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Broncos at Steelers: The No Bull Review

The Broncos looked outcoached and outmatched for the 2nd week in a row. Here are my thoughts, opinions, and analysis on why the Broncos lost to the Steelers.

NFL: OCT 10 Broncos at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Someone send up a signal flare...last week I saw smoke, this week I see fire. While the fan in me is always going to be proud of effort and fight when your team fights back from a really big deficit to be in the game in the closing moments, this performance was just as ugly as last week to my eyes.

“But Sadaraine, they only lost by 8! Last week they lost by 16!”

Right...but that’s only because the offense came unglued in the 4th quarter with desperation. The problem is those first three pesky quarters where it sure looked to me like Pittsburgh on defense were not surprised by much of anything the Broncos did on offense and on offense were dictating their game plan against Fangio’s constantly being one step ahead.

No, it isn’t a hot take to say next week’s game is a “must-win.” We’re starting to get to the point where Fangio’s coaching staff is on the hot seat (and if they aren’t at Broncos HQ, they should be).

Defense

Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Steeler’s offense dedicated play to the Broncos front the entire game. Our front seven had no answers at any time for their run game getting gashed all over and especially up the middle. Fangio’s front looked slow, reactive, and passive which are not adjectives you want to be associated with your defense.

Add to that the NFL’s highest-paid secondary getting scorched for multiple big plays for the 2nd week in a row and we have to ask ourselves what the heck is going on with the Broncos’ defensive backfield.

Front 7

Denver Broncos v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Mike Purcell makes a great tip pass and darn near picks it off with one heck of an athletic play for a big man.

Malik Reed great job keeping after the QB to get the big strip-sack and put the team back into the game early. I know we all miss Bradley Chubb, but we really ought to give some credit to Reed. He’s doesn’t have quite the impact you want from a starting edge player, but when you consider he’s a backup, he’s doing his job well.

Justin Strnad looks way too passive in open space as a linebacker. He gives up a huge run that leads to a field goal when he was in a position to make the play and just didn’t. Having him on the field instead of a healthy Josey Jewell is a big reason for our struggles to stop the run as well.

Alexander Johnson isn’t a wide receiver, but the dude needs to hit the Juggs machine. He dropped two possible interceptions in the game that could have changed the story for the Broncos. The Broncos need players to make plays. This is the thing we pine for from the ILBs we haven’t really had since 2015: play-makers in the middle of the field.

I know Von Miller can do it all, but it sure didn’t look like he could cover passers in the 2nd quarter. His “coverage technique” was comparable to that of a fence post. If you are going to pull him back to cover, he better be able to do the job, because savvy QBs are going to burn him every time. Outside of that one play, where was our franchise player the rest of the game? He was in on 2 tackles and that’s his story for this game.

Secondary

NFL: Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Fuller starts the game off shaky with two big completions on him with one of them being a 50 yard TD. He’s just a hair late on both plays, but in the NFL that hair late can seriously cost your team. He’s been good in most games this season.

Patrick Surtain II showed perfect coverage technique manned up on the outside, staying in the receiver’s hip pocket, turning to look for the ball, and using the sideline as a defender by pushing the route out of bounds when the ball got there. That’s textbook defense on the outside.

Kareem Jackson absolutely destroyed Smith-Schuster on an end-around. I love his play against the run. But for the 2nd straight week, both Justin Simmons and Jackson got split deep for a TD and neither of them reacts to the guy about to score. The safeties need to play far better as they are starting to get picked on and it looks very VERY ugly.

Offense

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We’re starting to see signs of the 2020 offense from the Denver Broncos. Unimaginative running that is easily stuffed, inept passing with receivers dropping easy passes, and lots of play designs throwing short outlets when we need 7+ yards for a first down is just sad to see.

With the first 3 games of the season, we were hopeful that Pat Shurmur having a QB that can run his offense precisely would lead to a more impactful offense, but it is looking more and more like Shurmur is still a mediocre play-caller that relies on having great players make great plays in order to have a good offense.

I don’t understand why the team is in 11 personnel as much as we are when our WR room is as depleted as it is. We have multiple tight ends who can catch the ball well, use your 12 personnel which will help both open up the run game and make play-action more effective.

Quarterbacks

NFL: Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Teddy Bridgewater had a rough go of it in the first three-quarters of the game. He executed the plays called pretty well other than his sack late in the 2nd quarter. He absolutely could have and should have thrown that ball away and saved the yardage.

On a positive note, his play in the 4th quarter was pretty darn good overall. He’s a big reason the game looked even winnable.

For his first pick of the season, feel free to go watch the replay and tell me where else he can go with the ball. There was no one open. Like many plays in this game, it sure seemed like Pittsburgh just knew what was coming and had perfect answers in place. The Steelers aren’t the Patriots, so I throw out any idea that they had tape on the Broncos. It sure looked to me like a series of really unimaginative and uninspired play calls at the end of the game.

Line

The line did not look good in the run game...and this is another case of one big run making our run game look far better than it was. In general, it seems like the offense was trying early and often to use the run game to set up positive situations to matriculate down the field. The problem was, the Steelers were all over it and did a pretty darn good job bottling up our runs. Remove that 57 yard run, and we were held to 3.35 ypc.

For a couple of weeks in a row, our interior line has been getting pushed around and stuffed. They haven’t been able to win at the point of the attack. Add to that an offensive coordinator who doesn’t seem to have many variations of calls for running plays (outside zone being the most popular by far and being the least successful from what I’ve seen).

Running Backs

NFL: Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon III had a really solid game as well getting yards where they were to be had. The one / two punch of them is working pretty well, especially when the line wins. They didn’t do that much this game and Gordon showed his ability to still gain yards after contact more so than Williams.

Javonte Williams makes a huge run on 3rd down, spikes the ball to get a flag, then completely flubs his block to cost the team over 10 yards on a sack. What a rookie series of events. Each week I’m seeing big-time potential from him along with some rookie mistakes. He’s going to be a very good running back for us though and I’m pretty high on his future upside.

Receivers

NFL: Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Courtland Sutton had a terrible drop with him being the guy who can make a 1st down and just isn’t looking for the ball at all on an easy crossing route. He obviously woke up in the 4th quarter but is still looking like he’s missing some of his old play-making ability.

Tim Patrick continues looking like the best WR on the Broncos. He’s gritty, uses his size well, has great hands, and at times looks like the guy the Broncos offense should be working through in the passing game.

Kendal Hinton showed that he’s capable and ready. This offense can and should use him as a target more. He scored a TD and made a big-time NFL catch for big yards in the clutch tapping his feet in on the sideline. The maddening thing to me was that earlier in the game when the Broncos weren’t as desperate, he looked pretty open to me and Bridgewater wouldn’t pull the trigger or didn’t see him as open. To be fair, the TV angle doesn’t show the whole picture on either of the two times I noticed this, so there may have been a defender that I didn’t see in the frame.

Special Teams

Our Special Teams unit can’t help but negatively impact games week after week and it is has been old for well over a year. This week we decided to keep a drive alive by launching off the offensive linemen which hasn’t been allowed for years and has also been called darn near every time it happens as it is easy for the refs to spot.

Final Thoughts

Look, maybe I’m just reliving some of the trauma of the past two seasons with these two losses, but I’m honestly seeing our team being outcoached and outplayed in the past two weeks. The other teams just look like they want it more and have a leg up in the strategy department over the Broncos. That’s on coaching and that is on leadership (which doesn’t have to come from the coaches, but it sure can).

If the Broncos come out flat again next week and drop a division game at home, Broncos Country is likely to start losing their collective minds about this team and these coaches, and rightly so.

Let’s hope that the coaches and the players wake up and come ready to play next week against the Raiders.