What is there to say after an 18-point loss, especially when you have 223 yards rushing and give up 226? I said all last week that I was not going to be devastated if we lost to the World Champs in their building, and I'm not. If that makes me something less of a fan than those of you out there getting ready to jump ship than I guess I am. I like to think it makes me more of a realist. Don't take this as not having confidence in the Broncos, or think that I didn't swear at the television with any less vigor with each yard Joseph Addai churned out. It's the knowledge that the two teams on the field yesterday are in two different places, and what we saw was a direct result of that.
We could focus on yesterday and talk specifically about what went wrong in that game, but in the whole scheme of things that loss doesn't effect us that much. Face it, the Broncos aren't going to finish 14-2 or 13-3. We have a 10 or 11 win team that if it isn't careful can end up 9-7 or 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Let's take stock in that and see where we need to go fro here.
First, just a couple things from yesterday's game --
The Offense Played Well -- A loss is a loss, and the offense simply didn't score enough points. Overall, however, I'll take 223 yards rushing any day. Most weeks that amount of yardage will get you a win. The Colts are not a dominant defense. They are fast, athletic and avoid giving up the big play. Sure, the Broncos were able to run the ball between the 20's, but once inside the Red-Zone the Broncos offense stalled....Again. I have talked about some of the weaknesses in Jay Cutler's game. He simply isn't that accurate on short routes, a direct result of the flaws in his mechanics. Anyone who needs an example should look no further than the swing pass to Brandon Marshall in the first quarter. It was 2nd down I believe and Cutler's pass went sailing over Marshall's head. Marshall was wide open, and should have had little trouble getting near the goal line. As a result the Broncos are forced to settle for a field goal. Those are the plays Cutler needs to consistently make. The Broncos have done a good job getting to the red zone, just a poor job of scoring TD's once there. Against a team like the Colts you have to take advantage of every opportunity. I would be remiss if I didn't remind everyone that we were without Javon Walker on offense and that had a definite impact as well. Walker is the Broncos true deep-threat, and while I have a lot of respect for Brandon Stokely, he isn't Javon Walker. The slant Cutler had intercepted in the third quarter was a perfect example of how much the Broncos missed Walker. He runs through the defender to catch the ball, Marshall stopped and allowed the DB to make the play.
Travis Henry continues to show he is everything the Broncos though and more. Don't underestimate what a guy like Henry could mean when the weather turns cold and throwing the ball becomes more difficult. Behind Henry the Broncos found the perfect Ying to Henry's Yang. Selvin Young runs just as hard but has the extra quickness to go with it. As long as he can avoid the dropsies Young is going to be a solid contributer.
Damn, We Really Miss John Lynch -- Lynch is the heart and soul of the defense, and the Broncos have really, really struggled with him on the sideline. This becomes a bigger problem in the Red Zone when space is limited. Sure, Lynch has lost a step, but in the restricted size inside the 20 his talent is maximized. If the Broncos are going to turn it around defensively, Lynch has got to get back on the field. He plays like another linebacker against the run, and behind Champ Bailey Lynch might be the team's best tackler. His absence also magnifies just how limited Nick Ferguson is. With Lynch on the field, Ferguson can focus solely on coverage, and it showed in 2006 when Ferguson was one of the best cover safeties in the NFL according the FootballOutsiders.com. Without Lynch, Ferguson has to help out in run support, especially with the smaller Domonique Foxworth filling in for Lynch. Run support is not Ferguson's strong suit and the Broncos defense has suffered for it.
The Defense Is Simply Not Athletic -- I talked earlier about the Colts and their defense. as a group, the unit is not extremely talented. That isn't to say they aren't good at what they do, they are, but it isn't with household names. What they do have are two stud defensive ends -- Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis -- a solid safety -- Bob Sanders - and a collection of very athletic defenders that are fast. Really fast. They fly around the ball, and that shows when they are backed up near their own goal line. The Broncos, conversely, aren't very athletic and it shows. Of course, Champ Bailey is a premier player, but you look down the list and their aren't many great athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and while some player's 40-times might suggest otherwise there isn't much speed on defense either. Watching Ian Gold try to stay with Dallas Clark on 2-TD receptions was simply painful. D.J. Williams is athletic but just hasn't picked up the intricacies of playing in the middle. Nate Webster, a MLB at heart, has been terrible against the run, and the next time he doesn't over pursue to the sideline will be the first.
Special Teams Flat Out Stink -- Making matter worse is the play of the special teams. It all starts with the coverage units who have been awful. The Colts consistently started possessions out past the 35 yard line, and when Peyton Manning needs to go 30 yards simply to get into field goal range, you are really putting the defense behind the eight ball. Todd Sauerbrun has not been able to get the ball to the end zone, and his kickoffs have always been low-line drives that don't allow the coverage units to get down field to cover. The result is 25-30 yard returns and great field position for opposing offenses.
On the flip side, as much as it pains me to say, Domenik Hixon has been a disappointment in the return game. He has had opportunities to run back some kicks and has failed to get back to the 20 on three different occasions, being brought down near the 20 most of the time. He has looked tentative through the hole, which renders you useless in the NFL. The Broncos promoted Glenn Martinez on Saturday, and with his experience returning kicks I thought we would see him. We didn't and the return game continued to run in neutral. It might be time to make a change. TO be fair, Hixon hasn't had many opportunities to return punts, mainly because opposing offenses are starting damn near mid-field which means a lot of punts inside the 10-yard line.
Where We Are -- IN FIRST PLACE! That's where. Sure, we are in a 3-way tie for first with the Chiefs and Raiders, but with a win in hand over Oakland, and 5 more divisional games remaining, we hold our future in our hands. That all starts this Sunday with a huge game with the Chargers. I said last night that it was a must win. While it may not be, it's as close as it gets. The Chargers are a struggling football team and Norv Turner is already in a world of trouble. L.T. looks like a beaten man, and suddenly the Chargers defense looks like swiss cheese. The 102 points they have given up is 3rd worst in the AFC. The Broncos need to take advantage and put the Chargers in a hole they may not be able to dig out of.
It's easy when things are going well. You find out a lot about someone when times are tough. Starting Sunday we are going to find out everything we need to know about the Broncos.