There’s little doubt that the talent discrepancy between the Broncos and Chiefs was a huge factor in the snow. Denver is hoping it’s about to turn the corner on the last couple years of trying to rebuild on the fly, while Kansas City has Super aspirations. It looked like it today.
Here’s what we learned:
1. The defensive line was in tatters, and they played like it.
One huge issue coming into the game was how Adam Gotsis, Dre’Mont Jones, and DeMarcus Walker were all out. Put this another way: Kyle Peko was signed on Saturday and still suited up today. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Patrick Mahomes had all day to pass. Fangio’s simply out of horses, and it’s unrealistic to expect any coverage to hold up for the length of time Kansas City’s star quarterback got today.
2. $#!+ Teams continue to $#!+
If you buy into coach talk for inclimate weather games, it becomes even more critical to lean on defense and special teams. As it has most of the year, the Broncos’ punt team died by inches.
Is this the last ride for Colby Wadman? pic.twitter.com/ZnwNfCYLnO— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 15, 2019
3. Drew Lock looked like a rookie.
One of the biggest concerns I’ve had about Lock’s first two starts is how much he’s relied on his primary read when he drops back to pass. He has the kind of mobility and arm talent to get away with it from time to time, but it puts extra pressure on the pass protection when he’s waiting for a receiver to break open and that showed up today.
Now before you watch the play and come tell me “but what about Elijah Wilkinson?!” or “But Lock’s a rookie!” Yes, the backup right tackle definitely made a big mistake. He’s also a guard playing out of position. At the end of the day Lock could have thrown the ball away or looked inside at what appears to be an open DaeSean Hamilton. He didn’t and the Broncos had to punt.
One of the bigger concerns about Lock in the long term is how he continues to display a tendency to throw falling out of the pocket or without stepping into his throws. To this point in his athletic career, he’s had the talent to get away with it, but it leads to some inconsistent placement that could haunt him in the NFL.
Horrible decision on first down. Horrible. pic.twitter.com/C5FUSKWuCX— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 15, 2019
Lastly, there’s the back to back interceptions. The first one was on fourth down after the Broncos came out in an empty set that should have tipped Lock off to the chance of a blitz. It didn’t and he wisely threw the ball up rather than take the sack. The refs cancelled the Tyrann Mathieu interception because of a fortunate holding call on Charvarius Ward. Watching the replay I couldn’t help but think it was a makeup for two holds that weren’t called on the Chiefs earlier.
Both Drew Lock and Tim Patrick wanted a flag on this play. pic.twitter.com/a0xgYH5K0v— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 15, 2019
Either way, the penalty gave the Broncos another shot at points and on first down Lock underthrew a ball under duress to Noah Fant. The gunslinger from Missouri now has an interception in every NFL game he’s played this season.
4. Lock’s highs continue to impress.
It wasn’t all bad for the Broncos’ young quarterback. The combination of his ability to buy time in the pocket and arm talent continue to unveil parts of the offense that simply weren’t an option earlier this season.
When he was on, his accuracy continues to really catch my eye as well. It didn’t always turn into the results today, but there are still reasons to remain optimistic about his growth going forward. Just like his first 300 yard, 3 touchdown game doesn’t make him a future Hall of Famer, one stinker doesn’t mean he’s a bust.
Drew Lock's ball placement on this throw is pic.twitter.com/S9t2O9rHkT— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 15, 2019
5. The secondary wasn’t as bad as the final result.
When Von Miller is the only pass rusher against the Chiefs offense, it’s always going to be tough sledding for the secondary. Such was the case today. Even still, there were some encouraging moments mixed in.
With the field conditions favoring wide receivers and a dampened pass rush, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs leaned on the vertical threats in their offense opening up holes early and often. Where this strategy faltered is when Tyreek Hill couldn’t stretch the field 30 yards and pull apart the zones, such as in the end zone.
6. Shelby may be playing his last games in orange and blue.
This past week rumors started to emerge that the Broncos’ defensive lineman intends to depart in the offseason. I’m not a fly on the ceiling, but have heard that he and Vic Fangio don’t see eye to eye. Maybe I’m crazy, but I sure hope that isn’t true as he’s had some really strong plays since moving from the nose tackle spot he started the year at and doesn’t bring the health questions Derek Wolfe does.
One thing that’s going to be interesting to look at on the All-22 is how strong the coverage looked on both of Shelby Harris’ sacks. My early guess is the second one came due to strong coverage as Mahomes dropped his eyes and was looking to rush, but CBS never showed downfield so right now I can’t say with 100% certainty.
Even if the rumored issues aren’t true, cost could wind up being a factor for 2020 and beyond. Shelby Harris is having a career year after finding his way to significant playing time and after fighting his way to stay in the league surely wants to be paid what he’s worth. The Broncos may look at his tape and see a solid fit in the defense, while Harris wants to get paid like a premier tackle.
I digress though. Regardless of where things wind up, kudos to Harris for shaking free of the Chiefs’ blockers and bringing the reigning MVP into the slop today.
7. Playcalling gave the Broncos’ chances.
One of the easiest scapegoats all year has been Rich Scangarello each and every time the Broncos offense has an issue. He’s not perfect by any means, but by this point, I’ve gone at length multiple times to explain how that doesn’t pass the eyeball test. With that in mind, I fully expect it to crop up once again today.
In the first half the Broncos’ offense was 2-7 on third down and the running game averaged 2.4 yards per carry against the “weak” Chiefs run defense. As I mentioned before the game, Kansas City’s run defense hasn’t been a big liability since the Titans game, but yards per game stats fail to take notice. Unfortunately, because Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman couldn’t move the ball early on the ground it put Denver into a situation where they had to pass to try and stay in the game.
From there you’re counting on a rookie quarterback against a strong pass defense. I already made a note of how he did, but one thing that caught my eye is how the play calling gave him opportunities. Sometimes he made the most of them, sometimes he didn’t, but they were there.
There should be better days ahead. It’s going to be important over the next two games to see how Lock rebounds from this performance. The NFL now has three games of pro tape on him and so he won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Neither the Lions or Raiders have the kind of talent on defense that the Chiefs did, so it’d be a little concerning if he follows today’s clunker with another one (or two.)
Beyond the quarterback, I still thought there was some gritty performances. As is generally the case, I reserve the right to wait on endzone footage to really judge most of the line play. I will need to watch the All-22 when it comes out Tuesday to make any definitive conclusions, but these 11 caught my eye:
1. Courtland Sutton
2. Von Miller
3. Phillip Lindsay
4. Noah Fant
5. Shelby Harris
6. Will Parks
7. Jeremiah Attaochu
8. Justin Simmons
9. Kareem Jackson
10. Tim Patrick
11. Todd Davis