Before the 2016 regular season started, I can assure you that I did not have the Denver Broncos opening the season 3-0.
Uncertainty at quarterback. Key starters gone. A rebuilt offensive line.
The Broncos got lucky in Week 1, when Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. Still, the Broncos battled and came out on top.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... I had that game as a loss for the Broncos.
In Week 3, the Broncos took to the road for the first time this season, going against an under-performing Cincinnati Bengals team sitting at 1-1. The Bengals are deep and replete with veteran savvy.
With an inexperienced and inconsistent Trevor Siemian at the helm, I just didn't see the Broncos getting it done on the road. I was wrong. 29-17, Broncos.
What I'm getting at here is that I, along with many football pundits, have underestimated the 2016 Broncos. I've underestimated the defense. I've underestimated Siemian, the O-line and the coaches.
I will continue call it as I see it, but I'm not going to sell this team short again. This team can beat anyone. Let's get to the takeways from Week 3.
Denver Can Win In A Variety Of Ways
In their 29-17 victory over the Bengals, the onus was put on Siemian and the Broncos to figure out a way to win without running the ball well. Denver entered the game ranked No. 5 in the NFL, averaging 141 rushing yards per game.
With their stout front seven, the Bengals took away the run on Sunday. The Broncos totaled 52 yards on the ground, averaging just 2.3 yards per rush.
If the Broncos were going to emerge victorious, it would have to be by the virtue of Siemian's right arm — a player starting his third NFL game and first on the road.
For the first 30 minutes of the game, Siemian was shaky. He tossed two touchdown passes — doubling his season total in one half of play. But he was shaky. Inaccurate. Uncomfortable. He finished the half 13-of-24 for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
On paper, his stat-line looked good. Based on the eye-test, his performance did not reflect the 100.0 rating the statisticians gave him.
However, emerging from half time, Siemian pulled a 180, going 10-of-11 for 168 yards and two more scores, including a 55-yard strike down the left sideline to Demaryius Thomas.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1710782-watch-every-trevor-siemia... On a 13-play, 82-yard drive to begin the fourth quarter, Siemian went 9-of-9 — all while trailing the Bengals by a point. Not only did Siemian have to answer Cincinnati's previous score, he had to do so in the clutch.
It was a gut-check and the second-year signal-caller passed with flying colors. We keep hearing his coaches and teammates talk about his poise and how nothing seems to rattle him.
For the longest time, this praise felt like platitudes meant to prop up an inexperienced quarterback. Now we know it's true. Not only was Siemian poised, he showed tremendous courage under fire.
Leading by five points with 6:02 left in the game, Gary Kubiak could have played it safe. He could have called run after run, in an effort to drain the clock and protect the ball.
Instead, he showed tremendous faith in Siemian and continued to keep the throttle open. Siemian's first throw on that drive was a 29-yard strike to fellow 2015 draft pick Jeff Heuerman.
Two plays later, Siemain connected with Thomas on the big touchdown to put the game away.
On 3rd-&-11, the Bengals tried to confuse Siemian pre-snap. Guys were milling about around the line of scrimmage, but at the snap, the Bengals brought the blitz, rushing six.
Siemian knew he has Thomas singled up on Bengals CB Chris Lewis-Harris, with a single-high safety. Siemian already made his decision and uncorked with rushers closing in.
The ball was slightly under-thrown, but it took guts to go downfield like that. At the end of the day, Siemian did what Thomas said he wanted earlier in the week — he gave him a chance to go up and get the ball.
Paul Guenther dared Siemian to beat him over the top. On this third down play, and throughout the game, Siemian did just that.
Either way, Trevor Siemian and the Broncos offense proved they can win in a variety of ways, no matter the complexion of the game.
Broncos Are Deep Enough At Tight End
Trevor Siemian likes throwing to the tight end. So does Gary Kubiak.
Both players contributed to the Broncos win. Phillips was targeted four times, coming up with two receptions for nine yards and a touchdown.
Heuerman's snaps were limited, but as mentioned above, he got in on the action late in the fourth quarter. The big takeaway on the day, however, was John Phillips and Denver's surprising depth at tight end.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1710670-watch-dt-sanders-evaluate... Green is still the unquestioned starter. But Phillips proved he can carry the water if and when it comes to it. He's known as more of a blocking TE, and he certainly contributed in that area, but I've been pleasantly surprised by his receiving chops.
Phillips should have had four catches for about 35 yards. But two of Phillips' targets came in the first half, with Siemian not quite firing on all cylinders.
Denver's young QB missed a golden opportunity to move the chains on 3rd-&-11 in the first quarter. Phillips worked down the right seam and got some separation, but Siemian threw it behind him just enough to force the incompletion.
In the second quarter, Siemian bootlegged left, never an easy proposition for a right-handed QB, and couldn't quite fit the ball past a linebacker who'd dropped down into Phillips' zone. Incomplete.
In the second half, however, Phillips was rewarded when Siemian found him on a one-yard strike. The Broncos were in business on the goal line, down by one point.
They were in a jumbo set, with Phillips in-line left. Siemian play-faked to Anderson, and threaded the needle to Phillips, who sold the play-action nicely, before slipping out into his route. A nice catch in traffic.
Seeing Heuerman catch a difficult ball over his shoulder late in the fourth quarter helps bring home the point. Before the season started, the Broncos were considered to be thin at tight end. Now, I think most pundits would allow that they're deep enough.
Defending The Run A Big Concern
The Broncos defense entered Week 3 ranked No. 24 against the run, relinquishing an average of 120 yards per game. After giving up 143 on the ground to the Bengals, they're now ranked No. 28.
The "best defense in the league" moniker doesn't hold up statistically anymore. Denver's No Fly Zone has continued to dominate against the pass, ranking No. 4. The Broncos are ranked No. 2 in sacks, having taken down the quarterback 15 times through three games. And they're No. 8 in points per game, relinquishing 19 on average.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1710633-shane-ray-a-pass-rusher-b... The Broncos are tied for tenth place in takeaways. Top-10 in most of the important statistical categories, except one. The run defense is holding Denver back from being elite.
Sure, they have elite talent and depth defensively — arguably the best in the NFL. But if you're going to call yourself the best, the stats have to back you up.
Right now, they don't. I don't know if the decline is due to the new faces, or if it's simply a lack of execution. I'm leaning toward the latter.
Cincinnati entered Week 3 as the second worst rushing offense in the league, averaging 51.5 yards per game. They almost tripled their production vs. the Broncos and scored two rushing touchdowns.
Let's take a look at the biggest run of the day for the Bengals. It was on their opening drive of the game. 2nd-&-2 from their own 48-yard line. They're in a jumbo 12-personnel set, with a backup offensive tackle as the second tight end.
Denver's in their base 3-4 defense, with strong safety T.J. Ward creeping down into the box over the left tackle — play-side. At the snap, the Bengals run a double-counter, pulling both the right guard and tackle.
RB Jeremy Hill patiently waits for the blocks to develop and explodes downhill through a gaping hole. It was perfect hat-on-hat execution by the Bengals.
However, right defensive end Derek Wolfe gets destroyed, and taken to the ground on a double-team by the left tackle and guard, opening the way for the two pulling blockers. The linebackers bite on the counter, stepping left, while the play explodes to the defensive right.
This slight delay allows the blockers to get in position and the rest is history. I would say thank goodness for Darian Stewart's touchdown-saving tackle, but the Bengals punched it in anyway like a hot knife through butter.
The Broncos have to be better than this. I'd love to be a fly in the wall in the defensive line meeting room, listening to Bill Kollar rail against his men getting controlled at the point of attack. The Bengals out-physicaled the Broncos defense, plain and simple.
If they can't get a bead on this, it could cripple their season aspirations. Fortunately, their 3-0 start has afforded them some breathing room. There's no reason to hit the panic button now. But if they're playing like this down the stretch, go ahead and freak out.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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