ST. LOUIS, Missouri. -- Coach John Fox, in his post-game press conference, commented, “This is obviously a set back.” That could be the understatement of the day.
It started badly for Denver, with a deep score to Kenny Britt early, and got out of hand from there. The game marked the first time in the Manning tenure in Denver that the Broncos failed to score double digit points, and it happened in a bad way.
Some players struggled, while some performed well. Let's take a look at this week's stock report. All grades come via ProFootballFocus. (Subscription Required)
RB C.J. Anderson (+2.8)
With Ronnie Hillman down, Anderson got the start. Although he had just 9 carries for 29 yards, he did catch 8 balls for 86 yards. Anderson played well as the lead back, and when Ball went down, Anderson shouldered the majority of the offensive load. He was reliable and consistent for Manning and graded out highest among all Bronco offensive players. Moving forward, Anderson is undoubtedly the starter.
The Offensive Line
This unit played a bad game. Manning was hit four times and sacked three times. A total of five penalties were called on offensive linemen. Two were penalties on LG Orlando Franklin, bringing his total to nine accepted on the season. He played a sloppy game. RG Manny Ramirez continued his struggles and allowed 1 sack, 1 hurry and 1 QB hit, with a total of -3.3. LT Ryan Clady (-2.0) also surrendered 3 QB hits and 1 hurry.
WRs Demaryius Thomas (+1.3) and Emmanuel Sanders (+1.0)
Thomas and Sanders combined for 12 catches for 205 yards and a TD. Both went over 100 yards. Although Sanders left the game with a concussion on a vicious hit from St. Louis S Rodney McLeod, he still made a significant impact early in the game. Thomas extended his streak to 7 straight 100-yard receiving games.
So much of the blame for this loss must fall squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Just nine rushing attempts on the game is a travesty. There was no threat of the run to neutralize the aggressive Rams pass rush. This came to a head when the Broncos threw the ball on a 4th and 1 play from an empty set. They abandoned the run fully and completely.
This is likely due in no small part to losing Thomas to injury. Although he is certainly no great shakes at blocking, neither is backup Jacob Tamme. That Denver kept only one blocking TE on the roster is a mistake of the highest caliber. Going down to Tamme being the only healthy one at that position active bit the Broncos. This must be addressed this week.
The Broncos are also destroying the mindset of young kicker Brandon McManus. Coach Fox was asked after the game about his kicker’s target yardline, and responded “Probably 33. Although he never got to that range.” The Broncos went for it on several key 4th downs instead of attempting FGs. They aren’t showing any confidence in McManus, which is crucial for a young player’s psyche.
Also – as an aside, Andre Caldwell is still returning kickoffs. The Broncos’ average starting position on kickoffs that he returned was the 13 yard line.
DE DeMarcus Ware (+1.6)
Ware showed up halfway through the fourth quarter. He had a sack/fumble that QB Shaun Hill recovered, then stuffed RB Tre Mason for 1-yard loss on the next play. He finished the day with 1 sack, 3 QB hits, 2 hurries and 4 stops. Ware provided a small spark for the defense, and continues to be an excellent veteran presence on this defense.
QB Peyton Manning (-2.6)
“I give the Rams a lot of credit for holding us to seven points, but certainly we have to take responsibility for not doing our job on offense and it starts with me.”-- Peyton Manning
This was the third straight game for Peyton with two interceptions. Like the previous two contests against the Patriots and Raiders, he had a dreadful start. Unlike the Oakland game, he was unable to turn it around.
He was out of rhythm all day, connecting on just 62.9% of his passes. He had completed 68.3% of all throws as a Bronco going into the game. He led receivers on dangerously, leading to a concussion for Sanders and another hard hit to the midsection on Caldwell. Those are balls that Manning has to know better than to throw.
He also targets Tamme too much. Tamme saw ten balls thrown his way and only caught four. Demaryius Thomas and C.J. Anderson both had ten targets and produced seven and eight receptions, respectively. Tamme should not be the target option on the 3rd and 9; 3rd and 10; 3rd and 3; and 2nd and 18 plays that saw just that. On those four plays, Manning was 0/4 with one interception.
This was one of the worst games that Manning has produced in a while - PFF graded it as the second-lowest of his career, behind the Atlanta game in 2012. In his press conference, he repeatedly emphasized his culpability for the loss, even stating “I’ve got to play better – it’s pretty plain and simple.” Yes, it is, and Manning is just as much to blame for this loss as the coaching staff.
It’s fairly straightforward. The Broncos have a lot of material to work on. With the Miami Dolphins coming to town on Sunday, they have a playoff-caliber team as an opponent. This will be a challenge.