It had been 294 days since we have collectively felt this way as Denver Broncos fans. It was bound to happen as no team wins every game, but it stung nonetheless. It stung because it felt like the Atlanta Falcons came to play and dominated a flat Broncos squad in Mile High. That’s rough.
Here are five takeaways from that tough home defeat.
1. The offensive line cannot afford a single injury.
Much of the fan discussion will be on Paxton Lynch’s performance, but his terrible play was simply a microcosm of the real problem with the Broncos offense on Sunday and, frankly, the Sunday before that.
Interesting stats via @PFF: Paxton Lynch averaging 2.36 seconds to pass, slightly faster than Trevor Siemian at 2.40 seconds.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) October 10, 2016
Donald Stephenson and Virgil Green are critical components of stability along the line. In their absence over the last two weeks, the Broncos have surrendered 10 sacks, an injury to their starting quarterback and a paltry 3.38 yards per carry in the run game.
The pressure cooker of this situation simply proved too much for a rookie quarterback with a limited menu of plays at his disposal to handle and the result was a very rough day at the office. I sincerely doubt Trevor Siemian would have fared much better, but that’s a debate I don’t really care to have.
The issue isn’t just Ty Sambrailo either, as his replacement Michael Schofield also gave up a sack almost immediately after shifting to the right side. The issue is Stephenson’s absence and that means there is absolutely no margin for error on the offensive line for injury.
Broncos Right Tackles: making mediocre pass rushers looks like superstars since 2015.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) October 10, 2016
2. We can stop deluding ourselves about Vance Walker’s absence.
The run defense is a major problem and as great as the Broncos talent is on the defense, they have yet to adjust well enough to plug those holes. Much like 2015, speedy running backs catching passes will be the other major problem for this defense as Tevin Coleman’s 4 catch for 132 yard day proved.
And yes, Danny Trevathan was getting beat be these same running backs last season. It’s not like the defense is missing him, rather it appears to be a major schematic weakness of Wade Phillips’ defenses - or at least this one.
3. And that’s okay, because this defense is still really good.
If the Broncos offense had gotten its shit together, this could have been a game at the end. For all of the holes the Falcons gashed with their running backs, they put up just 23 points.
The strength of this defense will be the big play and they will make a few each and every week. Von Miller extended his league leading sack total to 6.5 with another third down sack.
And when the Broncos defense was on the ropes late in the third quarter, John Lynch made a comment about how great defenses in games such as these would make a game changing play.
As if on cue, T.J. Ward mugged Mohamed Sanu of a pass for what could have been a game changing turnover had the Broncos offense had a right tackle and a capable tight end in the lineup.
4. The Broncos have a really good wide receiver duo.
We already knew this, but despite Lynch’s struggles to get the ball to the open receiver quickly and on target, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders never quit.
Lynch missed Sanders for what should have been a touchdown pass and still hauled in 7 catches for 80 yards on the day. Thomas made some big catches himself to the tune of 5 receptions for 49 yards and one beastly touchdown reception.
It was good to see them have no quit in them even when things seemed to be rather bleak. There is offensive firepower on this offense - they just need a quarterback to find them when they are open.
That is not currently happening with any kind of consistency.
5. If the Broncos had to lose, this would be the one to lose.
This loss, other than affecting the win-loss record, will have zero bearing on tiebreakers for playoff seeding. So if the Broncos had to lose a game, I’d rather it be this one than against some AFC team.
The Broncos players have a tremendous amount of pride in what they have built here in Denver, so getting embarrassed at home is likely going to piss a lot of them off.
Looking at you, T.J.
Whenever this team has faced tremendous adversity over the last two seasons, it has risen to the occasion. It’s been a long while, 294 days actually, since this team has had this taste of defeat in their mouths.
I feel sorry for the San Diego Chargers in three days time.