The Denver Broncos under Vance Joseph had seemingly the biggest possible advantage going into Sunday Night. They were coming fresh off a bye and a huge win against a divisional rival that had gone 12-4 the preceding year. The team faced an 0-5 Giants team with a struggling 17th ranked offense who had just lost all of their wide-receivers the previous week including arguably the best player on the team in Odell Beckham Jr. There was dysfunction in the locker room, with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie getting suspended for leaving the facility without permission. People were even wondering if Ben Mcadoo was going to remain the head coach for much longer. Then came Sunday night. Four hours later, the score was 23-10. The Giants had stunned the nation on prime-time with arguably the biggest upset of the year. What happened? Can the Broncos be fixed?
The Broncos Lost To The Giants: Can Vance Joseph Fix His Team?
The Bronco’s production on offense has been trending down since 2013 when the Broncos posted a record-setting season. The offense was number one in the NFL in 2013, then they slipped to fourth in 2014, 16th in 2015, and 27th in 2016. The offense is currently sitting at 26th, near the bottom of the league again. After a strong outing against the Chargers and the Cowboys, the offense has only put up 16 points versus the Bills, 16 against the Raiders with their 23rd passing defense, and 10 against the Giants. The offense has been killing the Broncos for the past three games. The offense is the problem, but what about the offense needs to be fixed?
The most obvious problem for the offense is their mindset. Namely, their problem has been with their inability to lock into the right mindset play after play, week after week. Denver has allowed this to happen noticeably four times this season. The team was guilty of this at the end of week 1 when they almost allowed the Chargers to force overtime after being up 17 points in the fourth quarter. Then, the Broncos did not take the Bills seriously in week 3 and the Broncos lost by two scores.
Thirdly, the Broncos almost allowed the Raiders’ backup quarterback to drive down the field and get what would have probably been a game-winning touchdown. Fourth, the Broncos did not take the Giants seriously and ended up losing the game by multiple scores. The Broncos have struggled this season with maintaining a disciplined mindset.
Brandon McManus has been the most obvious player to be struggling mentally, as he is 8 for 13 on field goals this year. Three of those misses were relatively easy kicks, but they came in pressure situations where the Broncos were either down or had a small lead. McManus is struggling under the pressure this year, where in years past he was pretty automatic. Some point to the idea that his new three-year extension made him too complacent. Either way, McManus must get his mind right if the Broncos are going to have any real chance at winning the AFC West.
While the Broncos’ mindset set them up for failure, it is the play calling itself that was the direct cause for losing Sunday night. The Broncos threw the ball 54 times while only running 17 times. Any team in the NFL that has over a 3:1 pass to run ratio is probably not going to win the football game. It definitely will not happen when the quarterback is not Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or any other top-five quarterback. An unbalanced offense makes the team predictable. If a defense knows that the opposing team is going to pass all game, then it makes it that much easier to cover. For each of Trevor Siemian’s two picks, there were two and three defenders around each respective receiver. The defense expected passes and loaded the backend accordingly.
The Broncos are not built to win the game by a passing onslaught. The team is built to get a touchdown in the air, one or two touchdowns on the ground, and a couple of field goals while sitting on the ball and allowing the defense to get stops. That did not happen Sunday night. The Broncos came into the game Sunday night expecting to put up Drew Brees numbers without Drew Brees. They left their winning philosophy and then winning left them.
The Missed Call
Bronco fans have one legitimate reason (other than poor play) that the score seemed so lopsided at the end: a huge missed call. With about eight and a half minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Broncos ran it up the middle on fourth and goal with C.J. Anderson who was ruled to be stopped short of the goal line. The refs reviewed the play and it was ruled that the play stood as called. It should have been a touchdown, as one of the views showed the ball just barely crossing the goal line. If they ruled a touchdown, the Broncos would have been down 20-10 with about 8 and a half minutes left, a comeback very possible. Instead, the score remained 20-3 and the Giants received the ball as a turnover on downs and proceeded to win the game.
Defense And Injuries
The defense is not entirely off the hook either as they let the Giants put up 23 points including 17 in the first half. The Broncos had to know that tight end Evan Engram was the Giants’ only reliable receiving option, yet they curiously did not double him for the duration of the game. They allowed him to catch five of eight targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. Also, the Broncos’ D lost their dominant run defense by allowing 148 yards on the ground by a nobody. Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods and his unit have some explaining to do.
If it was not enough to lose to the 0-5 Giants by almost two touchdowns, the Broncos also caught the injury bug from them. Offensive tackle Menelik Watson is day-to-day with a calf injury. Siemian came out of the game near halftime with a minor injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Interestingly, Brock Osweiler came into the game for a few snaps and induced mixed feelings for Broncos fans. Demaryius Thomas played through a leg injury, visibly limping in-between plays. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah Mckenzie are expected to miss next week’s game against the Chargers with sprained ankles. Lineman Billy Turner has been placed on IR after he injured his hand.
How To Fix The Offense
After the disastrous game Sunday night, what can the Broncos do to fix their offense, which will fix their season? It mostly lies with the play calling, but in order to change the play calling, the team has to first take every single team seriously going forward. They need to call plays that match their team’s strengths. That means calling a roughly equal number of passes and runs. Right now, the Broncos lead the NFL in percentage of Play Action passes called. They should bring the amount of Play Action passes down but call deeper throws to maximize production. Also, they need to practice faking the hand-off on Play Action more. The fakes were really unconvincing on Sunday, almost laughable.
Next, with Menelik Watson out, the Broncos will need to bolster their protection at the line of scrimmage. They should keep the tight end in to block most of the time. They could also have the fullback motion to the side of the line that is getting beat. The Broncos should also turn their disadvantage at wide receiver into an advantage.
Since Sanders and Mckenzie are not going to be on the field this week, Mike McCoy should teach one or two brand-new plays to the new receivers. They could use those new plays on Sunday. The defense might think he really changed the playbook and might change theirs to compensate. However, after those plays are done, the Broncos should go back to their “regular” plays. It might take the Chargers a quarter or two to realize and react.
Personally, one of the best formations to run would be one that has Jamaal Charles and C.J. Anderson on the field at the same time. Trevor could audible a run or a screen to either side or perhaps a Play Action pass.
Finally, McManus needs to start hitting field goals like last year, otherwise, a fatal amount of the offense will be wasted. However it gets done, the offense needs to fix their woes.
Every time that the Broncos lose, it exponentially shrinks their chances of making the playoffs. After playing away at the Chargers on Sunday, the Broncos have to go to Philadelphia and then to Kansas City, the top two teams in the NFL with a current combined record of 10-2. The Broncos need to fix their offense and their mindset in order to come through this next stretch with a positive record. They can clean up these issues, but they’ve lingered for a while and the time to fix them is now, otherwise, the season is likely forfeited.