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Broncos vs Bengals: The No Bull Review

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Week 16 for the Denver Broncos had the Cincinnati Bengals coming to Denver for a regular season playoff showdown of epic proportions. Both teams are looking to do some damage in the post season with backup QBs and really needed this game to help boost their post season situations.

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This was the kind of football game that NFL football fans relish. Nail-biting 4th quarters. Overtime after a hooked FG attempt. Just enough offense to score a FG in OT and then a crazy play to end the game.

I love the fight I'm seeing in our team. I think a lot of our fans spend way too much time nit-picking our success without perspective. Too many fans (especially non-Bronco fans) are chirping in with the negatives:

"This team doesn't scare anyone." (Ask the opposing QBs about our pass rush sometime)

"Osweiler just doesn't look like he has it." (Dude throws to every level and drove the team down the field twice in the clutch...I'm not sure what else you want from a guy who's only started a handful of games)

"You can't beat a real playoff team playing like that." (Uhm....last I checked the Cincinnati Bengals were a playoff team with a pretty friggin' fantastic defense. For the record we put down New England as well.)

Let's get No Bull people: This is a new coaching regime in its 1st year. We're running a completely new offense. We're running a completely new defense. We've had an array of significant injuries strike both sides of the ball dating back to training camp. Our veteran QB blew a gasket on his last ride and we're gunning with a young buck who doesn't have the experience you'd like to see in your QB. Please stop expecting perfection from this team. You are only setting yourself up for disappointment. This is a very good football team. You don't get 11 wins in a season by sucking eggs. The team is exceeding any realistic expectations you'd have had if you went into the season knowing we'd lose Peyton 1/2 way through the year. Be excited for your Denver Broncos and cheer hard. This team is playing their hearts out on the field and never giving up. That's about all we can really ask of any player.

Offense

I had to verify with a couple of trusted sources post-game that what I actually saw was an offensive adjustment at halftime. We came out in the 2nd half in no huddle and put the Bengals defense on its heels. Way to go Kubiak (and if he's speaking truthfully) and Dennison!

Quarterback

This guy looks like a young quarterback learning the game, but I LOVE it. Do you want to know why?  Because he's showing progress from game to game and he looks like a guy who has serious potential. He's throwing passes to the sideline on a rope. He's progressing through reads 3-4 deep (he wasn't doing this in his first start). He's moving in the pocket much MUCH better than he did in his first few games this season. The dude's QBR was 100. He didn't throw the ball to the other team. He marched us down the field in the clutch not once, but twice! This team can win in the playoffs with Brock. The rest of the team just needs to be all in like they were at the end of this game.

I'm not saying he isn't without flaws. He still holds the ball a hair too long in tough situations (bootleg passes that aren't open). His long touch pass needs a LOT of work if this game is any indication of that. But at least at the end of the day he isn't chucking it to the other team at least twice per game and putting our defense in bad spots.

Line

I sure wish we had more depth at tackle. Michael Schofield was once again abused. His feet are so excruciatingly slow and he looks so completely scared against the speed rushers he's been seeing lately. Unfortunately his backup is Tyler Polumbus who I have no desire whatsoever to see take over at this point in the year. But if you were to ask me who the weakest starter on this Bronco team was, my answer with no hesitation would be Schofield. He plainly doesn't have goods to cut it in the NFL unless he's seriously got an injury issue that we don't know about.

I really think our line did a fairly mediocre job in run blocking which is something I'm willing to resign myself to being happy with at this point in the year. They have as much time in this system as they can get to put it together. This appears to be what you can expect and it isn't all that bad truthfully. We did average 5.4 ypc as a team.

I do think their pass blocking improved a great deal as the game wore on. We actually gave Schofield some help at times with a chip block. We also schemed him to block inside and let a TE get the end on a play that I thought worked well. The inside blocking and blitz pickup from the backs was very solid for the most part which is a relief really. There wasn't much success from any of the A gap blitzes the Bengals drew up that I can recall.

Running backs

The only big question I have about the way the offense is being handled is why in the world do we see so much of Ronnie Hillman instead of C.J. Anderson? Both players touched the ball 9 times in this game. Hillman averaged a respectable 3.9 ypc. Anderson had 8.1. If you want to get fussy about the long run for a TD (which why would you...it actually happened after all), he still averaged ~4.86 ypc on 7 carries. Last I checked, that was more than 3.9.  GET CJ THE FRIGGIN' BALL!

Receivers

Let's talk about Demaryius Thomas first. I want to point out that this dude had to fight for a lot in this game because he was being held and interfered with on almost every pass that went to him. Seriously. I lost count of how many times I saw Adam Jones holding and pulling on DT's arm before and while the ball got there. Want to know why DT had to make a one-handed catch in the clutch to convert that 3rd down? Because Jones was holding his arm back. Kudos to DT for playing hard and getting after the ball with only one arm most of the game.

Owen Daniels has caught a lot of flak from me this season. But I can see why we brought him in and the value he has to this team. In every game this year he's made catches. It hasn't been because of speed or quickness. It has been because of veteran craftiness and route running. He went after it in this game and my hat is off to him for sure for going across the middle late and getting completely slobber-knocked for it. That was tough football play that I won't soon forget.

Emmanuel Sanders is just too fast for defenses to handle. The scary thing is that we currently don't have a QB that can truly take advantage of that. Even on the long ball that Sanders caught, it was a poor throw that Sanders had to stop for. If Brock can get down his timing for the long routes to Sanders and DT downfield, you are going to see sparks fly from this offense. Don't look for that until next year though. I think it is something he'll have to hone in the off-season with them.

I loved seeing so much contributions from our WR depth. Jordan Norwood got 6 targets in this game and completed 4 of those. It was a seriously solid contribution to the team and meant as much as Ronnie Hillman's catches out of the backfield (funny thing...both players had identical stats other than targets).

Defense

Our defense sure did look lost in the 1st half of the game. Credit Cincinnati for a really great game plan early with a lot of wrinkles that had Denver back on their heels and grasping at air against their passing game. McCarron threw so many perfect passes and really impressed me early.

But just like the offense, our defense went into halftime and came out revamped and adjusted to shut down the Bengal offense. I keep seeing a lot of people reference the player's and coach's quotes about playing man and let me tell you that is half Bull. Yes, the three key corners kept playing man coverage. But behind them we went from cover-1 to cover-2 in the 2nd half. We dropped back our linebackers and extra defensive backs more into zones and shrunk the target areas for them to throw to. Crossing routes weren't so safe. The outside deep routes had help on both sides. We still dialed up some cover-1 man blitz concepts (to great effect really) at times, but it was sprinkled in, not the mainstay. It was just what the doctor ordered and refreshing to see going into the playoffs.

Front 7

Danny Trevathan was a man on a mission in this game. He didn't make the flashiest plays by far. He was the clean-up crew which is exactly what you want from your ILBs in our scheme. Right behind him in tackles for this game was Brandon Marshall. I'm sure there are better LBs out there in the NFL, but I wouldn't trade either of these two guys for anyone else in this scheme. They really are an under-recognized key piece of the success of our defense.

Vance Walker played this game like a veteran player who's at the end of a season looking for a shot at something great. He really showed up big to me from the interior of our line and it wasn't just the one sack he got. He had a QB hit and a TFL as well. It almost seemed to me like he was challenging Derek Wolfe for the title of "Big Nasty" on the inside. I'd call them both winners in this game. They both tore it up.

Von Miller had another mostly quiet game. He harassed the QB when he could and as the game wore on they HAD to hold the ball longer and it finally gave Miller the chance to get home. Honestly I think he was robbed on the 2nd to last play in OT. Had the refs and the review team had integrity, it would have been reviewed and overturned. Because Kubiak had to point it out to them there was no way they were going to end the game on a review like that. It would make the NFL look bad.

One guy who I'm not going to be popular for calling out this week is DeMarcus Ware. Yeah...great play getting the game winning fumble recovery. Good job on a TFL. What else did you do big guy? Your pass rush looked worn down and slow just like last year about this time. It wasn't like the coaches used him too much either. He was in on 58% of the plays this game. Maybe he needs only 40%? Maybe the coaches could get more out of him on the field if they had some younger guys add a little to their plate. I think both Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett can handle it (39% and 31% respectively).

The other guy who was strangely quite this game was Malik Jackson. Malik has been a complete monster this whole season. Cincy did a really superb job on him and I honestly think that was mostly the reason he disappeared. The Bengals have one of the best offensive lines in the game and it showed.

Secondary

I think our big play CBs got a little bit of humble pie in this game, but they both handled it perfectly. Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib both let big passes happen on them...more than one even. But both of them shook it off like it was no big deal and moved on to the next play. They both made more plays on the back half of the game than they gave up early. Again, you have to credit A.J. McCarron with some really well thrown passes. I don't care if you are Deon Sanders, you can't stop a perfect pass.

It was so good to see Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward (albeit only for a little while) back on the field. This defense really needs them to work well. Too many plays in this game were given up by Josh Bush who was playing timid and not able to read / react fast enough to break up plays. He's a young guy with some potential, but this team needs very badly for him to not be starting or playing significant snaps moving forward.

Special Teams

Another week, another surprisingly short punt from Britton Colquitt. Habits are hard to break from what I know.

Brandon McManus, how the hell do you not even kick the ball straight on that kick at the end of regulation!? The sad thing here is that that is the kind of kick that can haunt a guy. I'm glad McManus got another chance in OT to redeem himself and he did a helluva job kicking it right down the middle of the uprights. Still...how many of you are going to be queasy next time we need McManus to kick a clutch FG?

Final Thoughts

We are in the playoffs, Broncos Country! I know the journey isn't over and that's not what the ultimate goal is, but please take just a moment to enjoy that. In the NFL it is really friggin' tough to have a winning season let alone make it to the playoffs. Once again, our Denver Broncos have gotten to the dance so that we have a team to cheer for this post season. I couldn't be more excited to see what happens and I honestly think the future is really bright for us with what I'm seeing from our coaches and our players this year.