Let's start this off with me calling out my own homerism. At the end of the season I kept trumpeting the sound of "Fox is showing signs of improvement" based solely on his newly found fondness for going for it on 4th down. In doing so I ignored other signs that, in retrospect, were in front of us all: when we lose we get out-played and out-coached consistently. We all wear the orange and blue-tinted glasses, and I've never claimed immunity to this even though I strive to get as objective as I can.
Also worth stating is taking my hat off to the Indianapolis Colts. They played great football and completely deserved that win. We've had a lot of controversial big losses or trashy team fans in the past few years leaving a bad taste in my mouth, but I have nothing bad to say about the Colts. They deserved to win that game. They earned their AFC Championship appearance. Good luck on the rest of your season Colts fans!
Let's take a look at what went wrong and what went right in this final game of our 2014-2015 season.
The Sheriff Has a Hitch in His Giddyup
Let's start off with Peyton Manning and how he finished the season. There wasn't a lot to love honestly, though I will say that some of his receivers sure didn't help out with their drops. As he did most of the back half of the season, his throws never really looked comfortable...a little too floaty and it seemed overthrows were the order of the day.
He's looked off since the San Diego game, but if he weren't good enough to play, then I'd guarantee you he wouldn't be out there. I think in retrospect it is very easy to say the coaches made a big mistake in riding the horse all the way down the stretch. I'd have rather played a wild card game with a 90% Manning than the 40-60% Manning that I saw on the field yesterday.
The biggest knock I have on Manning in this game was his penchant for throwing deep. That doesn't work if you don't set it up. We didn't have the running game blowing the other team away. We weren't moving the ball with our short throws either. Why in the world would you think the safety won't be there if you have neither of those two things going your way?
The next biggest knock I have on Manning was a very, VERY telling play. On a 3rd and 5 he had 20-30 yards of open space on a roll out and threw the ball 20 yards into double coverage instead of running for the first down. I've seen the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game and I've watched very closely two of the top five in the twilight of their careers. One of them ran for a 3rd and 6 conversion in a Super Bowl into three defenders sacrificing his body to will himself to get a first down. The other had open daylight for figurative miles and threw an incomplete rather than try to play the game of football. And don't give me any bull hockey in the comments about "he's trained to throw it". That's a sore excuse. We're playing football here ladies and gentlemen...not darts.
I'm glad we saw one vintage Manning TD on a fade to DT. That throw at least was as accurate as you would ever want.
The Big Uglies Came to Play
It wasn't pretty in the trenches, but it was a decent effort. I thought our offensive line did an admirable job in the game overall. I didn't think they cost us more than they gained for us. Here's some quick notes on what I saw that lead me to this conclusion:
- Inside we played pretty darn well in every phase. The Colts didn't get a lot of pressure inside. We also had a lot of success run blocking up front. Orlando Franklin played the best of the whole line in my opinion. Will Montgomery and Manny Ramirez were right on his heels for solid play.
- Ryan Clady just flat out has lost something. Either his injury is still lingering, he's got permanent damage, he's lost a step, or he's got an injury we don't know about. He looked and played poorly and it wasn't even against top-notch NFL talent.
- On the other side, Louis Vasquez showed more of what I've seen all year from him: mostly solid play, but not quick enough feet to keep the pressure off Manning. Luckily for us Adam Gase either reads the No Bull Reviews or he'd seen enough in his game tape to know that we needed chip blocking to help out Louis as I saw this multiple times in game and it helped a great deal.
C.J. Anderson is a beast. On the offensive side of the ball you have to say he's a bright shining light among that messy looking game. This kid balls out hard and willed himself to a 1st down that never NEVER should have happened. C.J. has got to come into camp as the #1 back next year and he's a weapon we should be able to build around moving forward.
Receivers Playing Paddy-Cake
I don't want to get too frosty as this group ticked me off more than any other, so I'll stick to short notes here:
- Demaryius Thomas drops three passes in a playoff game and can't beat press man coverage. How is this still happening?
- Emmanuel Sanders was putting it all out there unless we ran to his side of the field. It seems even our best weapons have some weaknesses they need to work on.
- Wes Welker doesn't have the quicks anymore. He has trouble getting separation and there is absolutely no reason to bring him back next year.
- Julius Thomas looked like he was back to some semblance of himself...too bad we only targeted him a few times.
- Why didn't we target Ronnie Hillman out of the backfield more? He's a big weapon in that phase of the game and we didn't even scheme to use him properly.
- Our whole receiving unit showed no ability at any point to beat press man coverage. At some point this weakness needs to be addressed especially for our "Super Star" #1 and #2 WRs.
Close, But No Cigar
On the defensive side I think the front seven did a pretty darn solid job overall much like their counterparts on offense. We had a ton of pressures, but no one ever got home. I don't put that on Von Miller and Demarcus Ware as much as I do solid scheming by the Colts. They knew what tricks we liked to use and always had an outlet hot read ready if we brought the heat. That's playoff football right there and great QB play at work.
Also let's give some big props to our linebacker corps. They played very very well. Todd Davis looks like a real player and a guy we need to develop. Brandon Marshal came back and brought it hard. I also saw Lerentee McCray flashing a few times as well. Even Steven Johnson (who has looked poor at the end of the season) brought it in this game. I really like the talent we have there and think what I saw as a weakness this year is going to be a big strength moving forward.
Two Sides of a Coin
Now we get to our highly touted secondary. I really saw this as our biggest strength going into the playoffs. One man proved me wrong. Aqib Talib, if that's what you've got for us, you need to return about half of your salary. That was dog crap, son. T.Y. Hilton beat you like you stole something over and over. It wasn't just a bad play. It was a devastating game. You should have gone to the sideline and told Jack Del Rio to swap you with Chris Harris like a man instead of costing us drive after drive. I'm not even kidding a little bit. This was an example of A player directly being a huge part of a loss in what is a team game.
Chris Harris Jr. played phenomenal much like he did all year long. Bronco for life if I had my say in it. He was covering everything well and only let a couple passes get caught.
T.J. Ward also looked the best I'd seen him play all season long. This was the kind of play I was looking forward to when we picked him up. I hope he continues next year with this game as a stepping stone. He was nimble, powerful, and covered as well as you'd ever expect a strong safety to cover.
Rahim Moore again disappointed me. Yeah he got an INT on a super deep throw that had no look-off and floated on Luck a bit. Sure...good on ya mate. But I again in this game saw a ton of times where he was giving the Colts 7-10 yard cushions in pass coverage even when the ball was in the air. He gave up a lot of yards and if I'm calling the shots, we're developing someone younger and worse rather than keeping Mr. Rahim "The Bad Dream" Moore in orange and blue so we can have a mediocre talent holding down the fort.
Bradley Roby as a rookie played well too. He's really going to be a great player for us. He had one pass defense where he should have taken inside technique instead of outside, but you have to give the rookie a break. He also had some great swat downs on solid coverage technique that looked like a mirror of our boy Chris Harris.
Britton Colquitt needs to find a new job. You are punting at Mile High son and you don't even average 40 yards!? Sorry, but you've stolen enough money from the Broncos coffers at this point.
Connor Barth and Brandon McManus both did their jobs very well. The kicking spot could be interesting next year as I'm sure we'd like to not have to carry a kickoff specialist.
Omar Bolden was another hero of our losing effort. This guy knew what it was to play with heart and aggressively go out on the field giving everything to make some plays. Great gunner work and was robbed of a forced fumble that was the only big call I saw the refs get wrong.
Here We Meet Again
So we have another year with another bad ending where our team looked woefully unprepared for the competition. Thank you for the four years of division titles, the AFC Championship last year, and a whole bucket load of wins John Fox. I will fondly remember your time as the coach of my beloved team. I do think John Elway is making the right call in moving on though. We've hit the ceiling of what you can do and I said so when you were hired. I fully expect you to coach up a team next year from being a no body to being in the hunt as you excel at it.
Jack Del Rio appeared to me to mail it in and I'll be glad when he leaves. He misused our talent in this game as he often did early in the season mixing in way too much zone coverage. He also didn't take away T.Y. Hilton who could have absolutely, positively been handled by Chris Harris. That was a poorly prepared and executed defense and that rightfully needs to be blamed on the HC first and the DC second.
Adam Gase also brought a game plan in that made no sense to me. Screens that never worked all season long mixed with the deep ball when you have a gimpy QB. We ran the ball well, but didn't make it a staple that the Colts needed to account for. I'm glad you are getting lots of looks as a HC, though I have no idea why. I think Manning has had a big hand in what happened offensively at Denver and you may reap the benefits from it. Go prove me wrong.
Closing Uplifting Thoughts
Everyone out there in Broncos Country, hold your heads high. We went 12 - 4 and were the winners of the AFC West yet again. Also, don't take any lip from any team who didn't make it this far. There are four teams fans that have bragging rights...and none of those teams have been handicapped with the poor coaching we've seen here the past few years. I got quite a bit of deja vu writing this as it brought back memories of 2012 and 2013. Its time to move forward as we let the orange and blue sun set on this year.