, had plenty of star-caliber talent, but the bottom of the roster, guys like Nate Jackson, Chad Mustard and David Kirkus were far below the talent on teams like the Steelers, Colts or Chargers.  Missing in the Draft or Free Agency means that depth is going to suffer. 

The Broncos are still suffering through that because they needed to address their starting units first.  It doesn't help that their two-best special-teams players from 2009 - Darrell Reid and Darcel McBath are injured(Reid being released due to injury).

As for the O-Line, it HAS to get better.  The Broncos schedule doesn't get any better the next 5 weeks with Seattle, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Baltimore and the Jets to come.

The long story short, the Broncos need to improve on 3rd down.  On a day the defense also held the Jaguars to 3-10 on 3rd Down, the Broncos, with a better performance, could have really put the pressure on Jacksonville, and likely would scored more points.

I've been a supported of McD, but throwing screen plays on 3rd and 15 and long bombs on 3rd and 3 make me continue to question the play calling. Watching him chew out Richard Quinn and McBean's penalties can't help but make me think he is still having trouble evaluating personal. Are these accurate feelings? - Dustin G., Iowa

There is really two-parts to your question, so I will start with the play-calls.

On the first, a 3rd and 15, I know several people were befuddled that the Broncos threw a bubble-screen to Eddie Royal.  While the play did pick up 9 yards, it really had no hope of getting the first down.  That,my friends was the idea.  I don't know the numbers, but the conversion rate on 3rd and 15 cannot be good.  What the Broncos wanted to do, however, was to get into field goal range for Matt Prater.  That worked, and Prater hit the 54-yard field goal, which at that time tied the score at 17.  That 9-yard play call put the Broncos into a position to score points.  Prater executed and the whole situation was successful.

Now, to your 3rd and 3 example, which I can only think is from the Jaguars 14 in the 4th quarter.  That is an example of the players  NOT executing.  Orton's pass didn't give Brandon Lloyd much of chance to make a play, proved by the fact that he went right up to Lloyd after the play and tapped himself, as if to say, "My bad".  That led to the 4th down play - better execution, but the Brandon Lloyd missed getting his second foot in bounds.

The moral of the story?  The coach looks like a genius when the players execute, and looks like a fool when they don't.

When it comes to McDaniels undressing of Richard Quinn, it's part of the game.  The Broncos were forced to use a timeout because Quinn wasn't in the right position.  That usually leads back to a player not being mentally prepared through study during the week.  Coaches like Josh McDaniels can't stand it.

~~~~~

A great first 'Aftermath'. Great questions and I look forward to next week! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to send your thoughts or ideas for this Feature to me at MileHighReport@gmail.com

GO BRONCOS!

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