Repeat after me, Broncos Country: At least that wasn't a playoff game.
Feel better? I hope so, because we had the deck stacked against us for this one in many ways. I'm not saying this was a sure loss at all, but it wasn't a game that we were likely to win...not with Bill Vinovich's crew officiating. We should know better than to think we had a fair shot at this game. Yeah, for the record I'm starting my review off with officiating and I'll likely end with it too.
Flipping the Switch
Leading up to this game I, like many of you in Broncos Country, was very excited about our newly established power running game. That is a tool a playoff team needs in order to be a true threat in the post-season. That's a tool that great teams have in their utility belt. The question I pondered to our staff last week was this: What happens when the power run game gets stuffed?
What I I wanted to know more about was our coaching and offense adjusting in game on the fly to having our bread and butter turned off. One of the best things to come from this game was seeing our coaches actually change gears in game when the Bengals were tooled up to take away our run game. Remember the third quarter...that was a gorgeous sign and something we can hang our hopes on in the post season if the chips get down.
In the third quarter we were unstoppable on offense. Manning had Cincinnati's defense on their heels praying for surcease. I'm honestly glad to see us climb back into it because that game had the look of a real clunker going into halftime.
What Happened to the Sheriff?
Peyton Manning hasn't been comfortable running our slow-paced power running offense. That has been obvious, but it was getting better and we were seeing him take steps forward especially against the Chargers. Manning's big problem in games we lose is when the other team does one or more of the following two things:
- Hit him / get pressure in his face.
- Disguise the defensive call and surprise his timing routes.
The Bengals did both in this game at different junctures and it really showed the flaws in the Manning offense and in his abilities as a quarterback. Sometimes Manning reads a defense, is sure of what he is reading, then figures out his route and throws it in perfect timing no matter what. That was at least half of his interceptions in this game. When this method works, it works big time and we see games get out of hand for the other team quickly...but when it doesn't work it leads to easy interceptions.
Manning's 3rd quarter was sublime. He started running no-huddle stuff and taking control of the play calls which the Bengals had a ton of trouble with. His throws were sharp, his timing was superb, and he clawed his way into the lead for at least a little while.
In the 4th quarter, we saw the deck get stacked against us a bit...the skies dumped buckets of water all over the place, and the big effect this had was on Manning's throwing stance. I don't know if many of you noticed it, but aside from the obvious pressure situations, many times in the 4th quarter there were big problems with Manning's throws. His legs weren't right, his feet weren't lined up normally, and his follow through didn't seem to be normal to me. As much as we like to say that only the wind really messes with Manning, I think severe rain like that takes its toll on our beloved QB because of the uncertain ground.
Manning's INTs really REALLY hurt this game. One quarter of great play doesn't make up for the loss that the other three quarters contribute to. We had a chance here and honestly, our star QB who is "the only reason Denver even wins the division" was a big factor in our loss. I say this with no agenda or no point other than to call it like I see it.
The Real Problem on Offense
Obvious answer is obvious. Our line shuffling and power run scheme is a mask. Our line still has some very very big problems (namely a LT who's play is declining, a guard masquerading as a RT, and two back-up quality guys starting at C and RG). The line may talk big like we're all just haters and don't know jack about them in the locker room (and they are right...most of us have no clue what happens behind doors at Dove Valley), but the game is played on the field in front of us. What I see there is what we've known: this offensive line isn't great by any means.
We run with six offensive linemen. That's cool when it works (see the prior few weeks), but when it doesn't work as well the wall comes crumbling down a bit. Now against a very good defense we have trouble running consistently and they can predict our plays based off of personnel.
Then we get to the passing blocking. Our tackles looked like absolute dung for a lot of the game on Monday. Ryan Clady looked slow and weak. Louis Vasquez looked like a fence post at times. This was the kind of play we saw in last year's Super Bowl where a team knew we were passing and were speed rushing around the end all day making Manning have to throw quickly.
The sad thing to me is that we have what we have. You can't adjust the line this late in the season as far as personnel. You have to just perfect what is going wrong. Or FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING HOLY CHIP BLOCK THE SPEED RUSHER WITH YOUR RB! Sorry...had to get that out of my system. It seems a bit simple to me that if you have an edge rusher living in your backfield late in a game where you need to throw that you may want to chip the dude or double up on him.
The Real Strength of our Offense
Let's give some credit to our wide receivers for a moment. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are primed and ready for the playoffs. Both of these guys are making plays constantly and keeping our offense rolling. Wes Welker again didn't have a big game, but he had one great 3rd down conversion.
Julius Thomas is stud enough to play through a bum ankle, but that kid needs to Bronco Up and show some stones. I was blown away that he let some defender take his catch. That's soft son...get back to the weight room, grab a mouthful of nails to chew on, and never let me see you get out manned for a ball again.
Jacob Tamme again showed us he's no back-up for JT. Whatever good Jacob had going last year has passed him by...his hands appear at this point to be made of concrete. I'd rather see Welker getting those looks honestly.
- C.J. Anderson still had some nice runs, but he wasn't overall making much happen against 8 man boxes
- If it is 2nd and 10 or more, never will be too soon for me to see us run the ball again
- Can we also limit our 3rd down screens to may once every other game? They kind of sucked are way obvious.
The Real Problem with our Defense
Broncos 28, Bengals 37: Day-after reactions
Could I have written this last night? Sure, but I turned the game off in disgust after Peyton's pick six, so I honestly wasn't sure if the Broncos scored a garbage touchdown or a miracle happened. I was frankly too disgusted to care.
I really really hate injuries. I'd bet that our lack of quality play from our Linebackers led to probably 15-20 points in this game for the other team. I know 7 did...that 85 yard TD run was because of complete crap angle and whiff tackle attempt by Todd Davis. Don't get me wrong here...I love the effort Davis is giving us. He's doing well in spurts, but the dude can't fill the shoes of Danny Trevathan or Brandon Marshall.
Also, this just in Pete: Steven Johnson kinda sucks, bro...actually let me amend that: Steven Johnson really sucks. I'm going to say that our playoff hopes defensively rest heavily with whether Brandon Marshall can come back from his foot injury or not. We really need help at LB as the play there is dirt poor at this point.
The Real Strength of our Defense
Man do we have some awesome corners. Aqib Talib was absolutely stout as a shut down corner this game. He was all over A.J. Green and I absolutely love that our coaches let him follow the threat around instead of trying to match up a much shorter Chris Harris Jr. on Green.
Also let's talk about Chris. There was nothing going on on the opposite side of the field from A.J. Green because Chris was covering their other receiver. Chris was a blanket. There's nothing else for me to say that hasn't already been said this season about his ability to play corner.
The Big Uglies Were Big and Ugly
The defensive line was not a big help here. Sure Von Miller made probably the play of the game for us by straight up stealing the ball from Cinci, but did you see him get sacks? How about pressures? How about Demarcus Ware? Malik Jackson? Anyone get any kind of pass rush this game?
Now let's be fair about this a bit though. The Bengals didn't throw the ball a ton and weren't in many situations where we knew they were going to be passing it. But even when they did, they had decent success holding off our pass rush. It was pretty disappointing for a unit that was supposed to be game changing coming into the season. Peyton Manning isn't the only guy that is looking old this year as the season wears on.
- This isn't news to me, but Rahim Moore really sucks in coverage. I saw a ton of bust this game and no boom...Andy Dalton beat him like he stole something. ANDY DALTON. May you have ginger nightmares for a week, Mr. "The Dream".
- I thought David Bruton again looked pretty good at safety when I noticed him...this is very unlike the past few years. Its like the dude has gotten a hip replacement from a Terminator.
- Big shout out to Omar Bolden for a phenomenal kickoff return. That was an impressive game-changing play.
- Big cow pie to the return coverage for most of the rest of the game after this as we appeared to be clueless on angles to take to seal off a return. They showed an end-zone view of the TD return and no Bronco was taking an angle to seal the return...all were closing in pursuit in their original lines.
- It was a bummer to see a missed FG from Connor Barth, but that's a heck of a tough kick to make in the NFL. I'm not hating.
Bill Vinovich and his crew have a special place in my heart now where I will assume we will lose if they are the crew for our game. This is two years removed from the joke of a game in the playoffs vs the Ravens where the refs absolutely helped Baltimore win and they did it again in this game.
First of all, the "Interception" that JT lost was a simultaneous catch. Both players went out of bounds and to the ground with the ball. Read the rule book...the passing team gets possession there.
And finally, Demaryius Thomas's "Facemask" joke of a call was absolutely atrocious officiating of the worst kind. DT is absolutely allowed to brush against a facemask just like any other NFL player without a flag. I've never seen a facemask call like that in the NFL in all the years I've watched because it wasn't a facemask.
If anyone hears about a campaign to get Vinovich fired, please let me know as I'll round up a bunch of signatures for it.
Thankfully, this wasn't a playoff game and it doesn't really amount to much as far as what happens to our season. We still can get the #2 seed next week and if we can't beat the Raiders, we aren't going anywhere in the playoffs anyway. Keep up the faith, Broncos Country. This season isn't over. In the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers:
R. E. L. A. X.