“You can learn more from defeat than you can from victory” — an old coaching trope that has taken a heavier meaning for the Denver Broncos as of late. Losing in Week 5 to the Atlanta Falcons, in combination with getting beaten again Thursday night by the San Diego Chargers, has led to a surge of criticism in a relatively short amount of time.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1717892-film-room-why-booker-is-e... The Broncos are learning. but they're doing it the hard way.
The waves may be choppy at the moment but the ship still can be righted and there is still a lot of season left to play. Despite the team's poor form as of late, there are issues that have been prevalent in Denver’s losses that are easily correctable and could make the difference between winning just as much as they have in defeat.
Let's go through the top three fixes that could turn the ship aroud.
Cleaning Up The Penalties
The Broncos were penalized 12 times in San Diego. Interim head coach Joe DeCamillis put a finger on how intensely the flags affected the game.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a discipline issue on penalties a lot of times," DeCamillis said. "We’re going to have to correct them, we’re going to have to make sure that we look into if there’s anything that’s a trend. So that’s part of it, and then we just have to make sure that in those crunch time situations we can’t have those penalties. It’s just something that we don’t do and we have to get it corrected quickly.”
Starting quarterback Trevor Siemian supported that idea and pointed out that games are hard enough to win without penalties cutting the legs out from under the team as well.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1717933-is-denver-s-4-2-record-ca... “We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds," Siemian said. "Those are tough to overcome. We didn’t make the most of our opportunities early in the game. I think we showed a lot of resilience there at the end but it was a little too late for us.”
The West Coast Offense that is favored by the brain trust led by Coach Gary Kubiak is best when playing level with an opponent in-game, or with a lead. The run game keeps the offense out of third-&-long situations and allows the quarterback to either use play-action to set up one-on-one matchups downfield, or by relying on short timing routes to keep the chains moving on clock-consuming drives.
Good offenses struggle with having to convert 1st-&-20 after holding penalties — it hampers the Broncos exponentially more because it virtually eliminates the run game and puts more pressure on a young quarterback to make throws down the field, or in tighter windows while defenses squat in complex zone coverages.
Just taking away the holding call against Russell Okung on C.J. Anderson’s dramatic catch-and-run that would have made the score 21-17 with just over four minutes to go, shows how impactful the penalties have been in the two losses. Take those out and the Denver offense looks much better and takes the pressure off of Siemian to convert obvious, long passing downs and distances.
Von Miller talked about the overall state of the defense after Thursday’s loss.
"We had a lot of mistakes," Miller said. "Defensively, we didn’t play up to the type of defense that we know we can play. This is the second week in a row that we let a team drive down on the first drive and score. We need to get that fixed. I believe in this team."
Has The No Fly Zone played its usual brand of lights out defense recently? Simply, no. But they also haven’t played horribly in either loss and were the main reason that the neither game got out of control, allotting the offense the opportunity to come from behind, despite their struggles to gain yards and put up points.
It’s the slight lapses in concentration that have been back-breakers as of late for the Denver defense. On the opening drive of the game, if both Darian Stewart and Chris Harris, Jr. played their man, Philip Rivers' touchdown pass to Hunter Henry may not have happened. Instead, Stewart tried to make a play and Harris was lined up on a bigger tight end for an easy mismatch.
If Melvin Gordon’s long run in the early part of the third quarter doesn’t happen, it potentially takes three points off the board and if/when Denver scores on the Anderson touchdown, its 20-17. And sets up the offense to tie the game late instead of having to play with a longer field to get in the end zone to win the game instead.
Little mistakes have had big consequences.
The O-Line Has To Play Better
Coach DeCamillis talked about his offensive line and their problems in the two game skid.
“I think it’s a combination of everything right there," he said. "First of all, I came in here last week and said San Diego’s front was really good. They did a good job up front, you have to give them credit. I just think we just didn’t execute as well as we needed to. When you get those penalties right there, that sets you behind the chains. We’re going to have to keep addressing it. We have to do a better job of coaching them up and we have to do a better job of executing on the play.”
The offensive line last year was a patchwork unit comprised of miscast players and over-the-hill personnel doing their best to make it work. For the most part, they did so.
Producing a ground game that went over 1,600 yards for the year kept quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning upright. It was a respectable effort for a group that many thought would be one of the weaker units on the team.
In an offseason that would see the line get upgraded by free-agent signings, the prevailing thought was that the unit would be even better and more in-step with Kubiak’s vision for the offense.
Instead, each of the starting five have struggled, including usual stalwarts Matt Paradis and Okung. Left guard Max Garcia has been undressed on a weekly basis and injuries have taken their toll with an unprepared player like Ty Sambrailo having to fill in for injured right tackle Donald Stephenson.
It’s not a coincidence that when the O-line was playing well at the start of the year, the continuity on the line hadn’t changed much since the start of training camp. With injuries comes the shuffling of the unit and they've struggled since. With 10 days to lick their wounds and get back on the same page, the play up front should get better.
Little fixes can go a long way in turning a lose into a win. This team, as constructed, simply has too much talent to not still be considered one of the teams to beat in the AFC.
Expect the Broncos to tend to the little things over the next week. When the team reconvenes next week in preparation for a matchup with the Houston Texans, let's hope the Broncos are back on the right track.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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