Perhaps the sky is falling after all
The Broncos defence is still legit, but the failures of the offence to move the ball or to score (any) points led to a 21–0 loss to the Chargers.
Once again the opening possessions showed us all we needed to know.
Receiving the kickoff Brendan Langley took the ball out of the endzone, but was stopped at the eight yard line.
Starting from this bad field position, the Broncos failed to make yards on the ground and Trevor Siemian threw a risky pass off his back foot to AJ Derby on 3rd and long. Derby made the reception but fumbled when running after the catch. This set the Chargers up deep in Broncos territory.
Philip Rivers got the Chargers to first and goal from the 1. The Chargers went with a power run four times, but the Broncos’ “Ground Control” stood firm to keep the game scoreless and give the ball back to Siemian.
Another lacklustre offensive series led to a punt, which was not well covered and saw Travis Benjamin scamper all the way to the endzone to open the scoring.
Coming into this game, the offensive line was severely disrupted. Starter Menelik Watson was injured against the Giants and replaced by Billy Turner, who has since gone on Injured Reserve. That left Donald Stephenson as the obvious starter, however, he injured his calf during the week. So, Allen Barbre was moved from the guard position and Max Garcia came in to replace him.
All of this change in what was already the Broncos weakest unit is a disaster for a young Quarterback already short on confidence.
Also far from ideal is having these offensivre line woes while facing the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Bosa and Ingram terrorised the Broncos O-line throughout the game. Barbre and left tackle Garrett Bolles were repeatedly called for holding and when not held, Bosa breezed by Barbre almost at will. Melvin Ingram also caused trouble throughout, on one occasion managing to get right up the middle on a stunt to lay a full speed, head-on hit on Siemian, which to his credit he shook off.
Siemian was sacked 5 times, one of them a strip sack. He had a pass tipped by Bosa and rarely had time to set his feet. Under this pressure no Quarterback would have a great day. However, worse than that, Siemian had a terrible day.
On that first drive we saw a back foot, off balance throw that hit the target. We saw many more of those throws, but with less success. Most concerning was Siemian’s awareness of what was around him. That head-on hit from Melvin Ingram was at high speed, but the fact that Siemain seemed not to see him coming was surprising.
On another occasion Chris McCain beat Barbre around the outside and forced Siemian to step up and out of the pocket. Having evaded McCain, Siemian seemed to forget about him and kept the ball loose in one hand allowing McCain to perform a strip sack from behind.
Near the end of the game, Siemian was again flushed out of the pocket and went to throw a short lofted pass to Demaryius Thomas, the pass was horribly overthrown resulting in an interception.
While it is true to say that the offensive line and Quarterback had a terrible day, they were not the only ones; dropped passes, missed blocks, bad running decisions, even poor play-calling. All of these contributed to a frustrating day.
The blame seems to be falling on Siemian and there are calls to start Brock Osweiler, but the problems are too numerous at the moment for a simple Quarterback switch to fix things.
Defence Still Getting it Done
That the Broncos did not lose by more is a testament to the still excellent defence. The Broncos first eight possessions resulted in six punts and two fumbles. The Chargers did not score off those fumbles and even though the defence spent most of the first half on the field they held the Chargers to one offensive touchdown in that first half.
Melvin Gordon was limited to 38 yards rushing, Keenan Allen was held to 41 yards on three receptions. Watching the game it felt like Tight End Hunter Henry had his way with the defence, but half of his 73 yards came on one reception.
Von Miller notched two sacks and Domato Peko one, limiting Philip Rivers to just 183 yards passing.
The Denver defence spent a worrying amount of time on the field, but held the Chargers to a two score lead until the game was already lost when they let Travis Benjamin in for his second score and the icing on the cake.
Where the defence did not contribute was in turnovers. Another week with no interceptions and no forced fumbles.
Is this a worrying trend?
No, it just shows that getting pressure on a veteran Quarterback is not enough. Philip Rivers – and Eli Manning in the previous week – took care of the football. When nothing was available, Rivers got rid of the ball, he did not take risks with throws and essentially forced the Broncos to come up with something magical to take away the football, this they were unable to do.
Contrast with Siemian who was trying to extend plays and throw on the run. The savvy veteran Rivers understands that sometimes there is no positive play available and will check out of it.
Crunch time in Denver
With a depleted offensive line, the Broncos could not stop the pass rush. They could also not establish the run.
It sounds obvious, but when you can’t pass and can’t run, you will lose.
There have been calls for a Quarterback change, with even talk of a big trade for a veteran.
I think there should indeed be a trade, but at right tackle. Even when the Broncos were winning there was pressure off the right side. No Quarterback will be able to win consistently until the tackle position is addressed.
There is a manifold problem in Denver, but while each issue exacerbates the others, so too does every solution help the others.
A good right tackle solidifies the whole offensive line allowing the others to block more effectively. This gives time for the Quarterback to make decisions and plant his feet. The pass opens up the run and then running opens the pass up further.
At three wins and three losses, the Broncos are not dead yet, but they need to turn things around quickly or they will be.
So, what did we learn?
If your tackle can’t block, you need to give him help.
Trevor Siemian really cannot throw effectively on the run.
Even referees will spot simultaneous choke holds by both tackles.
Losing two weeks in a row to teams you would have expected to beat is no fun.
I would really not like to be hit by a full speed Melvin Ingram.
The Broncos had not been shut out since 1992, but I respect Vance Joseph for not taking a pointless field goal just to keep that run going.