Special teams recovered from their week 10 disaster and the defence were better also. However, the struggles of the offence were once again in evidence, costing the Broncos the game, Brock Osweiler his starting job and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy his position with the Broncos.
Much had been made over the last few weeks of the propensity for the Broncos to use three or more receivers in the passing game, plus using complex route combinations.
This is a problem for a number of reasons:
It puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to get through his progressions. With inexperienced / poor quarterbacks, this is a bad idea.
The quarterback needs time, so the already porous offensive line needs to hold up longer.
The Broncos receiving corps gets pretty weak at numbers three and four.
Vance Joseph said in advance of the game that he wanted the offence to reduce complexity and play “clean” football. That was notice to Mike McCoy that he needed to make things simpler and to succeed with Osweiler this week, as his job was on the line.
On the first drive the Broncos were immediately in trouble with a holding penalty against new right tackle Alan Barbre. They were forced to punt and special teams did a nice job on kick coverage.
The defence stuffed the Bengals for a three and out. Then special teams stepped up in a big way, blocking the Bengals punt.
Brock Osweiler got the ball on the edge of the red-zone. A combination of CJ Anderson, Devontae Booker and Osweiler himself managed to rush the ball to the Bengals four yard line.
Having had reasonable success with the run, Mike McCoy saw fit to go empty backfield and spread receivers to put the ball in the air.
This setup is a bad idea. Essentially you tell the defence that they do not need to worry about the run and as the end of the field is so close there is no deep threat, so the safeties can cheat up the field.
Remember Malcolm Butler’s Superbowl winning interception against the Seahawks? He didn’t have to worry about being beaten deep and jumped the quick route.
Dre Kirkpatrick did the same here, he knew Osweiler would throw and keeping his man in front of him he watched Osweiler and jumped the route. He then took the ball 100 yards and would have scored if not for the chase from Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.
It was a great example of what had frustrated Joseph, too many receivers and not enough execution. I would say that McCoy was all but out the door after that play.
Despite the best efforts of the defence to make a goal-line stand, the Bengals got into the endzone on third down.
A nice pass to Cody Latimer picked up a big chunk of yards to get the next drive going. A one-two punch of Anderson and Booker with Osweiler again chipping in with some scrambles, brought the Broncos to the three yard line. This time McCoy was sensible enough to stick to the rush and CJ Anderson punched it in.
Dalton put together a nice drive ending with a touchdown pass to Alex Erickson where Bradley Roby seemed to guess wrong and was cleanly beaten.
After that we saw a lot of punting. Make no mistake, this was a bad game of football.
The defence did a nice job keeping AJ Green and Joe Mixon quiet so the game was always within reach.
On special teams Jordan Taylor and Emmanuel Sanders fielded punts sensibly and the kick coverage was nice and clean, with one punt downed inside the five.
So, the offence had favourable field position a number of times, but could just do nothing with it. Passes were behind receivers, dropped or into good coverage.
At one point Emmanuel Sanders was visibly frustrated when he had created great separation only to see the pass go yards behind him.
With the game just entering the fourth quarter and fans struggling to stay awake, CJ Anderson fumbled near midfield. On the ensuing drive, Roby was again caught looking and AJ Green took advantage for a touchdown.
To fight back Osweiler completed four passes to Demaryius Thomas, the fourth for a touchdown. The limited usage that Thomas had received up to that point (and indeed for the last number of weeks) is baffling and this drive highlighted his value.
This left the score at 20 – 17 with plenty of time on the clock.
The defence forced a punt and Brock got the ball with two minutes left; incomplete, sack, short completion, incomplete, turnover on downs.
A whimper of a finish to a game where both teams did more than enough to lose, but the Bengals just hung on.
Deep (deep, deep) down I had held a glimmer of hope of an unlikely run of wins seeing the Broncos sneak into the playoffs. I always knew I was fooling myself, but after this game I just want to see what Paxton Lynch can do at quarterback and hopefully pick up a win or two.
The offensive coordinator is gone, there has been a second change at quarterback and John Elway has asked questions of the team’s toughness.
The Broncos are in a bad place and Elway has major questions to answer himself.