Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Can This Even Be Fixed?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 21, 2008

I can sit here and look at the standings after week seven and say that the Broncos are 4-3, that they are still in first place in the AFC West, and they would be in easy playoff position if the season ended right now.  That seems impossible right now after the trouncing they got tonight at the hands of the Patriots of all teams.  Did the Broncos really allow Sammy Morris to rush for 100 yards IN THE FIRST QUARTER?  The same Sammy Morris who had ran for a high of 63 yards (and just 169 all season) in a game all year?  The same Sammy Morris who averaged 3.2 yards a carry coming into tonight’s game and saw it balloon to a beyond ghastly 8.6 yards a carry against Denver?  Heck, even BenJarvus Green-Ellis (yes that is a real player), who I had literally never heard of before tonight, rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries, to the tune of five yards a carry. Was this the same Patriots running game that managed just 106 yards as a team the week before against San Diego?  The answer for the Broncos is unfortunately yes (More on the awful Broncos run defense below).  

To watch the Broncos the last month makes you scratch your head and wonder how they’re in first place.  Tonight they committed FIVE turnovers to New England’s zero.  I don’t care if you’re the ’72 Dolphins going against North Dakota Tech, if you turn it over five times on the road, including your first two possessions, your odds of winning are never good.  Say what you will, but the Broncos were moving the ball great on their first possession until Andre Hall fumbled.  If they score on that drive to take a 7-0 lead instead of turning it over, the entire game would have likely unfolded very differently.  But Hall’s fumble sucked the air out of the Broncos’ offense, and if that one didn’t his second one on the next position definitely did.  Of all the stats in sports, and a lot of them are certainly without much value in relation to the final score, the one stat that almost always translates into wins and losses, regardless of sport, is turnovers.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Broncos have lost the turnover battle handily in each of their three losses this year, and losing it 5-0 to the Patriots explains away much of the blowout loss right there.  

While the turnovers are obviously a huge factor in the Broncos’ recent struggles, the complete lack of a run defense this year is almost more alarming.  This season the Broncos have already allowed:

– 97 yards rushing to the Raiders’ Justin Fargas in week one, easily a season high for the Raiders back that is rapidly losing playing time to Darren McFadden and has seen his yards per carry decline dramatically each week.  Fargas’ 42 yard run against Denver is by far his longest of the season.  

– 53 yards on just seven carries to San Diego’s Darren Sproles in week two (in addition to a 66 yard touchdown on a screen pass that essentially amounted to a run).  Sproles has made at best cameo appearances for the Chargers since then (140 total rushing yards on the season), and in his last game against the Bills had just one yard rushing and five yards receiving.  

– 198 yards (to the tune of 7.1 yards per carry) to the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson in week four (including a 65 yard run on the game’s second play).  Johnson has been noticeably absent in KC since then, rushing for two yards on seven carries at Carolina and then getting himself suspended by the Chiefs for his off the field activity.  

– 125 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew in week six, including a back breaking 46 yard TD run to break the game open.  This came after he was held to just 7 yards the week before against Pittsburgh, and had been held to 32 or less in three other games.  Not to mention that Jones-Drew’s performance against the Broncos came behind a banged up offensive line that featured two backups.  

– The aforementioned monster game (well, half) from Sammy Morris, who finished with 138 yards despite only playing the first half.  Morris’ previous season high was 63 yards for an entire game, which he easily eclipsed against Denver in the first quarter alone.  Morris had been held to 26 yards on 10 carries the week before against San Diego, and he only needed 16 carries to destroy the Broncos.  Morris actually had three games of 27 yards rushing or less coming into the Denver game (including week two at the Jets where he had ZERO yards on 8 carries).

Right now I am absolutely petrified of the remaining backs on Denver’s schedule: Ronnie Brown, Jamal Lewis, Michael Turner, Darren McFadden (as faster and better version of teammate Fargas), Thomas Jones, Larry Johnson again (assuming he isn’t still suspended), the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart combo in Carolina, Marshawn Lynch, and LaDainian Tomlinson (and probably Sproles) in the final game.  The point here is the Broncos have allowed more rushing yards (1,082) than any team except Kansas City, and they are allowing opponents to average 5.4 yards per carry.  That is simply not acceptable.  In order to even have a chance to be a good defense in the National Football League, you must be able to stop the run.  If you can’t, anything else you might have going for you on that side of the ball is completely irrelevant.  Case in point: the Broncos actually sacked Matt Cassel six times tonight, but did it really do them any good?  It doesn’t matter if you can rush the passer or if you have great corners if you are not able to stop the run.  It is easy to complain for example that the Broncos only have two interceptions for the season, but that number is partially a result of the team’s failure to stop the run.  Why would any offensive coordinator throw in Champ Bailey’s direction when he knows he can chew up yards the easy way on the ground?  Overall, the Broncos are 30th in the league in total yards per game (ahead of only the Chiefs and Lions), allowing close to 400 yards per contest.  Do those look like the numbers of a contending team?  Frankly they look like the numbers of a last place team.  Heck, even the horrible Cincinnati Bengals are better than Denver in both total defense (331 yards per game) and run defense (allowing 4.4 yards per carry – a full yard less than Denver).

If the Broncos want to go back to the playoffs this year, it is imperative that they shore up their porous run defense.  If that doesn’t improve, the Broncos’ second half prospects look very gloomy indeed.  Yes, they currently sit 4-3 and are in the AFC West lead, but there is no way that will last with a run defense this bad.  Even though the offense is not blameless in relation to their turnovers, they can’t be expected to score 40 points every week to win a game even if they hang onto the ball.  Then again, the offense surely has to feel the pressure to carry the team the way the defense has performed this season.  The bye is coming at a good time for the Broncos, and perhaps they can use it to regroup.  Despite all this, as mediocre as the AFC West is this year, I still think they can overtake San Diego for the division title.  This team still has talent and potential, and if the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that things do change week to week.  This can be fixed, even if it won’t be easy, and even if it seems impossible after the embarrassment in Foxboro.  One thing to keep in mind as a final thought: Mike Shanahan has never missed the playoffs three straight seasons in his career, and that is enough to keep me optimistic about the remainder of the season.

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