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6 things we learned from the Denver Broncos embarrassing 48-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills

Broncos suffer a total team loss against the Buffalo Bills.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Lock couldn’t get it going and the Broncos got the doors blown off.
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last week, the Broncos came into today trying to fight off their fourth straight losing season. Unlike last week, they failed to do so as the Buffalo Bills won 48-19.

Here’s what we learned.

Special teams hung over the whole day.

Muffed punts helped both the Broncos and Bills. Jacob Bobenmoyer’s recovery set up the Broncos’ first touchdown drive. Diontae Spencer’s pushed the Broncos back into the shadow of their own endzone. When the drive stalled out, it gave the Bills a short field to score their third.

What made matters worse is how the the Broncos played today without Brandon McManus for the first time since 2014. Thanks to a recommendation from former punter Pat McCaffee, Tom McMahon had the Broncos bring in former XFL kicker Taylor Russolino to replace McManus. His first kick was wide right from 51-yards out. When Lock found Fant to at the end of the first half, the former Battlehawk missed an extra point. He missed another at the end of the game when Melvin Gordon found the endzone.

The Broncos defense was overmatched.

Brian Daboll ain’t afraid to pick at a wound until it bleeds, so it should come as no surprise that the Bills threw the ball early and often to attack a battered secondary. By halftime Buffalo running backs had all of six carries while Josh Allen threw the ball 23 times.

On the first drive of the game Allen drove the length of the field by completing seven of 10 passes and attacking both Josey Jewell and De’Vante Bausby. On the second drive it became clear the Bills would try and spread the defense out ‘til it broke. The Broncos would need to send extra bodies to make Allen rush his process, but it’d leave open areas for him to dink and dunk. His legs meant vacating the middle left them susceptible to scrambles.

The Bills hit the locker room at the end of the first half averaging seven yards a play. They had just one failed third down conversion, and while Jeremiah Attaochu brought Allen down for a sack, Buffalo scored seven plays later.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the Bills were up 38-13 and the running backs had all of 11 carries. So if you didn’t already learn you pass to win in the modern NFL, that should be a lesson today.

Shurmur tried to play ball control early.

Before going back over the tape, I thought Shurmur did a solid job in the first half. The gameplan called for Lock to play it close to the vest and live off the tertiary receivers early, but Shurmur also gave Lock shots to create chunk plays. Much like Jerry Jeudy’s sluggo route last week, Shurmur’s QB keeper on 3rd and 1 was showed an offensive coordinator who can counter punch of his own tendencies.

I’ll need to go back over the All22 to really figure out why the receivers were completely taken out of the game. Right now it’s hard to place blame on any one thing. With that in mind, when things got out of hand with the Bills scoring, it made the run and safe passing gameplan impossible to maintain. I don’t necessarily believe that makes the plan itself bad, but right now this Broncos’ offense doesn’t have the kind of dropback passing game to keep up in shootouts.

Lock made a good throw into triple coverage.

One of the key aspects of Lock’s career game against the Panthers was how he didn’t take too many unnecessary risks. There was a rollout to his left where Lock almost gave the ball to Donte Jackson, but by and large he did a good job playing point guard. Of course it helped that Carolina also had a banged up defense that ranked among the five worst in football against the pass.

Today Lock showed hints of his willingness to gamble. While it didn’t work, I like his approach. His 3rd down dart into triple coverage: the Broncos needed 10 yards to convert the sticks. To Lock’s credit he gave Jeudy a chance at the ball, even if the rookie would have paid for it.

In a high stakes game against a more talented team, you need to find ways to convert the sticks. The hope has to be Lock improves enough to make the most of his gunslinger mentality, but at least we know he’s no Alex Smith.

Fangio ran out of boundary corners.

The 2020 Broncos are defined by their almost comical bad luck. They lost their bye week because another team’s issues with Covid and helped to change NFL rules midseason when Roger Goodell let Kendall Hinton play a game at quarterback with less than 24 hours to prepare. Beyond the sad sack nature of this season, this roster’s been completely wrecked by injuries. So when Michael Ojemudia was kicked out of the Bills’ game, it meant the Broncos had no real candidate to replace him. Nate Hairston came in after the Broncos signed him off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad a week ago.

Lock is no longer a “rookie.”

Today marked the 16th game of Drew Lock’s NFL career, which means Lock has now played a full NFL schedule’s worth of games. In and of itself, this isn’t remarkable. It is worth noting if only because it’s become popular to call Lock a rookie due to how much practice reps and playing time he has lost to Covid-19 and injuries.

Across Lock’s first 16 games in the NFL he’s completed 285 of 479 passes for 3350 yards, with 21 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Over this time he’s taken 20 sacks and fumbled the ball 13 times. He’s had just one game in his career without a fumble or pick.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the Broncos couldn’t overcome their personnel limitations. The Bills are healthy and are positioned to battle for the second seed in the AFC playoffs while the Broncos are fighting through an injury marred losing season. When we found out Bryce Callahan would land on Injured Reserve, I thought Stefon Diggs and the Bills would be a huge issue. No other Broncos’ cornerback has consistently shown the ability to stick with that kind of route technician. When Duke Dawson gave way to Will Parks playing a week after the Eagles cut him, I knew Cole Beasley would present issues.

Fangio and his young Denver team fought with one of the best teams in football. Special teams was a junk show as it’s been for most of Tom McMahon’s tenure, but the gap in talent simply proved to be too much today. Don’t lose heart Broncos’ Country, there should be better days ahead.