While it is always painful to look back on losses, especially one as close as Monday’s, there are always plenty of things to learn from taking a second look.
As I mentioned in last week’s edition, there are always story-lines that emerge immediately following a game each week, particularly after a tough loss. Due to the heat of the moment, and lack of angles on the broadcast version of the game, I find it helpful to review the film and see which of the story-lines hold true and if new ones emerge upon further review.
This week is no different. There were a few positive adjustments made from last week, and some adjustments that need to be made next time around to correct errors. Let’s dive in.
Before we get to anything else, let’s address the biggest narrative that I saw coming out of this game, that the offense did not run the ball enough, or they abandoned the run too early.
I saw this all across the Twitterverse as well as on this site. So naturally, when I sat down to review the tape on this game, I expected to see instances of the team foregoing the run late in the game, and egregious pass heavy drives that killed momentum.
However, what I found, was actually quite the opposite.
Here’s some stats for you:
In the second half, Denver had four drives, and ran 19 plays, excluding their comeback attempt drive at the end of the game.
Of those 19 plays, 11 were runs and 8 were passes. That’s a that’s nearly a 60/40 split in favor of the running game. Additionally, the passing plays gained 7.75 YPP, with runs gaining 6 YPC.
For those upset at Denver for not running the ball enough in the 2nd half against KC, here's some takes for you.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) October 4, 2018
Denver ran 19 plays in the 2nd half (excluding the "comeback" drive).
11 runs (58%)
8 passes (42%)
Their runs = 6 YPC
Their passes = 7.75 YPP
Does this mean Denver should have passed more? Not at all. But the evidence that the team stopped calling runs or abandoned the running attack is just not there.
On their first two drives of the second half, Denver ran the ball 5 of their first 6 plays, and 3 of their first 4 plays, respectively. That’s not a team who is abandoning running the football at the end of the game.
Furthermore, there has been criticism of Denver allowing a middling Keenum to throw it 33 times (37 dropbacks if you count sacks) and only run the ball 22 times when they averaged over 7 YPC on the ground.
However, this stat sheet scouting fails to take into account the fact that Denver had two 2-minute drills, one at the end of the first half and one at the end of the game, in which they exclusively passed due to the clock being a factor and needing to gain yards quickly.
19 (yes you read that right) of Keenum’s 37 pass attempts came in 2-minute situations. Meaning, when Denver had the run as an option throughout the rest of the game, Keenum dropped back only 18 times, to 21 runs (they actually ran it once during the 2-minute drill).
Looking at it with that context, Denver had a 54%/46% run/pass split in normal game situations. That’s hardly a team who abandoned the running game.
Now, were there times Denver could have run but passed instead? Sure. We could likely go knit-pick every pass attempt and say they should have run the ball, which is really easy to do in hindsight once we know said pass attempt failed.
However, there are a few legitimate arguments to be made on the other side. For one, the lack of carries for a red hot Royce Freeman is appalling, and needs to change. He should be receiving a majority of the carries every game, especially when playing a team with as poor tackling as the Chiefs.
Lastly, there were two plays that I believe the offense would like to have back, that is really the crux of where this narrative started. Let’s look at those.
The biggest is the final drive of the offense, excluding their comeback drive. In that drive, the offense went three and out at the worst possible time, when the Chiefs had just scored, and the Broncos needed to bleed clock.
They started the drive with a run on first down. This is important to look at before we get to the actual play in question.
Denver runs outside zone with the TE coming across the formation to block the backside.
Unfortunately, this play was stuffed for no gain. However, it’s a clever setup by Denver because they are going to run play action off this almost identical look on the next play.
Now, earlier in the game, Denver tried this with Heuerman, but Bolles allowed the rush to get to Keenum too fast before he could complete the pass.
Here’s the look from early in the game. Looks exactly the same as the play above, which is another good move by Denver, running the same look with multiple play variants out of it.
This one was wide open and worked well, but Keenum couldn’t get it off in time.
So, for this key 2nd and 10, after being stuffed on 1st down, Musgrave calls a similar play to the one he called earlier in the game, and runs play action out of a similar look he just ran the play before. Both are solid, clever coaching moves.
This time they ran Emmanuel Sanders across the formation like he is going to block the backside (which is also common), and faked the outside zone action. Unfortunately, Keenum’s release is a little high to get over the defender so the ball floats too long, and the corner plays this excellently.
So the result of this play was bad, and in hindsight, that’s all anyone looks at. No play-call looks good when it results in no gain on a critical drive, but in my opinion, this isn’t a bad call.
It’s using the run action they just called previously, and re-visiting a play that was proven to have success earlier in the game. It just didn’t work out.
There’s another one I didn’t mind the call but hated Keenum’s decision. This is on Denver’s field goal drive, right before the Chiefs began to mount their comeback. A touchdown could have put this game out of reach, or made Denver’s eventual comeback attempt easier.
Denver made it into Chief’s territory on a big play to Andy Janovich, the next two plays are runs for four and two yards, leaving a 3rd and 4.
Now there’s an argument that Denver should have just run it here, but that’s a risky proposition on 3rd and 4. I don’t mind the call by Bill Musgrave, I just hate the execution by Keenum.
He immediately looks to DT on the go-route up the left sideline, however, you can see pre-snap that there’s a safety shading to that side.
Meanwhile, on the other side, Lindsay’s defender is being cleared out by the TE route and he is wide open in the flat. Overall, based on the defensive alignment, this combo on the right would have been a better one to work.
But, Keenum continues to stare down DT and eventually just throw it away as he was double covered, even though he has time and potentially could go to Sutton up the seam, since the safety is shading DT.
Overall, just a bad, bad play from Keenum, but not a terrible playcall, in my opinion.
Again, it’s easy to go back to all these failed passes and say they should have run the ball in hindsight, but when breaking them down in context, I’m actually okay with the playcalls, just not the execution.
On the defensive side, I thought they played their hearts out for the majority of the game, and Joe Woods called a nice game. Denver fell victim to a really hot Mahomes in the 4th quarter who was making plays that reminded me of peak Andrew Luck back when the Peyton Manning Broncos got beat by the Colts two years in a row.
That said, the biggest mistake by the defense, and adjustment they need to make is keeping Mahomes contained, especially on the right side. Mahomes was absolutely lethal when rolling to his right, and Denver let him escape out the right side way too many times.
This chart, courtesy of NextGen Stats, shows that Mahomes did nearly all of his damage deep on the right side, and really his whole passing chart skews right.
On two critical plays of the Chiefs final touchdown drive, Denver let him escape to his right.
Here is the infamous 2nd and 30 play the defense gave up.
Von Miller let’s Mahomes escape out of the pocket, and he eventually finds an open receiver. Regardless of what coverage you call, when the quarterback has six seconds to find a guy and is great throwing on the run, it’s going to be tough to stop.
However, the very next play is even worse. Here’s the blitz everyone was calling for. This is on a key 3rd down. Denver intentionally overloads the left side and drops the right side off in coverage.
Where do you think that is going to force Mahomes?? Where would you go if you were him in this image below?
He gets out of the pocket again and burns the defense.
Overall, Joe Woods called a very nice game, but next time they play the Chiefs, they need to employ the strategy Denver used against Aaron Rodgers in 2015, and Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. Box them in on the edge and don’t let them escape, while applying pressure up the middle.
Hopefully, next time they play the Chiefs they will learn from this and adjust.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s recap. Be on the lookout for a defensive breakdown coming soon about Denver’s adjustments against play action, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.