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Broncos vs Steelers: The No Bull Review

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The Denver Broncos won a hard fought game at home against the potent Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Here are my thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the Denver Broncos’ most recent game.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t say this Denver Bronco team doesn’t have a boatload of fight in them. Offense. Defense. Special Teams.

These players want to win and as a fan of this team, I love it.

I’m not all aboard the kool aid train yet on this team being in the running for a playoff spot, but they absolutely have the look of a team that no one in the AFC wants to see in the postseason. If they can string off a bunch of wins, they absolutely can make some noise.

But I like Vance Joseph’s current message: one game at a time.

Defense

This defense looks like a shell of its former glory from 2015. I’m sorry guys. I know you want me to rah rah about the big turnovers and such, but you know I’m here to keep it real in Broncos Country.

While we’ve seen a lot of really interesting play design from the offensive side of the ball, the past few weeks have shown the Broncos defense getting more and more vanilla from what I’ve seen. Teams have made Denver pay for getting cute so much so that it seems like Woods is going back to basics with the defense.

The downside to this is that it is easier for offenses to figure out where to go with the ball. The upside is that it is simplifying the assignments for the young and underwhelming talent of the defensive backs.

Front 7

The Pittsburgh line did a pretty outstanding job overall in this game against the front seven with really strong blocking especially on the outside.

The good news is that Shelby Harris decided to make a splash on the interior in this game. He was an absolute force in the middle and showed a lot of the power and impact play I that I saw from him last year that caused me to be a big fan of his. I incorrectly noted that he dropped into coverage on the last play of the game when giving him a game ball. That’s sad because he didn’t at all. He was just a guy clogging up the middle and made a spectacular play on the ball. It was the kind of play you just don’t see that often in the NFL (probably because most NFL QBs know better than to throw a dumb ass pass like that...regardless of how lucky Ben Roethlisburger might like to make it sound like Harris was).

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The only other guy up front really worth mentioning was Shaquil Barrett who had an outstanding game as well for a guy that has been pushed down the depth chart by Bradley Chubb. He was only in on 22 snaps on the game, but produced a sack, a TFL, and a QH in his limited time.

For those of you interested in the comparison between Shaq and Shane Ray, Ray was in on 24 snaps and did a whole lot of squadoosh through the game. My apologies for the shade throwing, but it still bugs me to see Shane Ray taking any snaps over Barrett. He’s just not as good of an NFL player.

Secondary

The secondary is a hot mess. There’s just no getting around it. We’re susceptible to getting gashed in the passing game and this was absolutely no exception.

Having a defense predicated on getting lucky 3 or more times a game is not what I consider a plan for success from a defensive standpoint.

The biggest factor that works against this team being any kind of serious threat is the secondary outside of Chris Harris, Jr. If the Broncos could force teams to throw only to CHJ’s guy 20+ times a game, they’d be onto something.

Sadly though, we have to trot out the likes of Bradley Roby who fluctuates strongly between great and awful on any given Sunday and now a young gun in Isaac Yiadom who doesn’t look quite solid out there yet.

I do want to point out on the Shelby Harris pick, if he hadn’t have been there, Roby would have picked that ball all day. I give the guy a lot of flak, but on that play, he was outstanding on reading the route and playing PERFECT defense on it...most won’t notice it because of the Harris pick, but go back and watch...it is worth noting.

Again, I’ll point out that Justin Simmons defensive play has taken a big step back this year. He seems to be a step behind a lot of pass plays that he’s in the area of. Some of our team thinks he’s just far better suited for SS than FS single high play. I’m not sure about that at all. Last year early in the season he played single high just fine with Darian Stewart being the guy who couldn’t play SS, not the other way around.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I want to give a big shout out to Will Parks for his big play at the goal line. That was a frigging big man hit he put on Xavier Grimble that that dude won’t forget for the rest of his career. I love safeties that lay the wood (we miss you Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith!). That play alone makes me want to see Parks get more playing time. It was a very smart play by him...if you watch the replay he slows down across the goal line to line up the hit so that he would maximize the power of it.

Offense

Hats off to Bill Musgrave for what was the best schemed offensive game I’ve seen from the Broncos in probably 3 years. THIS is the kind of work I want to see from the offense.

The plays were designed to take advantage of the Steelers aggressive style of defense and almost everything that the Broncos wanted to try was working at some level.

I liked the run pass balance as well and thought the lack of production we saw in both areas were a credit as much to the defense as it was to poor scheming or bad play calls.

Quarterbacks

If Case Keenum can keep up this kind of clean, effective football, then this offense is going to be just fine down the stretch.

If he can increase his chemistry with the Broncos receiving corps, he can make this offense downright dangerous. And yes, I do think this is absolutely possible given that this is his first year with the Broncos in a new system. Some of the soft opponents on the schedule in the short term will allow them opportunity to work on some of this under the bright lights where if the teams were tougher they may shy away from riskier routes.

One of the most promising things I’m seeing from Keenum is that his accuracy is improving. It still isn’t anywhere close to perfect, but he’s gone from overthrowing routes badly to just missing them.

Line

There were a couple of sacks in this game. Garrett Bolles had another holding penalty. But outside of that I was again impressed with the work the big uglies up front did in this game. I thought Connor McGovern especially put in some really great film showing off a lot of power along with solid technique.

The other guy worth noting is Jared Veldheer. You don’t hear jack squat about this guy. Want to know why? Because he’s got the RT position dialed in and on lock. His play has been outstanding the past two games with a lot of great blocks opening up holes for the RBs or sealing the edge.

Running Backs

Royce Freeman needs to step it up. Like big time. I know he’s a different back than Lindsay and has a different skillset. But let me just say that 2.8 ypc doesn’t hack it in the NFL. Just ask my buddy Lance Ball. His carries have gone down and it isn’t just because Lindsay is that good (he is), but because he’s just not being effective as the Thunder half of our Thunder and Lightning duo at RB.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Phillip Lindsay is an absolute freaking disaster for NFL defenses. The guy has the quicks and the jets to make people look silly and he is doing it week after week. What is absolutely killing it for this guy is his great vision and him actually utilizing it. He doesn’t blaze through holes before the defense can react...he sees the holes before they open much like Terrell Davis used to. Unlike TD though, this kid has the speed that turns those holes into huge chunks of yards.

I also love that the guy talks so much trash on the field. LOVE IT. Every NFL team just looks better when they have a couple of dawgs on the field (S/O to my boy Aqib Talib). It blows me away that one of the dawgs on offense is a frigging undrafted rookie who’s straight scorching up defenses for absolutely nonsense numbers week after week.

Receivers

Courtland Sutton, you have one job this week: hit the jugs machine. Like hard. You are here to make us forget Demaryius Thomas, not emulate him. The team needs you to make catches when they hit your hands.

I’m still not impressed with our tight end group, but Matt LaCosse his growing on me (and that stache...dude brings it like it’s 1984). He’s going to need to step up in a big way with the injury to Jeff Heuerman.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You know I love the fire Emmanuel Sanders brings to the field every week and this was no exception. He was the Broncos #1 target and one of the guys that I feel like Keenum should be working a lot more with to get in sync with. They left some plays on the field because of timing and inaccuracy between them.

Special Teams

I may dog on Justin Simmons a bit on defense, but WOW does the guy make plays on special teams. His leaping ability on the blocked FG was absolutely bonkers.

I absolutely hated the TD on the fake field goal. I like that VJ harped on the 97 yard TD, but that ST TD was just as bad. That deep in the red zone, there’s just no reason not to have guys back to defend. It is too easy for kickers to make that kick at a higher angle than you can block. Keep some guys back and be prepared for anything.

Final Thoughts

This season may end poorly or end well. I can tell you that this year I feel completely different about the Denver Broncos than I did last year. These players are competitive as hell. They have the talent and the means to win any game any week. I don’t think there was any point last year where I would have said that outside of before the season started and we were all chugging the kool aid.

These next two games are going to be very telling. On paper we should win both games. Whether we do or not and how we win or lose will tell you a lot about the coaching, team, and what the season is going to end up looking like.

Hit me up in the comments. What did you like about this game? Who stood out that I didn’t mention and why?