It feels too easy to blame the referees for the Broncos’ defeat. In a game of inches, it wouldn’t be a lie. After all, the roughing the passer call on Bradley Chubb was perhaps the most egregiously awful call I’ve seen in a game that didn’t involve Tom Brady.
I refuse to dwell too long on it ,though.
This was called roughing the passer on Bradley Chubb. pic.twitter.com/EA20wdl3gi— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 15, 2019
Denver had multiple opportunities to keep themselves out of a situation where that’d be the difference. There was a lot of good that came out of today, as well as some issues that need to get cleaned up in a hurry if Fangio doesn’t want to fall to 0-3.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Todd Davis and Bryce Callahan didn’t play, again.
Both have been dealing with injuries and missed Week 1 against the Raiders, but both showed signs that they’ve been working back toward the lineup. Not today.
2. The Broncos’ second-level is an issue, again.
Coming off a loss where he ran the ball just 15 times, it was obvious all week that Matt Nagy was going to ride the ground game. Corey Nelson was caught hesitating and slow to leverage his gap more than once today. Josey Jewell looked better than his counterpart, which isn’t to say he looked great. Both looked hesitant to leverage their gaps on a couple of critical third downs, and it kept the Bears’ shaky offense humming.
It’s long past time Broncos Country start sending Todd Davis “Get well soon” cards.
3. Trubisky tried to attack Yiadom on key downs early.
This became really clear at the end of the first quarter when the Bears faced 3rd and long. Mitch Trubisky found the 6-foot-7 Adam Shaheen in the flat with Isaac Yiadom in coverage. If the Broncos’ second-year corner makes the tackle, it’s a stop.
The #Broncos Yiadom doesn't bring down the #Bears Shaheen, who converts the 3rd and long. pic.twitter.com/W9vFPRyyHf— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
Unlike last week, Yiadom didn’t let the mistake haunt him and came up with some really nice coverage down the stretch. While it’s a small consolation in light of the final score, if we’re talking about the long game, that’s a really good sign for the Broncos’ second year corner.
4. Bradley Chubb looks legit.
Chubb staying so tight to the down block as he’s working down the LOS was so nice too. Reads that so quickly.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 15, 2019
I already addressed the call that shall not be named, so let’s look elsewhere.
One of the biggest complaints about Chubb’s rookie season was how he played when he wasn’t rushing the passer. Through two weeks he’s kind of flipped that script. Most are criticizing him for his lack of sacks and missing the growth. While he and Von Miller haven’t had a lot of pass rush production, it’s clear Chubb has really come along as an edge setter and become a stronger overall player.
May be time we appreciate how much Chubb has improved against the run. pic.twitter.com/DMaaL04nbt— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
5. Garett Holds is at it again.
With time winding down in the second quarter, Phillip Lindsay broke into the third level for a big gain. Only a hold by Garett Bolles on Roquan Smith cancelled the play out. Later on the same drive, Bolles was at it again, forcing the Broncos into a 1st and 20 and killing any hope at points before the half.
After an awesome stop by Denver’s D to get Flacco the ball back with about a minute, Bolles was at it again with his third hold of the day. His penalty pushed the ball back into the shadow from the field goal post and the offense was lucky to get the ball out without catastrophe.
I've never seen a player make an offense harder to run more than Garett Bolles, and I have watched Paxton Lynch start football games at QB— ThatsGoodSports (@BrandonPerna) September 15, 2019
His issues continued into the second half, and I’m not going to lie: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tackle finish a game with four holds. Mark Schlereth believed he should have been called for a fifth later in the game.
It speaks to how shoddy the Broncos depth is at the position that he’ll continue to be the starter going into Lambeau.
I mentioned last week how Garett Bolles should have been called for a lot more than the one hold Oakland declined. So far he has four today. pic.twitter.com/gSPlVnpOqR— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
6. The Broncos backs flash brilliance.
Even Bolles couldn’t stop Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman from showing out. Lindsay had a nice run after a dump-off from Flacco, and Rich Scangarello got Royce Freeman the ball out wide for a craft first. Both have look really promising as receiving backs.
The #Broncos find Freeman in space on 2nd and 9. Great play. pic.twitter.com/d2lAcHeqQV— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
Freeman wasn’t too shabby on the ground either. Dalton Risner and the Broncos interior offensive line did a nice job creating holes. Freeman finished the game averaging 4.9 yards per carry and looked like a strong zone runner.
7. Justin Simmons looks much improved
Lost amid all of the other calamity in Oakland was the disappointing safety play by Simmons and Will Parks. That won’t be an issue this week.
Justin Simmons comes up huge on 3rd and 9 to get the #Broncos D off the field. pic.twitter.com/l1MSOYTQTf— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
Simmons wasn’t perfect, he almost got beat on the play above peeking into the backfield. He didn’t because he showed off an impressive ability to recover and close (and had a little help on Trubisky’s timing).
Down the stretch that same range helped out the Broncos’ run game. Simmons also looked sticky in tight coverage in the fourth, which was critical for giving Flacco and the offense opportunities to cut into the Bears lead.
Justin Simmons has had a really nice game for the #Broncos pic.twitter.com/M1LSMBYL3b— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
8. The Bears offense did the Broncos a few favors
As improved as the Broncos defense looked against the Bears, it certainly helped that Chicago’s head coach was under scrutiny for not running the ball enough. More than once it felt like Nagy was coaching with the criticism in mind. He ran in passing situations and didn’t do as good a job at trying to get Cohen the ball in space as he did last week.
Tarik Cohen tries to get cute and the #Broncos stop him for a loss of 9 pic.twitter.com/H0wIGrzwni— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
9. Joe Flacco did enough to win.
One of the prevailing narratives about Flacco after the Oakland game was how great he looked. If you read GIF Horse last week, you already know how passer rating is a poor measure of a quarterback’s performance.
After the pick, Joe Flacco had thrown an interception and taken two sacks in the opponents’ redzone on third downs. He had one completion. Denver had one touchdown through two games.
But then the defense got him the ball back and another opportunity to be the hero. All he did was drive the ball down the field and score both a touchdown and a 2-pt conversion to give the Broncos the lead with 30 odd seconds left.
Emmanuel Sanders is the hero! #Broncos 14 #Bears 13 pic.twitter.com/8jSSSfoN4B— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
10. Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders
Speaking of that touchdown drive, it was awesome to see Sutton catch so many critical passes in tight moments for the Broncos. Sanders was involved throughout. There remains questions about the Broncos receiving corps, but it’s time to believe that they have a dynamic duo once again.
4th and ballgame and the #Broncos convert after Flacco throws a strike to Courtland Sutton. pic.twitter.com/e0jXPTJS8V— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 15, 2019
One of the most painful parts of this Broncos’ loss is how much promise and fight they showed throughout. The defense looked much improved over last week’s debacle, and Flacco and the offense moved the ball against one of the best defenses in the league.
It doesn’t feel like this team should be 0-2, and yet if the issues don’t improve it’s easy to see how Aaron Rodgers and the Packers can extend their losing streak at Lambeau.
Let’s hope they can shore things up.