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Broncos at Browns: The No Bull Review

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The Denver Broncos traveled to its 4th road game of the year to face the Cleveland Browns for a game of some significance (AFC Conference game). Who was hot, who was not, observations on the game, and No Bull analysis on the Broncos.

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We are 6-0 headed into a bye week. I just want to take a moment to appreciate that with you all. Think about it: we have won 6 games out of 6. The team could not be in a better position record-wise to make it to the playoffs and have a shot at being champions.

Now let's dig into the team. There is a lot of good to talk about from this nail biter of a game and of course the regular share of stuff that needs to improve.

Offense

I liked a lot of what we saw from a play calling point of view from this game. The bootleg wrinkles were finally successful. We ran the ball often enough and effectively enough. Outside runs were mixed with inside plays.  I still would love to see more of a horizontal passing game being utilized instead of vertical, but the wrinkles of that are starting to show up more. We can criticize Gary Kubiak for some things, but working on the offense is not one of them. He's adjusting as the weeks go by even if we're not seeing great execution everywhere on offense yet.

Quarterback

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the biggest weakness on the 2015 Denver Broncos team: one Peyton Manning. It is getting bad enough that the Denver players are starting to defend him to the media. Well guys, I love you all (including Peyton), but acting like there isn't problems is not helpful to the offense.

Let's be real: 3 picks, under 60% pass completions, a 53.3 QBR for the game, and in most ways statistically THE worst QB in the NFL to date through 6 games. We've beaten the dead horse enough in the comments, so I'll keep it short. Here's my quick hits on the quarterback position:

  1. Peyton is not getting benched until we start losing games
  2. Peyton is not getting benched until he gets the yardage record. He cares too much about it and it would be very dicey waters for the coach and GM into from a PR perspective.
  3. Peyton doesn't need to get benched.  All he needs to do is STOP making bone-headed, rookie mistakes that lead to interceptions. Everything else we can live with. Everything else we can easily overcome.  Manning has this ONE problem.
  4. Peyton is obviously working ardently to accurately make passes with his weakening arm. This isn't a knock on him. I applaud him for it. That throw to Sanders was immaculate. It is the 20+ throws that missed that worry me.
  5. Brock can absolutely play as poorly as Manning and still win us games. The potential is there for him to play better as well as worse. But I am absolutely positive he can lead the team over six games with a similar QBR quality and as many picks and TDs.

Line

Hats off to the offensive line for this game. They looked improved in every way to me against a defense that they should be able to handle. The pass blocking was very solid (other than the middle with Paradis...he had a rough game). The run blocking was opening holes as well fairly consistently.

At this point, I'm a big fan of keeping Michael Schofield on the field at RT. He's done a pretty admirable job. I'd also keep Ryan Harris at LT as his play looks much better at this point. Unless Ty Sambrailo looks much better in practice, I don't think we need to switch. Let's stick with what is working.

The only move that I would like that Peyton probably wouldn't would be to swap out Matt Paradis for Max Garcia. If Max can snap it well (no reason based on his history to think he can't), I honestly think he'd be an upgrade at center.

Running backs

C.J. Anderson either has something wrong with him or he pulled a Montee this off season and mailed it in. I believe the former rather than the later...I'm betting he's got a leg problem or a problem mentally getting the reads down. Thanks to some successful late runs, he got his average over 3 yards by the end of the game. The biggest thing he's missing is burst. What happened to it?

Ronnie Hillman has to be the clear-cut starter at this point. He's in every way eeking out every yard there is to be found on the field of play and had a 100 yard game. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry which is absolutely sublime.  Well done, Ronnie. Keep it coming!

Receivers

Demaryius Thomas is a dominating presence on the field of play...WHEN HE CATCHES THE FRIGGING BALLS THAT HIT HIM RIGHT IN THE HANDS!!!  I know it was only two plays, but you have to be friggin' kidding me with these stupid drops. They aren't as bad as Manning's poor decision making with the throws, but they are just one step behind them. Seriously, DT...don't be that guy that gets his big contract and just coasts. Hit that juggs machine every day extra. Your team relies on you and needs you to step it up.

Emmanuel Sanders is the most dangerous weapon we have on our offense. Moreso than DT. Do you know why? Because he can score any time he touches the ball. DT hasn't shown that quality this year.

I know it was only two plays, but you have to be friggin' kidding me with these stupid drops

Kudos to Andre Caldwell who got two targets this game and made two great catches. That's NFL football right there, Andre!

I liked that we dialed down how much we were throwing to Owen Daniels. That just makes sense with how little separation he gets. Use him in spots with great timing routes that you have down and he'll work well enough.

Defense

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Why in the world did we let their Tight End Barnidge score two times in the red zone? Take that option away. That's my big complaint with the defense. Outside of that, we held up well enough to win comfortably had there not been a pick-6.

Worth pointing out is that the defense is consistently making stupid penalties. I mean stupid, not aggressive. I'm fine with the aggressive stuff where the defender can't pull up in time and gets flagged. I'm not fine with leading with the crown of your helmet into the QB's head (Wolfe) or yanking on a guy's facemask unnecessarily (Jackson).

Front 7

I gave my game ball to Shaquil Barrett and his play is worth crowing about. This guy is going to make replacing DeMarcus Ware easy. The defense did not miss a beat and got elite production from the ROLB position. His play was ferocious, aware, powerful, and disruptive. The forced fumble and recovery was magnificent and game changing. Well done, Shaquil!

Von Miller had a pretty quiet day at the office (keep in mind the Browns' tackles are legit and they often doubled him or chipped him).

I thought our best lineman was by far Malik Jackson. He's made for this defense and I really hope he stays with us instead of chasing money next year. 1 sack and 2 TFL highlight his play from the stat sheet.

Secondary

Aqib Talib has once again established that he's one of the best cornerbacks playing the game today. He housed another pass interception which was a significant contribution to the win. Did you notice McCown kinda stopped throwing at him after that play?

Chris Harris Jr. stepped his game up this week compared to the last couple of games. He covered well and held his guys to no significant contribution is YAC. He didn't ge ta pick, but you can't be the hero every week. Sometimes you just have to hold down your little piece of the No Fly Zone!

I was disappointed with Darrian Stewart's defense of one of the late game passes. He jumped up to catch the ball instead of swatting it away and it cost us big time. On the plus side, he was very active in run defense had was in on tackles all over.

Special Teams

Brandon McManis has finally come back down to earth missing a mere 51 yard field goal. You know what? I'm totally okay with that. The dude drilled his other 4 including a game winning kick in overtime. I loved seeing the close ups of him after the coach iced him with a time out. The dude looked cool and focused, just like a kicker should be.

With how much trouble we've had on offense, I'm very bewildered about why we have Omar Bolden returning kicks. He doesn't have the vision, speed, or burst to make a significant impact in the return game. Why is it so hard to find a guy who can be a threat in the return game?

Final Thoughts

I'm now very firmly believing that the team is better off with a young QB at the helm instead of Peyton Manning. His skills have degraded too much. He's making the most of what he has and I do appreciate that, but you can't keep throwing the ball to the other team as badly as he is.

I didn't like watching Brett Favre, Joe Montana, or Dan Marino in their final years. They all were a shadow of their former selves and it was to the detriment of their teams. That same issue applies to our team this year.

Can he turn it around? Can Kubiak help him find ways to be effective on offense and not a liability?  Sure. Absolutely. I'm cheering hard as a Bronco fan to see that happen. But when I take off my orange and blue tinted glasses to try and give you guys the No Bull truth, I just don't like what I see on the horizon.

I didn't like watching Brett Favre, Joe Montana, or Dan Marino in their final years.

The very sad thing is that at this point he reminds me a whole lot of Jay Cutler in his last year with us. He's staring down the guy he wants to throw to and then trying to hit windows that don't exist in double and triple coverage. It is the most infuriating thing to watch for me as a fan because I can normally see what the defense was doing and it should have been an easy read for him to go elsewhere, take the sack, or make the smart throw away.

Really, think about the game and how it looks if that pick-6 isn't there. I hear a lot of people in the comments defending him by citing the dropped passes.  Sure...but let's look at this. On that pick 6 if he doesn't throw it so far behind his guy, we win the game in regulation 23-16. You can duplicate that idea for several of our games this year. The stupid picks are leading to points for the other team more so than he's producing as a component of our offense.

That said, we are truly in a rock and a hard place here. In the dream land where I'm the Coach or GM of the Broncos, I don't think I could bench him at 6-0 no matter that we have a bye week and no matter how much he's hurting the team. The dude is a legend in what is likely his final year playing football. Maybe the right call is to just enjoy it while we can. If Elway and Kubiak are okay with that, why can't we be?