So that was weird. That was the best and most complete football the Rams have played all season. From your side of things, what were the Broncos' issues in the first half? We're used to coming up big early and then falling out of games. After that touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders, it felt like another meltdown was coming. But what did you see in the first half that allowed the Rams to build up a lead going into halftime?
There were two glaring issues in my eyes. One, the Broncos never tried to get the running game going. On the first two drives they ran the ball twice and passed it twelve times. There is no sort of balance and with a patchwork offensive line against that front is a recipe for disaster.
The other was time management. This is not the first game the Broncos have started off slowly and struggled to put points on the board. Eventually they seem to find a rhythm and are capable of scoring points in bunches. At the end of the first half, they had three time outs left and 2 minutes to play. John Fox waited until third down to call a timeout (23 seconds remaining). I suppose the thinking was that a big return could put the Broncos in prime position for a FG try at least. Instead the kick was fair-caught at the Denver 17, Manning came in and took a knee to end the half.
This sequence happened right after the Rams blew their coverage and Manning hit Sanders for a deep score. The Broncos could have had a shot against prevent defense. Instead John Fox wasted an opportunity.
At half the score was 13-7 St. Louis. Defensively, the Broncos were beat one on one when Kenny Britt blew past rookie Bradley Roby on a post pattern and the safety to that side had already bit on an underneath dig route. The Rams had three offensive drives that resulted in points, the biggest reason why is they ran the ball and kept the chains moving on manageable 3rd downs.
In the second half, we finally saw the Rams play a full game. It was missing some offense to complete drives, but the three field goals at least kept us afloat. The defense, though, was lights out. What happened to the offense? Was it a matter of the injuries and the impact it had on Peyton's ability to run the offense?
I believe the Broncos lost Julius Thomas in the first half and he was replaced by Jacob Tamme. The injury that seemed to mess with the Broncos offense the most was the concussion to Emmanuel Sanders on the 1st drive in the 3rd quarter. The Broncos run their offense primarily out of 11 personnel (3-wide) and were left with a rotation of Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell, Wes Welker, and Jacob Tamme. With our other TE out of the game, it limited what the Broncos could do personnel wise (no 2 TE sets to help the running game), and it also took away Peyton Manning's most trusted weapon. Sanders has become a go-to target for Manning and with the other issues along the line made Manning press his throws. He locked onto Jacob Tamme, who had a lot of one on one matchups, but not someone who can exactly impact the game the way Julius Thomas does, as a result we saw two interceptions thrown in the 2nd half.
I think one of the aspects not being talked about as much as it impacted the game, understandably, is the rushing game for both teams. Yall never really looked interested in getting anything out of the ground game while the Rams quietly had their best running game of the year. If I was to oversimplify things, I think part of what tipped the balance of the game was the fact that you guys only ran the ball 9 times while the Rams had a season high attempts by the primary running back in 29 by Tre Mason. What are your thoughts on the impact from a lack of a rushing attack and the Broncos' running defense?
The Broncos need balance, bottom line. They have runners capable of gaining yardage, but the running game is just like anything else, it needs rhythm. If you're not going to dedicate enough time to trying to get it going, there's no way it is going to be there when you need it.
On the defensive side of the ball, I believe the Broncos are missing MLB Nate Irving more than some expect. He was one of the keys to why the Broncos running game was so dominant throughout the season. The Broncos defense has shut down a lot of impressive runners as the season has progressed so I'm more inclined to give them a pass and call that game an anomaly.
Obviously, recency bias puts a spin on things. Yall are still 7-3 and in prime striking position to claim one of the first round byes. Is there anything though that you learned about the team that has bigger implications beyond week 11? Was there something bubbling under the surface that really came to light on Sunday?
This team may be 7-3 but I don't see the same mental toughness that we came to expect last season. Last season the Broncos faced injury after injury, had to fight back in games and score a ton of points to help out a porous defense, but you always thought they had a shot. This season the same feeling is not there. If things aren't going right, there is no confidence that things will be corrected.
The biggest issue on the team right now is the offensive line. Until the Broncos get that fixed they are going no where in the tournament. Until they run the ball with some consistency, they will remain one dimensional. I'll face a one dimensional team with mental toughness issues any day of the week, Peyton Manning or not.
How do you guys fix the issues moving forward? Yall have a really tough stretch from now until the week 17 game against Oakland. What do you guys need to do that you didn't yesterday in order to get that first round bye and wrap up home field advantage for the postseason?
You guys can do us a solid and sweep the season series from New England haha. Seriously though, the Broncos have an uphill climb to overtake New England. They need to win out and hope the Patriots drop two games. They still have the inside track on the 2 seed but will have a tough road game against division rival Kansas City in what might end up being the game for the West. For the Broncos to right the ship and get into the postseason with some momentum, they need to fix the offensive line. The best fix seems to be signing Richie Incognito to play LG, shifting Orlando Franklin back to RT, and moving Louis Vasquez back to his RG spot. As it stands, the Broncos have a starting RT who's really a guard, a starting RG who's really a backup center, a Center who's really a backup utility lineman, and a LG who's really a RT. If the Broncos do not find some stability with their front 5 this team will be one and done, guaranteed.
Thanks to Bronco Mike for the time.