This loss hurts. This is the kind of defeat that can break a team. This was such a crucial game and the Broncos know it. With the 3rd toughest schedule in the league, they needed to be 2-1 heading into their game against the Packers. For awhile, it looked like that was going to happen, but the Broncos collapsed and fell to the Titans 14-17 on Sunday afternoon. The Broncos looked crushed at the end of the game. They knew they just gave the game away. Their demeanor reminded me of the demeanor our players had after we lost to the Jets last year. It's tough to be positive after this kind of game, but there were a lot of things the Broncos did well. Things are not all gloomy, folks. Let's get into the studs and duds.
Heading into the game, the main focus for the Broncos was going to be stopping Chris Johnson. After looking awful in week 1 and good in week 2, how would the Broncos D respond to an elite runner like Chris Johnson? They more then stepped up to the challenge. In fact, they dominated Johnson. The Broncos limited the Titans to just 38 yards on the ground. Chris Johnson carried the ball 13 times for 21 yards, a 1.6 ypc average. The best rusher on the day for the Titans was punter Brett Kern who had the longest of the day with a 21 yard run after he fumbled a punt and had to take off. So how did the Broncos shut down the Titans ground game? The DL stepped up in a big way.
Broderick Bunkley is an absolute stud against the run. The 6 ft 2, 306 pound, 27 year old DT is by far Denver's best DT. He's so big and strong. OL have no chance of driving him backwards. He will likely never be a pass rusher, but as a run stuffer, he's one of the best Denver's had awhile. The same can be said for Robert Ayers. Ayers is still not playing up to 1st round status, but that doesn't mean he isn't making an impact. Ayers is a hell of a run stuffer. He sets the edge perfectly and clogs up lanes. Like Bunkley, he likely won't ever be a pass rush stud, but he's someone who can shut down great runners. Jason Hunter, Derrick Harvey and Ryan McBean (Yes, THAT Ryan McBean) are more DL players who played very well. Hunter and Harvey looked good setting the edge and McBean looked disruptive at times. This group seems to be gelling. Since their week 1 disaster, they have now shut down Cedric Benson and Chris Johnson. With runners such as Ryan Matthews, Darren McFadden, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson still to come, let's hope they continue their strong play.
When EFX picked Von Miller with the #2 overall pick, I admit I was skeptical. I will even admit that I hoped for Marcel Dareus over Miller. I hoped for the best, but had my concerns, specifically how he would convert to the 4-3 defense. Well, it turns out that I worried for absolutely no reason because Von Miller is unbelievably good. He has far succeeded my wildest expectations for him. In 3 games he has 12 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 2 sacks. He looks like he is in a league of his own. Miller is an absolute terror when he rushes the passer, but that was always his strength. One of the most impressive things about him is that he is fantastic against the run. He is too quick for blockers to get their hands on and he is always around the ball. If Elvis Dumervil could ever get healthy, Denver could really have something on that defense and they are already a top 16 unit without him.
Decker is quickly ousting Brandon Lloyd as Kyle Orton's favorite target. On Sunday, Decker was targeted 12 times (Lloyd had 7 targets) as he caught 7 passes for 48 yards. On the year, Decker has caught 15 passes for 214 yards and 2 TD's. Decker is on a roll and could easily be Denver's #1 receiver by the end of the year. The 6 ft 3, 218 pounds looks like the best pick that Josh McDaniels made in his 2 years in Denver. He's too big for nickel backs to cover, but he's deceptively quick and a good route runner. If Demaryius Thomas could ever stay healthy and take pressure off Lloyd and Decker, Denver's offense combined with emerging star Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, Denver's offense could be really good. In the mean time, keep it up Decker. In Eddy Mac's 2nd professional year, he caught 49 passes for 610 yards. At the rate he's going, he can easily beat that.
Denver has a decision to make. DJ Williams was named the starter during Training Camp, but Wesley Woodyard has to be making John Fox have second thoughts. Woodyard accumulated 10 total tackles against the Titans bringing his total up to 29 on the year. 29 tackles in 3 games. He is tied for 5th in total tackles in the whole league. Unlike many of DJ's tackles last year, Woodyard's tackles are coming at the line of scrimmage and not 8 yards down the field. He is attacking the ball, and I like Woodyard much better in coverage then Williams. Williams is being paid much more then Woodyard, but truthfully, I don't miss DJ all that much with Woodyard on the field. He is doing just as good of a job and should be given a contract extension at the end of the year.
As for Joe Mays, I continue to be impressed. Now, once again he is partly to blame for a big pass play because he had a break down in his coverage. However, he is repeatedly a force against the run and was a big reason why Chris Johnson couldn't get his ground game going. Mays looks good and although he still has work to do in coverage, I'm encouraged with what I've seen. I have yet to see him play a game for the Broncos without him getting a signature Joe Mays hit. Sunday was no different as he popped Chris Johnson a couple times much to my delight.
I am so glad that Mike Priefer is no longer with the Broncos. Is it pure coincidence that the year after the Broncos get rid of him, the special teams looks amazing? I doubt it. Britton Colquitt has the Pro Bowl on his mind. He had another fantastic game punting the ball 5 times for 246 yards, 49.2 yards per punt. He is currently ranked 6th in the NFL in yards per punt with 49.7. He continues to played fantastic and is winning Denver the battle for field position.
Another special teams stud is Chris Harris. He got called with a B.S. penalty last week that eliminated an 80+ yard punt from Colquitt but he continues to make fantastic plays as the ST gunner. He made 2 outstanding tackles against the Titans that pinned them back in their territory.
Also, Quan Crosby just became Denver's permanent punt returner. Crosby returned the ball 3 times for 47 yards. Denver has had trouble finding a good punt returner outside of Eddie Royal. Eric Decker took the job, but became an offensive stud and couldn't be wasted on Special Teams. Crosby was signed this week and made an immediate Special Teams impact. Welcome to Denver, Quan. Keep returning punts like that and you can make yourself at home.
I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that Jonathan Wilhite has been the best CB for the Broncos over the past two weeks. He's certainly no Champ, but Wilhite continues to make his impact for our defense. On Sunday, he recorded his 2nd sack of the year when Allen called his number on a blitz. He came untouched and nailed Matt Hasselback. He was called again to blitz later and nailed Hasselback again. Wilhite isn't perfect in coverage, but so far he's been more competent then Andre Goodman. He is looking like an excellent pick up by EFX.
The Offensive Line had a bit of and up and down day. They were much better in pass protection then they were against the Raiders on opening night, but they also struggled to open holes in the running game. That makes their performance a wash, but they improved majorly in the penalty department so I'm giving them an honorable mention. They committed just 1 penalty the entire game for 15 yards which is a big improvement from their atrocious performance in week 1 where they racked up 91 yards in penalties. They have to get the running game going, but overall, it was a fairly solid performance for the offensive line.
This loss falls at the feet of #8. Unlike the last two weeks, Orton's stat line was atrocious this week: 24 of 39 for 173 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with a 67 QB rating. His 2 interceptions were bad. The first one was a pass in which he completely overthrew a wide open Decker which would have easily gained 20+ yards. The second interception came at the end of the game when Orton was trying to drive the Broncos back to a victory. He tried to fit the ball into a poor passing lane, the ball was tipped, intercepted and the game was pretty much over. To his credit, he did get 2 red zone TD's which has been a criticism of his, but it wasn't enough. Orton played poor and in a game this close, his turn overs killed us. I maintain my stance that Tim Tebow should be given the starting job after Week 4 during Denver's bye week.
Kyle Orton's Screen Passing
This may be considered piling it on, but it needs to be said. Kyle Orton is the absolute worst screen passer in the entire NFL and possibly College Football as well. Even the dumb Titans announcers realized that when Orton is about to throw a screen, he drops back totally different then normal. Orton looks like he is going to fall when he backs up to throw the screen. I'm not saying this to start any trouble (Eh, okay maybe a little) but Tim Tebow is an excellent screen passer. Just saying.
Let me set the record straight, I have absolutely no problem with Denver going for it on the 4th down call. They were 6 inches away from the goal and they wanted to put the game away. I give Fox credit for making that call considering the "conservative" rap he has gotten over the years. Now, the problem I have is the play call which falls at the feet of Mike McCoy. Tennessee had stuffed Denver's run game all afternoon. What made McCoy think that was a good play call? Why not call a play that utilizes our strengths like a play action pass? Didn't the Broncos just sign Dante Rosario to go with Daniel Fells and Virgil Green? Throwing to them on a play action was out of the question? On top of the 4th and 1 play call, McCoy called a very very conservative game. He wanted to get the running game going and he kept calling run plays despite fact that the Titans D kept stuffing the run.
Willis McGahee got 101 yards last week for the Broncos against the Bengals. This week, he got a little more then half of that totaling 52 yards on 22 carries. Now, some of the blame definitely goes to the Offensive Line who had trouble opening up running lanes, but some of the blame goes to Mike McCoy who decided to run the most predictable runs at the most predictable times. John Fox football is all about running the football so if Denver can't figure the ground game out, it's going to be a long season.
Matt Hasselback shredded the Broncos secondary. Hasselback threw 311 yards and 2 touchdowns on the afternoon. Now, some of this is because the lack of pressure from Denver's D (Ayers, Bunkley, Vickerson, and Harvey are all run stuffers, not pass rushers), but Denver's secondary also needs to step it up. Andre Goodman and Cassius Vaughn have been giving up way too many passes. Nate Washington burned our DB's today catching 8 passes for 92 yards. Champ, please come back soon. Dre Kirkpatrick, we need you to come help us out when you declare for the 2012 draft this year.
NFL Network Announcers
There is nothing I hate more then listening to Bronco games with the other team's announcers. The announcers are so blatantly biased that it's incredibly annoying. The two tools calling the Titans game felt the need to compliment everything the Titans did whether good or bad. "Look at that, Hasselback is such a smart guy. He saw he had nowhere to go so he threw the ball away. That's a great QB." These guys were so bad, I was kind of hoping that they got injured so there would be replacement announcers.
I seriously detest Finnegan. At one point, he took a total, blatant cheap shot at Ryan Clady. He also was getting involved with Orlando Franklin. Just once, I wish an offensive lineman would pick his ass up and slam him to the ground, hard. Orlando, that would have made a hell of an impression. To the first person who does this, I'll help pay the fine, I swear.
That's all I got for you folks. It's a tough loss, but there are definitely positives to take from this game. Our run defense is much better then we expected, Von Miller is amazing and Eric Decker isn't bad himself. We got things to work on and hopefully we can get Knowshon, Doom, and Champ back for next week's game. Next up: The Green Bay Packers.....oh boy. Until next time, MHR.