Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

We’re Still Leading the AFC West HOW?

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 3, 2008

I’m not really sure where to start in explaining the Broncos’ loss to Miami.  For starters it seems easy to point the finger at the officiating crew for wiping out Brandon Marshall’s 77 yard touchdown on an absolutely atrocious offensive pass interference call, but that is not why the Broncos lost this game.  If not that. then on the surface it would seem really easy to point the finger at the defense, which was missing the Bailey brothers and also D.J. Williams to injury later in the game.  After all, the run defense in particular has been atrocious all year, allowing well over 5 yards a carry coming into the game, and the defense has given up a ton of big plays all year.  I am convinced however that this one is not on the defense in any way.  Consider:

– The Broncos were the first team to completely shut down Miami’s “Wildcat” formation, holding the Dolphins to -6 yards on just four plays where they used the trick formation.  (For those unfamiliar, quarterback Chad Pennington lines up as a wide receiver and running back Ronnie Brown takes the direct snap, looking to keep it, hand off to another back, or throw.  The Dolphins destroyed New England and had great success against other teams using the formation).  

– The Broncos allowed Miami to average just 2.6 yards per rush overall and held the Dolphins to just 75 yards for the game, a significant improvement for the Broncos defense.  If you throw out one 30 yard run by Brown, the Broncos held Miami to just 45 yards on their other 28 carries, an average of just 1.6 yards a carry.

– The Dolphins coverted just 4 of 14 third downs against the Broncos

– The Broncos got great pressure on Chad Pennington, recording three sacks and finally getting an interception

– Denver held Miami without an offensive touchdown for the first 57 minutes of the game

Now, was this a perfect effort on defense? Of course not.  But when you consider how many key players the Broncos were missing (especially the league’s top corner, Champ Bailey), their defensive effort is truly to be commended.  This was particularly true in the first half, when the Broncos, as they have done numerous times this year, held Miami to field goals even when they were put in awful position.  

No, this one is squarely on the offense, where there are numerous things to point to here:

– The running game was AWFUL!  If it weren’t for a seven yard scamper by Andre Hall in garbage time on the last drive, the Broncos would have set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a game.  They finished with just 14 yards on 12 carries, good for a really lousy 1.2 yards per attempt (7 yards on 11 carries if you eliminate the meaningless carry by Hall), which is one yard better than the team record low set in 1972.  Granted, Miami is 9th in the NFL in run defense, but this effort by the Broncos’ ground game was particularly embarrassing.  It is simply not possible to win in the NFL without some semblance of a running game, it cannot be done.

– Perhaps partially due to the embarrassing lack of a running game, Brandon Marshall was held to just two catches for 27 yards.  This simply can’t happen. I do give Miami a ton of credit for great coverage on him, but Marshall has the size and speed to have an advantage on most corners in the league.  In his defense, Marshall did have the big play wiped out by the bogus penalty, and he did get the ball thrown to him plenty, but he still was a non-factor in the offense.

– Jay Cutler did not have a good day.  Yes, he threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns, but too often he seemed like he was forcing throws.  It never seemed like he was able to look off any of the secondary to divert attention from where he was planning to throw the ball.  He also threw three very costly interceptions, including one the play after the long touchdown to Marshall was called back and another that was returned for a touchdown.  

– The Broncos were guilty of 10 penalties for 81 yards, including two illegal formation calls.  

While the offense has been frustrating in general really for the last five games, it is the turnovers that are the most maddening.  The Broncos are DEAD LAST in the NFL in turnover margin at -11, which goes a long way toward explaining why they’ve lost four of their last five games.  Even though the defense finally got a pick today, all three of Cutler’s picks were extremely costly.  His first one on the third play of the game was a killer that gave Miami immediate momentum, his second was returned for a touchdown, and his third came on the play after Marshall’s lost touchdown when he was clearly trying to force a play out of frustration, and led to a Dolphins field goal.  The three interceptions led to 13 Miami points, and it could have easily have been more if not for a great effort by the defense.  That is why i say the D cannot be blamed for this one.  

Sometimes football is a very simple game: you turn the ball over more than the other team you get beat.  While turnovers don’t always tell the whole story, it’s usually a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out why someone won a particular game.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise for example, that the Tennessee Titans lead the NFL in turnover ratio at +10, and they are the only undefeated team in the league.  As I say it’s not a guarantee that winning the turnover battle will always lead to success (Kansas City is third in the NFL at +7), but more often than that the great teams will at the very least not give the ball away, even if they aren’t taking it away.  Giving the other team extra opportunities is never a good recipe for success in any sport.  The Broncos were excellent in this area in the first three games when they were the talk of the league, and now that they are giving the ball away left and right, it should not come as a shock that it is leading to losses.  

Yes, the Broncos did get screwed when Marshall’s touchdown catch got wiped out because of offensive interference, but bad calls are part of the game.  I don’t think there is any question it was a terrible call, particularly since the flag did not get thrown until after Marshall was off to the races, but the Broncos still had chances to win the game.  If Cutler had not thrown a pick on the next play, the defense would not have been backed to the wall trying to make a stop.  I said after the Broncos benefited from the Ed Hochuli call against San Diego that the Chargers still had a chance to stop them and the Broncos shouldn’t apologize for it.  It goes both ways too, the Dolphins shouldn’t apologize for getting lucky on a bad call.  It is the Broncos who should apologize for not running the ball and for committing turnovers at inopportune times, that is what cost them this game, not a blown call.  

Somehow the Broncos are still in sole possession of first place in the AFC West with a 4-4 record.  They should be thanking their lucky stars they are in a bad division, because that’s the only thing keeping them afloat right now.  If San Diego fails to get it together, will we actually see an under .500 division champion in the AFC West? For numerous reasons I hope not.  Regardless of the division lead, the Broncos need to at least play like they deserve to be in that spot, starting with Thursday’s tough game in Cleveland.


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