Oh, the joys of the NFL.
One week your team is untouchable, the next you’re on the edge of the cliff. When it comes to the Denver Broncos and their fans, it seems like there is not much middle ground. A day after the Broncos 26-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills, we can hope the emotion has cooled and that cliff is off in the distance. After all, it is just Week Three.
While this Denver team has dual personalities after Sunday’s loss, it sits 2-1 heading into a big divisional game with the Oakland Raiders next Sunday. Are you calm and collected? Are you freaking out, on the edge of the cliff? Perhaps a combination of both? Here’s the five things we learned from the first defeat of the 2017 season.
The NFL is a week-to-week league
Most people, none on the MHR staff, saw this result in our crystal balls. After the way the Broncos annihilated the Dallas Cowboys, it was a foregone conclusion Denver would beat the Bills. The Broncos had won 14 of their last 17 in the early kickoff window and would carry the momentum from the Dallas win to Orchard Park, N.Y.
Then Buffalo showed why each week is its own chapter in a NFL season. They’re each crucial to the story but aren’t connected. They stand alone in the story and bring their own impact. We saw how truly wacky Week Three was on Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots needed late-game heroics to beat the Houston Texans and the Raiders are still trash after their embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins. By now we should know the only thing to expect in the NFL is the unexpected.
What that means is to not get too high with the wins or too low with the lows. It was one week in a 16-chapter story (we hope). You take the good and bad, grow and learn, and do your best to get better in the next game. That’s the task for Vance Joseph and his coaching staff over the next few days.
The Broncos got away from the run
The first two weeks, Denver executed a balanced offensive attack. Mike McCoy and Trevor Siemian were methodical and kept the opposition on its heels. The result was the league-leading rushing offense and complete control of time of possession. It was a stark contrast to what we’ve seen the last few seasons.
One would think that would remain the approach for McCoy and his offense in a hot day in northwest New York. Pound the ball with C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, eat time off the clock, set up the pass all to keep your defense on the sideline to remain cool and fresh. Coming into the game, the running game averaged almost 4.8 yards per carry.
So much for that since it didn’t happen. At all.
Despite the fact Denver rushed for 111 yards, it did so on just 23 attempts, with only 20 from running backs. Meanwhile, Siemian threw it 40 times. The Broncos will not win games if that’s the stat line the rest of the season. A lot of the credit for that goes to Buffalo and its front seven. But McCoy has to show more resolve in his play calls, especially in a close game. Give him a lot of credit for the first two weeks, but there’s areas to improve upon. The main lesson: Don’t abandon your running game because this will happen when you do.
Denver’s rush defense is for real
Not that there was much doubt after what the Broncos did to Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys. If there was, it’s now vanished quicker than kale at a hippy convention.
Domata Peko and his fellow defensive line teammates held the Bills to 75 yards on the ground. Keep in mind: Buffalo has had the best rushing offense in the NFL the last two seasons so that’s damn impressive; especially when you consider how bad the Broncos were at stopping the run last season. The Bills’ leading rusher was Mike Tolbert with his 41 yards on 11 carries, while LeSean McCoy finished with 14 carries for 21 yards.
Don’t look now, but this is the fourth-straight game the Broncos defense has held an opponent to under 100 yards rushing.
As good as Denver’s rush defense was, in uncharacteristic fashion the No Fly Zone gave up big plays to a Rick Dennison-coached offense. There’s a sentence I never thought I would write, but somehow it happened. It’s safe to say this was an aberration (we hope). It is the No Fly Zone, but it shows even the best have off days.
Charles of old
For so long, we’ve seen Charles do to the Broncos what he did to the Bills. Run with ease, patience, vision, intelligence and playmaking ability. Charles showed he needs to get more touches in this offense. For the game, he finished with nine carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. Even though it was my understanding there would be no math, that comes out to an average of 6.2 yards per carry. As John Madden would say, when you get that many yards on a carry, you’re closer to a first down.
Aside from Charles, there wasn’t much on offense to get excited about. If you look at the total yardage (366 yards), you don’t get the complete picture. The Broncos weren’t good on third down and didn’t score touchdowns when they got in the red zone. Add in two terrible interceptions and poor decision making, and this is a day to forget on that side of the ball.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the theme for Week Three is it’s one game (we hope). Denver needs to get back to what it did well in the first two games and put itself in greater position to succeed on offense. That means, again, to not abandon your running game. That falls on each player and coach. They all need to be better.
The officials need to face the music
Since I started as a sportswriter over 13 years ago, I’ve never understood why coaches and players have to answer for what they do on the court, field or rink but the officials do not. Do not take that to mean the officiating cost the Broncos this game. As is often said in combat sports, don’t leave it in the hands of the judges. Denver shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with, and blaming the officials is flat lazy. Don’t give up big plays. Score touchdowns in the red zone. Keep drives alive. Don’t turn the ball over. Don’t call fake punts when you have awful field position and trail by four points. Instead of showing up your opponent, just run off the field and act like you’ve been there before.
Props to Von Miller for stepping up and saying his unsportsmanlike penalty cost his team the game. That shows true leadership. But why does Miller have to answer for that when the official does not?
The NFL needs to make officials available to the media and answer for the calls they make or don’t make. They should have to explain what they saw and why they decided to throw a flag at that moment. A response from the league a day later doesn’t cut it; especially if the league admits the call is wrong. If the coaches and players have to own up for what they do, the officials should as well.
Again, players will answer questions after the game. Coaches answer questions. But the ref who flagged Von for a "fake handshake"? He gone.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) September 24, 2017