No. 1 Defense Loses Control
Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are two similar quarterbacks. Strong arm. Mobile. Accurate on the run. The Broncos shut down Rodgers in Week 8, keeping him in the pocket and taking away his options in the passing game.
They failed to duplicate that success vs. Luck. They pressured Luck, to be sure — all game long. But he stood tall in the pocket and was willing to take the hits in order to complete the pass.
And on third down, he was not only able to get outside the pocket, he was able to elude defenders, break tackles and convert. The Broncos brutalized Andrew Luck. But they couldn't stop him when it mattered.
The Colts did a phenomenal job of keeping the Broncos defense off-balance with the running game and play-action. Except for Luck's rushing totals, the Broncos held Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw to just 2.52 yards per rush combined.
But again, when the chips were down — third down and goal-line — the Colts were able to convert on the ground. Even still, the Broncos played a good enough game to be within striking distance of a victory.
With six minutes left in the game, they were put in a bad position, because of a turnover. The Broncos were still in position to win the game, if they could, at the very least, hold the Colts to a field goal on the drive.
But what proceeded to unfold was the single-most undisciplined six minutes of defensive football I think I've ever witnessed. The Broncos were penalized a whopping five times on the ensuing drive. Five times.
It gave the Colts an automatic first down and the Broncos had no timeouts left. Ball game, as Jim Nantz so eloquently put it.
Sure, it would have been unlikely that the Broncos could have converted a touchdown with so little time, but with a hot return man and a quarterback like Peyton Manning, anything is possible.
Gary Kubiak put it best on Monday.
“I'm very concerned," he said. "Statistically, we have the No. 1 defense in football, but we're also the most penalized. We've got a great thing going on. We've got something that needs to get corrected."
It was a chippy game. Emotions were running high. But the Broncos behaved like drunken high schoolers who couldn't get their way. It was embarrassing.
Still Searching For That Turnover Free Game
Peyton Manning has thrown at least one interception in each of the Broncos eight games. They're 7-1. Because of their No. 1 defense, Manning was spared from costing his team the game.
It didn't work out that way in Sunday's loss to the Colts. Manning threw two picks. On the first, the Colts converted it to seven points. On the second, they were able to suck six minutes off the clock and keep Manning from getting back on the field.
As poorly as the defense performed on that last drive, it was Manning who put them in that position. They were gassed. They'd been on the field for 32 minutes and 39 seconds before that possession.
They finished with 38:39. Manning makes excuses. Tipped balls. The receiver didn't fight to break up the pass. Unlucky. But the buck stops with Manning. He's the impetus.
Manning cannot continue to turn the ball over each and every game and expect his defense to bail him out. He's shown flashes of the player he once was this season. But the turnovers tell the real story that there is a decline in Manning's physical abillity. You can't blame it all on a new scheme.
That's why the Broncos can't throw the ball 36 times and only rush it 14 and expect to win the game. Manning has to recognize his own limitations. C.J. Anderson had some great runs in the second half. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry on Sunday.
The Broncos rushing attack has proven of late that when they're weaved into the game-plan consistently, they can produce. And yet, the Broncos want to throw 40 times a game. They will not go far into the playoffs with that approach. And Kubiak knows it.
“Schematically—I go back and look at some of the things we were doing—I didn't like them," Kubiak said. "We didn't execute the things that we were doing. C.J. had a couple of nice runs in the third quarter where we were pretty balanced with what we were doing in moving the football. Obviously, it was a step back from what we had been doing the last two weeks. You have to get back on track."
Yes, you do.
Palpable Lack Of Intensity
As a team, the Broncos were unable to match their opponent's intensity. And subsequently, they dropped their first game of the season.
In the four meetings with Indy, since Peyton Manning joined the Broncos, they've won one and lost three. There's something about the emotion that goes into this game, as it pertains to Manning, that the Colts are able to capture and bottle, that eludes the Broncos.
There's no question that the 2015 Broncos have been a more physical team than their 2014 John Fox-led counterparts. Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison and Wade Phillips have improved that aspect of the Broncos game.
But that makes yesterday's loss that much more of a head-scratcher. The Broncos have been the more physical, more intense team in each of their games, with the exception of their Week 9 loss.
The Colts imposed their will on the Broncos. The Denver defense couldn't get off the field on third down and the offense was stymied for three of the game's four quarters.
I wish I could put my finger on it. But the Broncos proved yesterday that they still have a difficult time playing up to the Colts intensity, even with the opportunity to exact pay-back for their January playoff loss.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.