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The coaching decision that lost the Broncos the game

The Denver Broncos Achilles’ heel may very well be its own coaching staff. The decision-making in their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was troubling.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I have never coached football. I played for 13 years (through college), but I have never coached. So I will give that as the caveat and say it is always easier to make decisions knowing the outcome.

But let me take you back to the coaching decisions that lost the Denver Broncos the game last night. This is my opinion and you are more than welcome to argue with me about it (in fact, please do, since I’m feeling salty this morning).

The Denver Broncos got the ball back with 6:27 left in the game, leading by three. The defense had just allowed a six-minute, 20-second, 12-play TD drive to KC. It had already been on the field for 16 out of 23 minutes of game time at that point in the second half.

The D was tired.

Chris Harris Jr. had already gone to the locker room for an IV of fluids, and the offense needed to step up and AT LEAST gain a couple of first downs to give the defense some rest.

The Kansas City Chiefs had to know the Broncos were going to be running in order to burn some clock. So the Broncos coaches had the choice of which running back to use for this series. They could either use 190-pound Phillip Lindsay or 230-pound Royce Freeman. Don’t even bring up Devontae Booker. He was not getting into the game when they NEEDED to run the ball.

Up to this point both running backs had been equally effective, but the conventional wisdom says you want your “bruising” RB late in the game, particularly when the opposing defense should be tired (although they had not been on the field much of the second half).

The Broncos first play was a hand-off to Lindsay for no gain. To my eye there was a cutback lane that Lindsay was not able to get to as he ran into the KC nose tackle, Xavier Williams. Would Freeman have been able to run through or around the KC nose tackle? I don’t know, probably not, but I am struggling to understand why the coaches chose to use the smaller back in this situation.

Up to that point Royce Freeman had carried the ball eight times (he did not touch the ball again in the game) and had only been stopped for less than 4 yards once - and that was in the first quarter (no gain). His other runs resulted in gains of 18, 14, 11, 10, 6, 4 and 4 yards.

When you have a 230-pound monster nice and fresh on the sideline, why don’t you use him? Especially since he has been ridiculously effective when you HAVE used him during the game? Half of the time he touched the ball last game resulted in a first down or a touchdown.

Okay, so now it’s 2nd and 10. The Broncos still needing a first down to at least give the Broncos defense some rest.

What do they do? Do they run Freeman?

Nope, they throw a pass in the flat to Emmanuel Sanders that gains zero yards. Maybe this is a case of the coaching staff out-thinking themselves, or maybe the Chiefs had nine in the box and Musgrave didn’t think the offense could run against a stacked box.

But why, in the name of Zeus’ butthole would Keenum throw THAT pass?

He could have thrown a nice safe little slant for 5 yards and at least gotten into third and manageable, or the Broncos could have tried to run with Andy Janovich leading the way for Royce Freeman. Maybe Freeman makes some guys miss. Maybe he runs a safety over like he did several times earlier in the game, but the odds of him getting stopped for no gain were pretty slim.

I just don’t understand the play call here. Do you?

Now it’s 3rd and 10. Clearly a passing situation at this point. Case Keenum gets pressured pretty quickly and scrambles out of bounds for zero yards.

The Broncos defense was going to have to go back on the field (again) with little rest after the offense went three and out in the most critical time of the game. Then to add a cherry on top of that $hit-sundae, Marquette King comes in a hits a 35-yard punt at altitude to give the Chiefs the ball at their own 40.

That was game over right there.

Maybe the 2015 defense would have been able to stop the Chiefs on that final TD drive. Maybe they hold them to a FG. Maybe, if the 2018 Broncos defense hadn’t spent 75% of the half on the field, they would have had the gas to make a play on the final drive. Maybe the coaching staff could have come up with a better defensive play call on 2nd and 30 that would not have allowed a 23 yard gain. Maybe the officials could have actually called the delay of game on 3rd and 7 to make it 3rd and 12, but I doubt even that would could have stopped the Chiefs on that drive. The Broncos couldn’t stop them on 3rd and 16 earlier in the 4th quarter where they gained 15+ and then converted on 4th and 1.

The fact of the matter is this: When the defense needed the offense to sustain a drive and at least eat some clock. The offense went three and out. I blame that on play choice and player choice entirely on the offensive coaching staff.


If Royce Freeman had been given the ball on first and second down in that critical, must-have drive the Broncos would have...

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    marched the ball down the field and scored the game sealing TD
    (378 votes)
  • 63%
    gotten a couple of first downs and then gotten a FG, but given the D enough rest to stop KC (we win)
    (1667 votes)
  • 9%
    Gotten only one first down and then had to punt. KC would have still scored a game-clinching TD (we still lose)
    (251 votes)
  • 13%
    still gone 3-and-out (we still lose)
    (349 votes)
2645 votes total Vote Now