Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Retrospect: Broncos (6-1) 33, Colts (5-2) 39

Sunday night's Broncos defeat at the hand of the Indianapolis Colts was a tough one to swallow. From the get-go, I had a bad feeling about the way the game was headed, and that bad feeling really didn't leave all game. Sure, I have a lot of faith in Peyton Manning and the Broncos loaded offense, so I wasn't necessarily worried about them not having the talent to fight back when they got down. Rather, every time Denver had the ball on Sunday night, something just didn't feel like it should when the number one team in the league has the ball. Here are some of the things that went through my head, both while watching the game, and while reflecting on it today.

1. There was a point in the second quarter, I think it might have been after the hit that Peyton took from Robert Mathis, that I began to notice what seemed like a loss of confidence in the pocket from Manning. From that point on, even though Manning still managed to complete some nice passes, he did not look comfortable in the pocket, and every time he dropped back, #18 seemed to have happy-feet in the pocket. 

2. Looking back at the game, as well as the stat-line, it's no wonder Manning was having a hard time standing in the pocket. In the matchup against the Colts, the Broncos' offensive line allowed one less sack (4) and 3 more quarterback hits (13) than they had over the entire rest of the season. Clearly, the loss of Orlando Franklin at tackle was a big one; getting Franklin back in the lineup soon will be key to protecting Manning and giving him time to complete passes. Related to this, it appears Franklin has been an integral part of the Broncos' revamped run game this season, as it too looked rather dismal Sunday night. 

3. For some reason, in Sunday night's game the Broncos offense had a stubborn persistence in trying to establish a run game that quite clearly was not there. Two frustrating situations arose due to this stubbornness on the Broncos' part. Firstly, the offense would line up and hand the ball off to Knowshon Moreno on first and second down, for essentially no gain (Moreno averaged less than three yards per carry), and then be forced into a third-and-long situation, limiting their options and allowing the Colts defense to key in on a few specific plays. Secondly, when Denver had two third-and-short plays in the first quarter, rather than putting the ball in the hands of their best playmaker, Peyton Manning, they opted to hand the ball off and squander two chances to extend drives with a Moreno run up the middle for no gain. Likely, the Broncos were trying to establish a run game to bring the safeties down in the box and open up deeper passes on play-action. However, when your run game is ineffective, there is no need to bring an extra defender down in the box. Simply put, I'm surprised that the Broncos didn't abandon the run MUCH sooner than they did. 

4.  Speaking of running backs, Ronnie Hillman is sadly making a name for himself as a back who can't hang onto the football. Hillman fumbled the ball late in the game, inside the five-yard line, when the Broncos had a legitimate chance to move within a single score of the Colts. The fumble marred what were a few nice, explosive runs by the young back, who was inserted into the game when it became apparent that Moreno was having little success. Unfortunately, this has been the story with Hillman since he was drafted by the Broncos; quick explosive plays, counterbalanced by untimely fumbles. This spells bad news for Hillman, as I doubt this is a trade-off that the coaching staff are going to accept for much longer, if at all. 

5. Von Miller's much-awaited return to the Broncos defense was rather unflattering and disappointing. Despite adding 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season, Miller had a tough time getting to the quarterback, while managing one tackle in the backfield on a run play. In all, Miller managed just two tackles in his return. I don't think that this slow first game from Miller is a reason for concern. A likely couple reasons for the third year defender's first game struggles was his lack of participation in physical contact for the last six weeks, as well as the added attention he garnered from the leagues best offensive line in pass protection. I'd look for him to bounce back this week against a Redskins team, whose offensive line is ranked 10th in pass protection and 19th in run blocking (Football Outsiders). 

6. Some people are using this game as "proof" that Andrew Luck is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. This idea is absolutely absurd. No, Andrew Luck is neither a better quarterback than Peyton Manning is at this point in his career, not to mention the fact that Peyton has been this good for a very long time. I'm not denying that Andrew Luck is the real deal and a great quarterback, but I refuse to believe that he will have a better career than Peyton Manning or that he is better at this moment. Sunday night's final result boils down to the fact that Luck's team got the job done around him, specifically on defense, and Peyton's didn't. Jim Irsay must be smiling smugly somewhere (or tweeting with the grammar of a grade six child). 

7. Overall, I think that the loss to the Colts may have been needed by the Broncos. Yes, it does set them back a game to the Chiefs in the AFC West, but even in the Jacksonville game in Week 6, the Broncos looked a little complacent and a lot slower than they had all season before that. A loss to another AFC contender may have been what it took to wake the Broncos up before heading into a tough stretch of schedule, where they'll face the Redskins, Chargers, Chiefs twice, and Patriots. 

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