Are the Denver Broncos in dire straits? No. They are 6-3 after all.
However, as a team with a second-year starting quarterback having lost three of their last five games, they are not trending the way they need to be heading into the second half of the season.
This Broncos team is missing the steady-handed leadership of Peyton Manning. I'm not going to chalk it all up to Manning, but the Broncos are a ship adrift and it remains to be seen whether they have the veteran wherewithal to steady it.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-get-si-subscription-with-... The Broncos haven't had it easy this year. They opened the 2016 season against last year's No. 1 scoring offense — the Carolina Panthers. Since then, they've faced four teams ranked in the top-5 in total offense and in the top-6 in scoring.
This week, Wade Phillips' crew will be tasked with stopping the New Orleans Saints, who enter the game as the NFL's No. 1 total offense and No. 2 scoring offense. For a team reeling like the Broncos are right now, it's an immense challenge.
Last year, we saw the Broncos overcome obstacle after obstacle on their way to winning Super Bowl 50. A lot has changed since then. If Denver can eek out a win on the road this week, they'll enter their Week 11 bye on a positive note, and head down the stretch 7-3.
If they lose, we're going to see some changes. So, what do the Broncos have to do to beat the Saints this week? Let's get to the keys to victory.
Stop The Run Without Wolfe
The Broncos had a hard enough time stopping the run with Derek Wolfe in the lineup — their best run defender. Alas, he's out 2-4 weeks with a fractured right elbow.
That puts the onus on Jared Crick, Billy Winn, Sylvester Williams and Adam Gotsis to raise their level of play. Crick was signed over the offseason to be a rotational player on the defensive line, but when Vance Walker tore his ACL in training camp, it vaulted Crick into the starting lineup.
He has underwhelmed, to say the least. Winn, an addition made late in the summer, has exceeded expectations and will likely start in Wolfe's place.
Sylvester Williams, Denver's athletic nose tackle, is in a contract year. Although he's a had a few shining moments, he hasn't set himself apart as one of the league's top defensive tackles. If he wants Denver, or any other team, to offer him a lucrative contract this coming spring, he's going to have play better and more consistently.
That brings us to Adam Gotsis — Denver's 2016 second round pick. When the Broncos selected him, it was difficult to project how big of an impact he would make as a rookie, because he was coming off a torn ACL.
However, the Broncos training staff took their time with him and got him to the point where he was able to contribute in the preseason games. Gotsis didn't end up on injured reserve, but he hasn't made much of an impact through nine games.
That's got to change. Remember, Derek Wolfe was also a second round pick in 2012. He started right out of the gates. The Broncos haven't been forced to lean on Gotsis in the same way — until now.
If the Broncos are going to weather the next four weeks without Wolfe well, it will be because Gotsis stepped up. Last week in Oakland, we saw the Broncos get blown off the ball and pummeled to the tune of 218 rushing yards.
Drew Brees and Sean Payton are two of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL. They will try to exploit Denver's glaring defensive weakness. Mark Ingram will be deployed in strong doses, along with Tim Hightower. And Gotsis knows it.
“They have a great quarterback," Gotsis said Wednesday. "They’ve been able to run the ball pretty well the last couple of weeks. It’s on us to stand up and stop the run. They’re going to come out and try to run the ball. It’s been our weakness that last couple of games. We just have to go in there and stop the run and let our defense roll. That’s what we do best. Once we get in positions where the pass rush can get there and our secondary can cover, that’s when we thrive. We just have to go in there and shut the run down and see what happens.”
I like it but words are words. Gotsis and his trench-mates have to back it up with action. If the Broncos allow the Saints to run on them and dictate the game, this could get ugly in the SuperDome.
Balance In The Big Easy
One of the reasons the Broncos have struggled against the run is because they've been on the field so much. Denver's offense leads the league in three-and-outs. Last week in Oakland, the Broncos defense was on the field for 41:28.
Think about that.
Of course the big boys are going to get tired and worn down. And when that happens, execution and physicality decline.
Trevor Siemian and the offense have struggled to stay on the field, in large part due to a lack of commitment to the running game. Head Coach Gary Kubiak is known for scripting the first 15 plays of the game. Here's how that went last week.
Guess what happened on the first 12 plays? Four consecutive three-and-outs. It wasn't until the fifth drive of the game that the Broncos finally were able to move the ball and put some points on the board.
Slow starts have plagued this offense all year long. As has Denver's inability to establish the run. Only one of Denver's five offensive linemen started in 2015 — center Matt Paradis.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1726142-inside-the-matchup-bronco... For a newly-assembled O-line to flourish, chemistry and cohesion are key. It also builds communication. How can the coaches expect this unit to thrive and get into a groove and a rhythm when they don't call the very rushing plays that allow them to do so?
This isn't a case of "chicken or egg". If you want your O-line to be physical and execute, you have to call running plays. You have to strive for a semblance of balance. Last week, Denver finished the game with 39 designed passes to just 12 runs.
You can't win like that, unless you have Peyton Manning in his prime, which the Broncos clearly do not. Siemian is overwhelmed. He's not ready to throw it 35+ times per game.
On the road, the Broncos have a very strong opportunity to establish the run. New Orleans fields the No. 19 rushing defense.
I've been harping on Denver's play-calling and offensive design for weeks now. There's absolutely no excuse for the coaches' willful ignorance that has put so much of the onus on Siemian, a second-year, first-time starter.
Siemian isn't ready to be that guy. Like every young QB in the history of the game, he needs a running game, or at least the threat of one, in order to be successful. But if Kubiak and company continue to design an unbalanced offense, the Broncos will continue to lose.
And their elite defense will continue to be gassed by halftime. You can't stop the run when you can't catch a breath.
It's Ware & Miller Time
As down as I've been on Kubiak and the offensive play-calling, I'm still optimistic that they'll recognize their failures and turn the ship around.
Hopefully, the Broncos offense manages to stay on the field more and keep this game competitive throughout. There's no question the Saints will try to exploit the Broncos on the ground.
But if we've learned anything about the Sean Payton and Drew Brees partnership over the years, it's that they love to sling the rock.
And the proof is in the pudding. Averaging 326.4 yards per game, the Saints field the league's No. 1 passing offense. There will be opportunities to get after the quarterback.
With 9.5 sacks, Miller is second in the NFL in QB takedowns. Ware got off to a hot start, tallying two sacks in Denver's first two games, before he fractured his forearm and missed the next five contests.
Sunday's game in New Orleans will mark Ware's third game back from injury. He hasn't made it into the box score over the last two games, but that's got to change in New Orleans.
If that level of punishment was too much for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, imagine what it would do to the 6-foot, 209-pound Brees. A secondary's best friend is a relentless pass rush. With Talib out of this game, the No Fly Zone is without a key weapon and will need Ware and Miller to get home early and often.
When Wade Phillips turns up the pressure, the Broncos are successful. They've been out of whack of late. Here's to hoping they can get back to their true identity, which features DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller crushing the quarterback.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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