(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The title of this week's Aftermath should be read aloud in your best Darth Vader voice. It seems fitting since it seems there are tremors in The Force that are keeping the Broncos from getting out of their own way. Yesterday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts was frustrating. It will cause your hair to gray, or fall out entirely, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The interesting challenge is to try and find a way for the Broncos to fix The Force, and begin executing at a CONSISTENT LEVEL that will help them win ballgames. Their margin for error is simply too small for the team to overcome the amount of mistakes the team is making - in all three phases. Complimentary Football. Right now, the Broncos aren't doing it and they are paying the price.
Last week I talked about O+P*E=Success. There were plenty of examples against the Seahawks that illustrated that principle. This Sunday, the Broncos proved my theory even more - by doing the opposite.
Drive For Show, Putt For Dough - The numbers look awfully impressive, don't they? 519 yards of total offense. 472 yards passing. An offensive-fan's dream. Unfortunately it means, well, nothing, and the numbers are so lopsided that the Broncos gave themselves little chance of being successful, especially in the Red Zone. Remember last week? The Broncos ran the ball 38 times in their win against Seattle. Yesterday, they ran the ball just 18 times. This was a game that was close for a large majority of the 2nd Half. The Broncos didn't have to abandon the run. Right now the Broncos offense reminds me of a golfer that can hit the ball right down the fairway, 275 yards,only to need 6 shots to get up and down. The Broncos can do just about anything they want from 20-20 but can't get the ball into the endzone using their short game.
We all know what's wrong. The question is, how to fix it. Easier said than done. A good running game is born from a stability along the offensive line. When the Broncos were a dominant running team, they had an offensive line that, for the most part, played together every week for years. Sure, pieces changed, but Tom Nalen was the mainstay. He made all the calls, he set all the blocking schemes. Guys like Matt Lepsis and Ben Hamilton learned from GREAT players like Gary Zimmerman and Mark Schlereth. Where is that now? You look at this unit - even when they are all healthy - and it is a young group:
Where is all the veteran leadership? Oh, and these guys have started ONE GAME together. I know Josh McDaniels got criticized for starting Ryan Harris against the Vikings, but he wanted to get a few plays in with his starting O-Line in-tact. It's hard to blame him, and you can't coach scared. It's unlucky and unfortunate that Harris got hurt, but this group needs to play together. That has yet to happen this season, but the hope is it could, perhaps starting this Sunday against the Titans.
The Crucial Possession - For all the mistakes, the Broncos were in a great position to take control of the game - or at least take the lead.
It happened in the 3rd Quarter. 4 Plays that could just as easily cost the Broncos the game as any of the 'obvious choices. The Broncos had just scored a touchdown on a 48-yard rope from Kyle Orton to Brandon Lloyd. The score was 13-10 Colts, and the Broncos seemed to have the momentum. The defense then did it's part, holding the Colts to a 3-and-out. The Broncos would get the ball back in decent field position.
PLAY #1 - The Penalty on The Punt - Eddie Royal returns the Colts punt 38-yards, giving the Broncos a 1st and 10 at their own 48-yard line. Hold on, there's a flag, and a holding penalty on Matthew Willis brings the ball back to the Broncos 28, costing Denver 20-yards in field position. That's two first downs. Instead of being on the cusp of field goal range, the Broncos are pushed back.
PLAY #2 - 1-10-DEN 28 (9:59) 8-K.Orton pass incomplete short left to 84-B.Lloyd.
PLAY #3 - 2-10-DEN 28 (9:53) (Shotgun) 8-K.Orton pass incomplete short left to 82-D.Gronkowski
PLAY #4 - 3-10-DEN 28 (9:47) (Shotgun) 8-K.Orton pass incomplete short right to 84-B.Lloyd
The Broncos go 3-and-out, holding on to the ball for exactly 12 seconds. TWELVE SECONDS. If there was ever a situation that I'd like to see the Broncos go back to the running game, just to try and establish something, this was the time. Instead, a penalty and three in-completions gave the ball RIGHT BACK to Peyton Manning. The Result? 10-plays, 79 yards, 4:40, Touchdown. The Broncos trail 20-10.
The Wisdom Of Crowds - The 4th Down decisions the Broncos have made are getting a ton of attention, as they should. I guess you can't say Josh McDaniels isn't consistent. Against Jacksonville and again against the Colts, the Broncos had 4th and 3 situations, inside the 15-yard line, down 7 points, in the 4th Quarter, and decided to go for it. Both times, the Broncos went to Brandon Lloyd. I agreed 100% with the call in Jacksonville. The Broncos special teams had not played well, and the Broncos would need a touchdown anyway if they kick a field goal to cut the lead to 4. In that situation, the Broncos missed by about 3 inches as Lloyd couldn't get his 2nd foot down.
Some might say the situation was a bit different yesterday, but was it? The Broncos would still have needed a touchdown had they kicked a FG, and it is still Peyton Manning they were playing against. In other words, if you don't want to give the ball to David Garrard in good field position, why would you decide to give it to Manning. I guess it is an easy decision to criticize. I won't debate you on that. I agree with any team that tries to be aggressive, especially when you are the underdog. The key, however, is getting the players to execute. On the 4th Down call yesterday, the Colts blitzed from Kyle Orton's right. Orton made the right call to throw the 'HOT' Route into the blitz. Brandon Lloyd had 1-on-1 coverage to that side, but didn't run the hot route. That's a lack of execution, a mental mistake.
How about the 4th and Goal situation. Again, I have no problem with going for it. Four shots from inside the 2 yard line has to be a touchdown, especially when playing the Colts. I would have done some things a bit differently, however.
1. Where was Correll Buckhalter? The Broncos scored their first goal-line' touchdown last week with C-Buck running right behind J.D. Walton. C-Buck is the one back the Broncos have right now that will actually attack the interior of the line. Being a veteran, he know that sometimes there are holes when you can't see holes, and he knows that sometimes you just have to run it up inside trusting that the big uglies will get it done. Even Knowshon, when he dove over the top last week, finally seemed to be getting how to run in tight.
Yesterday, the Broncos chose to give the ball to Laurence Maroney at the goal line. The only problem is Maroney isn't a very good runner inside the tackles. The reason a team has two-backs is they provide different strengths to an offense. At Minnesota, Maroney split time with Marion Barber. It was Barber that got the tough, physical yards, while Maroney was more finesse. Maroney's first instinct is to bounce a play outside. Instead of taking the shortest path - yet most contact - Maroney tries to go around the pile. Do that against the Colts and you're done.
2. Why not spread the defense out a bit? Now, I'm not saying to go shotgun, 4-wides from the 2 yard line. Not at all. How many times, though, did we see John Elway in the shotgun hand the ball off to Terrell Davis on a draw play, or fake the hand-off and run the bootleg? You know, some mis-direction. By going with a jumbo-package, the Broncos are essentially trying to score in a 9-on-11 situation. The QB isn't going to block, and the running back has the ball. If the Broncos are going to try and play POWER FOOTBALL, they need a traditional FB. That's not a jab at Spencer Larsen - he was out of the game anyway - but a call to get a guy in that specializes in blowing up linebackers. With an inexperienced offensive line, why not at least try, instead of three shots running right at the teeth of the defense, using a running back that kicks everything outside.
3. If you are going to go for it on 4th Down - and the Broncos had already made that decision when they threw the fade route on 3rd Down, I would much rather try the pass on 2nd Down. The play? Not a fade route - something that is not one of Kyle Orton's strong suits. I would have tried a play similar to what the Broncos ran against the Chargers from the SAME SPOT during the 'Hochuli' game. Eddie Royal ran the same play and scored twice -first the touchdown, then the two-point conversion. A little double move, then sit down right at the goal-line. It could be Royal, Lloyd, Graham, Thomas - take your pick.
Play-calling, Formations, Execution, Personnel - all played a hand in the Broncos failures on 4th Down situations.
If The Defense Plays Like This, We'll Win 10-Games - Yea, I said it. If we get this type of defensive effort we'll win 10 games this season. The Broncos won't face a quarterback as good as Peyton Manning the rest of the season. Truth be told, the Broncos defense made things tough on Manning for a large chunk of the football game. There are no moral victories, and Peyton still found a way to adjust and overcome, but the seeds were there.
The goal of the defense was two-fold - stop the Colts running game and stop the Colts' big weapons. They were successful on both accounts. The Colts averaged less than two-yards a carry yesterday, against a Broncos defense that had struggled against the run coming in. Secondly, Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne were non-factors for much of the game. They forced the Colts to go another direction. Eventually, the Colts did -Austin Collie had a huge day - and Manning did what he does best - attack the youth and inexperience of a defense. If Andre Goodman was healthy, maybe it would have been different, but overall I liked the way the Broncos played defense yesterday.
How about the tackling? This is the best I've seen a Broncos team tackle in years. While there has been criticism of the Broncos tough Training Camp regimen, you can't perfect a skill without practicing it, and the Broncos have worked extensively on tackling and it has shown. D.J. Williams is playing at a high-level and opposing offenses are not getting much in the way of YAC.
On to the Questions! You can send your Questions in for The Aftermath to MILEHIGHREPORT@GMAIL.COM
Not sure how to phrase this - is McDaniels trying to teach our linemen too many things to begin their careers? Simms made a comment about how rookie linemen usually come into the league only being good at run blocking. Obviously, our team has 3 first time starters and we can't run worth a bleep. He is trying to have them pass block for his pretty complicated passing offense, run block in a power scheme, run block in a zone blocking scheme... when does he just say "ok let's focus on
Good Question. Simms' statement is an accurate one - in most cases. I actually think, with this group, the OPPOSITE is true. I wrote after the Broncos ran the ball just 15 times against the Cincinnati Bengals during the pre-season that the Broncos were actually running an offense that helped their young offensive linemen - especially J.D Walton and Zane Beadles:
It is true the Broncos really didn't try to run the ball, but that too was to get Orton and his young O-Line into a groove. Ryan Harris is a better pass blocker than run blocker. Same with Russ Hochstein. What about the rookies? That's easy - Zane Beadles, who played at Utah, played on an offense that was a better passing group than running group. In 2009, Utah ranked 40th in the country in Passing Offense. They were 46th in Rush Offense.
The disparity is even bigger for J.D. Walton, a rookie trying to make the transition to be a starting center in the NFL. At Baylor, Walton anchored a line that was much better at throwing the ball(46th in the Country) than running the ball(110th). Add in the fact that the Broncos are decimated at running back, and you see why the Broncos were throwing the ball all over Paul Brown Stadium.
Ryan Harris played under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame when Brady Quinn was there. They threw the ball all over the field. Boise State was a pass-happy team when Clady was there as well. This is definitely no excuse for the putrid YPC for the Broncos running game, but it does go against Simms' generalization.
As for your second point - should the Broncos focus on one-style of running - it is well taken. I think at the NFL-level, however, guys have to be flexible. The assertion that a team is going to be a certain style of running team or passing team is old-fashioned. Teams do it all, depending on the matchup. The key to any O-Line, however, is trust, stability, and 5-guys working as one. That comes with time and the Broncos are trying to get there.
Where are we going to get a pass rush from? We are not blitzing and we certainly are not getting much pressure from our LB corp. - Todd
I think that is going to vary week-to-week. Each opponent is different, especially when it comes to the blitz. If you blitz Peyton Manning, for instance, he will kill you. The Broncos did a decent job in the first half getting people in Manning face. The Colts adjusted in the 2nd half, going with quicker routes, three-step drops, which allowed Manning to attack downfield later in the game.
This week, the Broncos face the Titans. That means Vince Young. While the reasons are different, you probably don't want to blitz Young either. With the threat he poses as a runner, the Broncos would be wise to lay back and force Young to make good decisions and good throws to mediocre talent. The Broncos also need to make sure Chris Johnson is bottled up.
What will the decision be when Harris returns? Does Beadles go back to the bench or does he replace Daniels in the LG spot? - Matt D.
Unless Josh McDaniels changes his mind, and after a strong showing by Beadles yesterday he might, Beadles will go to the bench and Daniels will stay at LG. Daniels hasn't played poorly either, and the Broncos have something going, especially in the passing game.
We once again saw the thermometer on CBS show a temperature well above 100 F, and Colts players getting shielded from the sun on the sideline. Would it not make more sense to wear our white away jerseys in such situations, or does it really not have any effect on players? - Bert Jan, Netherlands
Strictly my opinion, but I think that is more mental than anything else. Is it hot? Yes. These guys are world-class athletes, however, and the color of the jersey should have little effect. The shade also creeps across the Broncos bench around halftime, so many of the guys get plenty of shade as the game wears on.
Does it seem like Orton has trouble under pressure? - Yi Zhang
It is something that Orton needs to work on, no doubt. At 27, however, he's also NOT a finished product. You can see the difference from 2009 to 2010 and I feel his feel for the pocket is only going to get better as his understanding of the offense improves. As we've talked about, you don't have to run, or be Michael Vick, but you have to be able to step up away from the pressure and deliver the football. Sure, the offensive line played well yesterday, but Orton is also a big reason why he was sacked/hit just one time in the 57 times he dropped back.
Thanks again for the great questions... We'll see you next week on The Aftermath!