Few outside of Denver expected the Broncos to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, so the 22-9 result shouldn’t come as some sort of slap in the face. What should be frustrating is how many opportunities the Broncos wasted to come out victorious. It was a night of ghastly errors and predictable miscues that afforded Andy Reid the kind of edge he didn’t really need coming off a bye week.
Now the Broncos once against find themselves at .500, only now they’re quickly running out of real estate if they want to try and make a playoff run or even a winning season out of the 2021 campaign.
Here’s a few thoughts after witnessing the fail parade in Kansas City tonight.
The loss tonight means the Broncos are now 12th in the AFC playoff seeding with losses to both the Steelers and Browns.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
Their remaining schedule:
Will need at least 4 wins to have a chance at the dance.
First, a few process over result complaints I have to get off my chest.
Making Mike Purcell inactive was questionable
On the surface it made some sense to sit Purcell for McTelvin Agim. The veteran nose tackle offers little as a pass rusher and the Broncos needed juice from their front four so they didn’t have to send extra rushers to heat up Mahomes all night. But considering the way Denver was going to have to play with an undermanned box to devote resources towards defending the pass, taking Purcell out of the defensive line rotation clearly hurt the Broncos in power situations, such as the third and short in the early third when Kansas City came out in 23 personnel to run it right up the middle. At least to me, it would have made more sense for Agim to take DeShawn Williams spot as they’re comparable run defenders.
Another situation where Mike Purcell would have helped. pic.twitter.com/WndHtB9eYJ— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
Fangio electing to receive to open the game was stupid
The Broncos won the toss and chose to receive to open the game, a decision I’d be critical of in a normal contest. Against Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes it’s straight up reckless because it gave the Chiefs an opportunity to go up two scores at the second-third turn. The choice looked even worse when Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos offense went three and out to open the first quarter. Now, obviously the Chiefs failed to capitalize on the gift. But to me that doesn’t justify a questionable strategy.
Fangio’s challenge was also stupid
During the second quarter Kyle Fuller had a nice pass breakup against Travis Kelce where he knocked the ball out of the tight ends hands. In real time it looked like a bang-bang type of play, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the officials call it an incomplete pass. Fangio challenged that the play was actually a fumble. Low and behold, it looked like it could have been called a fumble during the slow motion review. Unfortunately, it wasn’t indisputable and so the Broncos lost the challenge.
I’m not sure who Fangio listens to when he decides to throw the red flag, but the Broncos need to sit him or her down and explain how zebras don’t overturn calls unless it’s obvious the initial decision was in err. This has been going on all season.
Passing on 3rd and 2 to run on 4th and 2 was weird
I want to make it clear I had no problem with the Broncos deciding to go for it on 4th and 2. The numbers supported the decision and the way Kansas City’s offense can go on a tear suggests field goals aren’t going to be enough to beat them: chase the touchdowns when there’s a chance at them.
The biggest issue I had with the 3rd and 4th down plays is the fact the Broncos didn’t simply run the ball on both plays. It suggests to me that either Pat Shurmur didn’t know Fangio would elect to go for it on 4th down ahead of time or that he took for granted how likely Javonte Williams was to convert one of the two attempts. The Broncos came into tonight converting 65% of the time in power situations by Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric. A run on third down also had a chance to make the fourth down attempt easier.
Vic Fangio & #Broncos have been more in-line with the numbers when it comes to fourth-down decision-making this season...— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 6, 2021
2021: 86% optimal call rate when numbers say go by +1%, 2nd in NFL (31 of 36)
2020: 55% optimal call rate, 32nd in NFL#DENvsKC | #BroncosCountry
With all that off my chest, let’s move on to the rest of the game.
By and large, the Broncos’ defense did their part
If you would have told me before kickoff that the Broncos defense would hold the Chiefs’ offense to 267 yards of offense and 15 points while picking off Mahomes, I would have been elated. At least until I followed it up by asking what the offense and special teams did. As I mentioned in my preview to the game, this Kansas City team is similar to the Dallas Cowboys in terms of overall talent; it was always going to require a complete effort to beat them. Unfortunately both Pat Shurmur and Tom McMahon’s units came up painfully short.
Broncos defense once again holds on 3rd down.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
Got to give them credit, they've done their part tonight. pic.twitter.com/KzeFAdiT5Z
Spags has no respect for any of the Broncos’ QBs
Early in the game it became pretty clear that the Chiefs defensive coordinator would live with Javonte Williams and the Denver running game finding success in spurts if it meant the passing game was ineffective. Kansas City corners played tight coverage on Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick for money downs and while the game was competitive Spagnuolo routinely crowded the line. The Chiefs didn’t blitz on every down, but they did enough to speed up Bridgewater’s clock because he never settled into a rhythm. This combined with jamming the receivers off the line to deny outside releases was effective because neither Sutton or Patrick were able to snap off and create separation before Bridgewater felt he had to get rid of the ball.
If this all sounds familiar, it should. It’s a similar gameplan to what the Chiefs did to Drew Lock in both the Broncos losses to the Chiefs last season.
Unfortunately, there may not be an easy answer for the Broncos ahead of the rematch against Kansas City as Bridgewater’s arm strength limits what he can consistently hit against tight coverage and Lock is horrific against any hint of pressure. Shurmur will need to do a better job scheming open receivers so Teddy doesn’t have to hang in the pocket for Sutton or Patrick, which is something he’s been shaky at all year.
On 4th and 2 Teddy Bridgewater throws it right to Daniel Sorenson, who runs it back for 6.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
The Broncos are dead in the water. pic.twitter.com/g6i0voRRlp
The special teams was predictably bad
Tom McMahon’s special teams came into tonight as one of the three or four worst units in all of football, while Dave Toubs were one of the best. It would have been shocking if the Broncos special teams won their respective matchups, and pretty surprising if they merely broke even. Instead they acted as they have all year, mixing dumb penalties with mind numbing errors.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when Fangio elected to retain Tom McMahon this offseason it made a mockery of the “death by inches” motto he explained when he was hired back in 2019.
Pookie was a stud
If there’s any sort of silver lining coming out of what may turn into the season-ending loss, it’s Javonte Williams. The rookie got the first start of his career due to a Melvin Gordon injury and received 23 carries to go with 9 targets in the passing game. He turned all those opportunities into a 178-yard effort and capped it off with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Got to give credit to Javonte Williams, he's doing a heck of a job tonight. pic.twitter.com/YM9OWmx0eo— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
It wasn’t Fant’s fault the Broncos garbage time 2-point play failed
Following Javonte Williams’ touchdown in the late fourth quarter the Broncos elected to go for two. There’s no real debate about the decision itself, as Denver needed points wherever they could get them to try and close the 22-9 deficit. I will say the play call itself was a bit questionable, especially when Pookie was the one consistent performer on offense.
Shurmur dialed up a concept that did painfully little to help a receiver get open in the goal line. Tim Patrick ran a curl, while Noah Fant ran an arrow route after motioning to a Y-alignment from the boundary. Bridgewater felt pressure and quickly dumped the ball down to an open Fant, who never had a chance at scoring
Why call a play where Fant's short of the goal line on a 2-point play? pic.twitter.com/jzLbc0vzUV— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
Patrick Surtain II’s fourth pick was a gift
The 9th pick of the 2021 draft is already the Broncos best corner and is playing like a Pro Bowler. His four picks this season put him into a tie for the third most all-time by a Broncos rookie. It’s the most by a Broncos rookie since 1973. With all of that said, the pick on Mahomes may have been the easiest interception he’s snagged so far in his NFL career.
Tyreek Hill's bobbles a ball right into the waiting arms of Patrick Surtain II.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 6, 2021
Broncos football! pic.twitter.com/T2vOvDktRK
Final Thoughts (for now)
At 6-6 this Broncos squad still has the best record of any team since 2016. With that said, it’s hard to ignore the bitter taste in my mouth after yet another frustrating loss. These Broncos are defined by their shortcomings:
- A head coach who is still making big mistakes with the decisions a head coach has to get right.
- An offensive coordinator who struggles to dial up effective concepts in the redzone.
- A limited quarterback who is starting because the decision makers felt they “owed a starting opportunity” to a 2019 second round pick.
- Employing one of the worst special teams coordinators who overseas one of the worst special teams in the league for a fourth consecutive season.
Making the situation more frustrating is the fact that there may not be an easy way out of the conundrum when 2021 comes to a conclusion. The ownership questions dogging the Broncos could lead to a lot of status quo decisions regardless of the outcome this year, and a weak ‘22 QB crop makes the future murky under center. Unless George Paton finds a way to trade for Aaron Rodgers, his second season as GM could be defined by the choice to settle on Teddy Bridgewater in his first.
At various points during the 2021 offseason Paton had a chance to acquire a ton of QBs. In addition to Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos showed interest in:— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 5, 2021
- Matthew Stafford
- Deshaun Watson
- Sam Darnold
- Andy Dalton
- Trey Lancehttps://t.co/R0vEiIcyM0 https://t.co/vUEeUTS3do pic.twitter.com/FWyD6u6x5r
The good news is Denver hosts the 1-10-1 Detroit Lions next week after they beat the Minnesota Vikings in an emotional win that came down to the last play. Despite their shortcomings, these Broncos should have the coaching chops and personnel to beat bounce back in week 14. The bad news is it may not matter. The loss to the Chiefs pushes Denver down to 12th place in the AFC playoff race.
We may have reached a point where the Broncos are playing out the string.