At least on paper, the Broncos have had a pretty rough go of it since their bye. 8-4 Minnesota last week and the 8-3 Bills today....
Look a little closer, and there were plenty of reasons to believe Buffalo was just waiting for someone to expose them. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen today as all of the positive air of last week evaporated in the 20-3 loss.
This wound up being a learning experience more than anything else. Here’s the big takeaways:
1. Losing Janovich alone didn’t cripple the Broncos
One of the worst parts of last week’s loss to the Vikings is how Andy Janovich got knocked out for the remainder of the year. His presence made a tangible impact on the run designs and he offered something to Brandon Allen as a receiving option out of the backfield. Andrew Beck performed admirably but Jano he is not.
Brandon Allen with a gutsy dumpoff to move the #Broncos O pic.twitter.com/VOwpRRXCgp— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
2. The Broncos’ offensive line remained intact, had a rough day.
Heading into today Dalton Risner, Connor McGovern, and Ronald Leary all had questions about their game status. All three suited up today but the line as a whole had a lot of issues, especially the rookie.
I’ll have a better idea what happened to the interior line once I can watch the End Zone angle of the All-22 film on Tuesday, but there were a couple big mistakes that were very apparent. As run blockers they did a solid job getting Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman room to operate. In pass protection Shaq Lawson embarrassed the left side as neither Risner nor McGovern picked him up, and Ed Oliver schooled the Broncos’ left guard for a sack in the fourth quarter.
Ed Oliver just straight up ‘Son’d’ Dalton Risner. Rookie on rookie crime.— Nick Kendell (@NickKendellMHH) November 24, 2019
3. Shelby Harris’ injury softened the run D
Before the game there were reports that Shelby Harris tweaked a hamstring in warmups which led to a quiet game after one of the best performances of his career against the Vikings. It also led to more snaps for Dre’Mont Jones.
I’ll need to the All-22 to really assess where the issues cropped up, but the Bills rushing attack was a huge issue. The raw total is going to be talked about and Devin Singletary was a definitely a problem, but Josh Allen’s scrambles inflated the total.
4. Josh Allen’s mobility was an issue early
Coming into today the Bills second year passer has averaged a little over seven rushes a game this season. On Buffalo’s first drive it was his legs that helped secure points. Facing third and long, Allen lined up in an empty shotgun set and... ran the ball.
I mentioned in my things to watch how Josh Allen basically uses 5 wide to set up rushing lanes for himself. If the #Broncos can shut that down, things get a lot easier. pic.twitter.com/uW2glY00w6— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
In the first half Josh Allen had six carries for 51 yards. Three of his carries were mind-numbing conversions with the Broncos leaving a rushing lane or failing to maintain their gap integrity to keep him hemmed in.
Anyone have a clue what 59 was doing on this play? https://t.co/wIlluzGCgA— Cameron Soran (@cameronsoran) November 24, 2019
5. Both Allen’s give out gifts in the first half
Late in the second quarter the Broncos’ safety secured his third interception of the 2019 season as Allen threw the ball right to him. I don’t say this to take anything away from Simmons, who held onto the ball and made the most of the opportunity, he’s just had far more impressive plays this season.
.@jsimms1119 will take that!#ProBowlVote » https://t.co/r10bjinrHC pic.twitter.com/2pOukw2Fqr— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 24, 2019
I’d say the same for Tra’Davious White’s interception on Brandon Allen, who misread the field and spoiled a chance to get points late in the first half.
Brandon Allen follows Josh Allen's gift to Simmons with his own to White. pic.twitter.com/v5hpYnjj8B— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
Which brings me to...
6. Brandon Allen’s issues persist. His big plays don’t.
One of the arguments against the Broncos’ number two quarterback has been his ghastly completetion percentage. This ignored that one of Allen’s biggest problems so far has been his inability to find second and third reads, as he locked on to his primary receiver and gave them chances. Up until today, it worked in his favor because Noah Fant, Tim Patrick, and Courtland Sutton all took turns making great plays on their opportunities.
Today those shot plays weren’t there, but Allen continued to miss easy completions.
The #Broncos quarterbacks continue to ignore DaeSean Hamilton. pic.twitter.com/NGJwVs1dvl— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
Coming into the game, there’s been a narrative about how DaeSean Hamilton has disappointed. A big part of that is because he isn’t getting looks when he’s wide open. He wasn’t the only one today.
The Bills are dialing up heat a lot and daring Allen to find his outlets. So far he's failing in a big way. #Broncos have a wide open receiver right in front of the quarterback. Never looks off Sutton deep. pic.twitter.com/5eBYOaofcI— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
On the play above the Bills bring a blitz late, and instead of rotating to the void to find the open receiver Allen kept his eyes on Sutton who was running deep. In previous weeks this kind of willingness to hang tight to give his receivers chances has helped the Broncos offense because the QB is willing to take a hit if it means his playmakers get the ball. Today it led to missed opportunities, like this blown 3rd and short.
7. Chris Harris makes a huge mistake
For most of the game the Broncos hung around because the Bills couldn’t capitalize on their redzone trips. That came to an end when Strap was caught peaking into the backfield in the fourth quarter. John Brown got behind Harris which led to an insurmountable 20-3 lead.
John Brown deserves a Gold Glove for this catch pic.twitter.com/UDnSzF2D4E— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 24, 2019
It’s been really odd to see Harris on another team’s highlight tape for two straight weeks, and immediately after the play I started seeing a lot of talk about how Father time has caught up to the 30-year old.
Keep in mind that last week’s 54-yard bomb to Stefon Diggs was a Cover 3 shell where Kareem Jackson didn’t pick up the Vikings’ number one receiver. I’ve seen some try and argue this with “well Strap still should have stayed on him,” which misses the fact that he did better than 99% of corners in the league would do in that same situation. He opened to the outside because his primary responsibility on the play was deep third to his side, then rotated to keep up with Diggs. The completion happened because he didn’t have leverage on the throw.
This week, it was a mental mistake. They happen.
I’m not saying this to defend Chris Harris Jr. As it stands I fully intend to go back and study his 2019 season before March. But don’t let two bad plays cloud your judgement on one of the Broncos’ future Ring of Famers.
8. Cornerback is a first round need
Over the bye week and following a huge win over the Cleveland Browns, talk in Broncos’ Country had Davontae Harris as a real gem and a building block for the future. I wasn’t so sure, so I decided to use the extra time to pore back over his first three starts. It left me so uncertain I didn’t feel comfortable writing a full film report ‘til I saw more.
I still plan to go back over another two games, but now feel comfortable enough to say a boundary cornerback remains a big need, even if Chris Harris Jr. is retained.
There's a big reason the #Broncos were looking at cornerbacks yesterday. #Bills used a tight end to occupy Justin Simmons and leave Davontae Harris alone. Touchdown. pic.twitter.com/tC46LmKybq— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 24, 2019
It seems John Elway agrees because reports came out late last week that the Broncos’ front office would take in the Penn State and Ohio State game. The Buckeyes have three very talented draft eligible defensive backs. The big name is Jeffrey Okudah, who has floated around the top eight of most mock drafts over the last month, but Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade have also impressed.
Full disclosure, I’m pretty disappointed over the loss today. Last week you could argue that if any one of maybe five or six plays went the Broncos way, they secure a victory over a dark horse Super Bowl contender. This week they looked hapless against what I still believe to be an overrated Bills’ team. Even beyond that, there were far too many missed opportunities.
Coming out of today the big takeaway is going to be Vic Fangio and the coaching staff have an easy decision. It’s time to turn the offense over to Drew Lock, who will all but certainly make his first career start at home against the Los Angeles Chargers next week. Let’s hope he can show flashes that he’s the solution at quarterback, Broncos’ Country has suffered long enough.