The story of the Denver Broncos’ 2021 season is ultimately going to be summed up in two words: a missed opportunity.
We’ve lauded Vic Fangio as an NFL defensive mastermind for years. His defense once again held our opponents to under 20 points. In today’s NFL, that should get you a win most of the time, but this team seems to flip the script and offensively drops the ball the majority of the time that it happens.
While I appreciate the steps this team has made to become something more palatable than what we’ve seen the past two years, I’m ultimately disappointed. Not just because we lost, because both QBs sucked, or because the players didn’t execute well enough (all of these things are true). No, I’m disappointed because the talent is there. We have a really well-built roster with both sides having a lot of capability. But because we have a completely washed-up and out-of-his-depth Offensive Coordinator and no semblance of a threat offensively from any quarterback option on the roster, we are once again likely sunk.
The Broncos’ defense played lights-out. They stopped a very dangerous passing attack. Outside of letting an athletic quarterback break free up the middle a few times and our nickel corner showing some serious rust, I thought they were overall great.
Bradley Chubb finally makes a splash play for the first time in what seems to be months with back-to-back swim moves to get a TFL. Later in the drive on 3rd down, he tips the pass causing an incomplete to force a field goal attempt. We’re all still waiting to see him get back to being a pass rush threat, but at least he’s starting to influence the game at some level.
Baron Browning starts the game off with a strong play on 3rd down driving across the field to make the tackle and kill the Bengal’s initial drive. He’s really growing on me as a player. I’m finally seeing more of him being in the right place than being a step behind and he’s showing confidence in knowing his assignment and how to execute it. Let’s add to it that he brings a high level of effort and we have the makings of a long-term starting ILB if he continues to develop.
Shelby Harris put together a nice game as well with a sack, a TFL, and a quarterback hit. He’s mostly eating up double-teams on the inside this season which is a bit odd and likely the result of us not having any serious pass-rushing threat on the outside.
Bryce Callahan has a rough start to the game with a missed tackle followed two plays later getting caught flat-footed against a tight end for a 10 yard gain. He got picked on by Joe Burrow as the one lone pass defending weakness on the team. This isn’t typical for Callahan…he’s been a guy since he got here that is pretty solid in coverage any time he steps on the field.
Justin Simmons executed a great play call by Fangio to blitz the C gap on a designed bootleg play. They knew what was coming and made a big sack to stymie the drive. He tacked on another sack later in the game as well. Sadly his worse play was on a broken coverage situation where he took a bad angle and because of it let the Cincinnati Bengals score a touchdown. This was one of the key plays that ultimately lost us the game.
I keep wanting Pat Shurmur to be something he’s not: at least average at calling NFL plays, but he’s simply not. His play-calling as the season has worn on has become completely predictable and good teams are making our offense look silly because of it.
Good teams mix up the plays situationally to catch the defenses off guard at least some of the time. We’re hardly moving the needle in this arena. Play the run on first down. If it gets 4 yards, play the run again on 2nd down. Then play the pass and cloud the deeper routes so the quarterback throws short.
More importantly, there isn’t anything intermediate to deep in the passing game that is really threatening opponents in any way. We call some simple concepts and make the throws, but if the receiver doesn’t win, the play doesn’t work. To simplify, Shurmur sucks at scheming guys open.
Teddy Bridgewater had one of his most gun-shy games at the worst time for the Broncos. The few attempts he did throw deep were dropped and he predictably threw safe passes looking for players to make amazing plays in order to convert 3rd downs which just doesn’t work unless you sometimes complete 10+ yard passes in those same situations.
I really didn’t like seeing the sack on Bridgewater on 3rd down from an A-gap blitz. It was obvious to me at home seconds before the snap and Teddy should have seen it as well knowing that his RB can only stop one of the two guys coming on that side. He should have audible out or thrown to a hot read (assuming there was one on the play call).
One positive thing you can’t take away from Teddy is that he’s willing to put himself at risk to win a football game. He gave great effort in getting a 1st down on the play he got injured on. Was it smart? Probably not. But the guy is a football player through and through. I wish him a speedy and safe recovery.
I have never in my life cheered as hard for Drew Lock as I did in this game. I didn’t expect much (as a matter of fact, I expected turnovers as that’s the only consistent thing we get from Lock), but I was pleasantly surprised with what I did see.
The one good thing that the team was able to do with Drew was push the ball downfield. There’s just no denying that Lock’s power in throwing is far superior to Bridgewater’s and it caught the Bengals by surprise a few times for sure.
Early in his play, he threw a really nice pass outside for 10 yards that was all arm and timing. I will say that he absolutely needs to buy Tim Patrick dinner for bailing him out on a very underthrown ball for that TD. It was a very dangerous pass and Patrick made a hell of a play to come down with it instead of the defender.
The big negative contribution Lock made to this loss was the RPO keep that was one of the most hilarious plays I’ve seen on the football field. He never should have kept the ball in the first place (and shows one of his big limitations…he tends to decide what is happening pre-snap instead of reading and reacting which is what an RPO play is all about). It was absolutely mind-boggling that he was running with the ball and let it get taken away. The second that the defender was in his face, he should have wrapped up and gone down to move on to the next play.
The big problem we have on the line in this game was the two holding penalties by Garett Bolles. They were both at inopportune times and this offense is unable in any way to make up for 10-yard penalties. I honestly expect Bolles to keep in front of his guy a hell of a lot better than he did on both as we got a good view of replay on them and he let the guy get on his side both times which always spells disaster at tackle. He has to keep himself squared up in front of the guy to hold leverage, or bad things will always happen.
The line largely did a good job again. The run game worked well enough. The QBs had some time to pass (though they could improve quite a bit in this arena).
We’re used to the hype about Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III. They didn’t really wow in this game, but both ran the ball at an acceptable level (4.8 and 3.5 ypc respectively). I honestly wished the team would have run more before Teddy got hurt. After that happened, there was a limit to how successful the run game would be as the Bengals predictably keyed in on the run with Lock on the field.
Courtland Sutton started off the game continuing his 2021 campaign of completely mediocre #1 WR play by dropping an easy slant pass that hit him in the hands. Late in the game on 3rd and 12 he drops another one (to be fair the pass was not thrown well, but he needs to adjust and make that play as a #1 WR).
Noah Fant had one of his better games of the season. He showed great effort in trying to help his team win turning an outlet pass into a big gain on what looked like a busted play. He led the team in targets and receptions and unlike other games, was helping generate significant offense for the team.
The Brandon McManus miss was a very unfortunate play for the team. It was the third play that I think contributed largely to the team ultimately losing as it was a 6 point swing. Had McManus been able to connect on it, we win the game in all likelihood 13-12. That being said, the offense could have and should have done more to put him in a better spot as they were SUPER conservative on the drive.
Sure, this team can still make the playoffs. It is a hope and a prayer at this point though. I’m trying to stay pleased with progress as it is. The team wasn’t a complete dumpster fire this season.
I think the big takeaway for me is that at this point, George Paton and the Broncos leadership should be seeing the problems clearly: Fangio is not effective as a head coach in keeping his coordinators accountable. Shurmur and McMahon are absolute jokes as coordinators and absolutely MUST be fired after this season. And while this team did upgrade the quarterback position this season, it isn’t enough. The level of talent we need at quarterback to take the next step forward is not on the roster.