There’s nothing quite like getting your hat handed to you, is there? When you get an old-fashioned whipping, you take it and move onward. There’s a good point in working out what went wrong - there’s no point in taking it too far. This was one of the top teams in the league, fresh off whipping the Steelers in Pittsburgh. They look and play like one of the best, and right now, they are. Denver? Not yet. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
I mentioned this week that of the 53 players on the active roster of Denver in 2008, 32 of them couldn’t even get jobs in the league, playing ball. That means that you’re realistically looking at between 40 and 50 new players, and not all of them are going to be with the team in three more years, either. Some of them are band-aids - I see Jamal Williams that way, and it bothers me that we didn’t fill in a young NT, but that’s the way the draft goes. Or, is it?
ChiBronx made a good point - is it McD’s (and Xanders, and the scouting department) inability to choose talent, or is it preparation? Or, more than anything, is it just that with what Denver had and has had to do to improve, they just aren’t ready yet to take on a team as good as Baltimore on the road. I think, to be fair, that it’s all of the above, but mostly the last. McDaniels is replacing 40+ players. Since those 32 guys hit the streets, Denver has had the best sack man in the league go down, their new receiving TE in Marquez Branson gone to a knee injury, and let’s face it - there’s pretty clearly a reason why Dan Gronkowski was 255th in the draft. He’s a disaster. I generally try to give players a chance and some time, but he’s screwing up nearly every situation he’s in. I don’t know if he can go to the PS, but to be honest, I don’t think that we have an option besides him, anyway. There’s a reason that Richard Quinn isn’t visible. As far as TEs go, we’re in serious straits. I don’t blame McD for the Scheffler situation - The team captains were unanimous in saying that he was a problem. I’d have to say that the McX pair hasn’t been effective with regard to TEs.
Then you’ve got the issues with the CBs. I doubt that anyone could have bet that Alphonso Smith would utterly tank in the NFL. Assume for a moment that we had the 5th or 10th pick in the 2nd round and took him. Would you guess, based on his scouting reports and testing (plus, I assume, interviews) that he’d be completely inept at the NFL level? The lowest rank I saw for him was late second round. But at the same time - that’s what your team is supposed to know at the draft. And, they won’t be perfect, but they need some continuity. Perrish Cox is very good for a rookie - we haven’t seen much of Syd’Quan Thompson.
Gronkowski has made a couple - heck several - bad errors. He dropped a pass, missed a block - we’ll check out his other issues later ths week. His role was supposed to be played by Richard Quinn, who hasn’t worked out at all. Quinn was highly rated coming out of school, but he hasn’t picked up the schemes at all and apparently isn’t intelligent enough for the Broncos’ game. That wasted a second-round draft pick. That essentially forced the trade of Smith for Gronkowski. Gronkowski may improve - after all, he’s just gotten to Denver and barely knows the playbook. He’s also trying to learn fullback - Ted Bartlett swears that we should drop that position, and while I hate it, I agree. I agree that it isn’t going to be effective in this offense (in a WCO, a good fullback is a great advantage, but that’s not our offense). Russ Hochstein looks much like last year - penalties, missed blocks. He and Le Kevin Smith came in a pair of trades that ended up as a 5th-rounder from Denver for the two of them - LK Smith and Hochstein. Hochstein made a couple of mental errors yesterday, and often does. He’s barely good enough to retain, and Smith is gone. That isn’t going well.
The choice of QB - Kyle Orton - was about perfect, but while the receiving corps is generally very good, without an OL, they are limited. Without a running game or a very good pass-blocking OL, you’re going to lose against well-balanced teams that have been together for a while and have great talent. Denver’s talent is a lot better than its record right now, but it isn’t up to the level of the Baltimores or the Pittsburghs. With Doom gone, Jason Hunter was a brilliant pickup. He’s been consistent, aggressive, and rarely makes mistakes. He had Denver’s only sack Sunday, and went 6-3 on tackles. DJ Williams is playing better, leading the team with 10-5 on tackles, which is impressive, but the DL doesn’t seem to be getting penetration, and Robert Ayers is good, but the simple and ugly fact is that Baltimore’s OL was better. Denver was missing too many key people. Goody is out, Moreno is out, Doom is out and Dawk is playing hurt.
Penalties destroyed us. With as much turnover as Denver has had in this offseason, while there are players that are there with the playbook - like Eddie Royal and Lloyd - too many like Kevin Vickerson and the young guys are doing the same things that we did last year. I’ll grant that it’s also fair to point something out - Baltimore’s line has been together for a while, and they have great players. It took time to develop, and Denver hasn’t had that kind of time. As a result, the Broncos’ offense isn’t on the field for long because there’s no run. Every incompletion stops the clock, so our D is on the field for a long time. Once they’re worn down, Joe Flacco has too much time and we’re toast. We also aren’t stopping the run, and again - it’s mistakes. Missed assignments, players getting pushed out of position. Denver is NOT a physical team, at least not two weeks in a row. They were with the Titans. They weren’t yesterday, and traveling twice to the east coast does put a strain on your players.
Did I expect to win? No. Did I expect a more competitive game? Yes. 5 drives of over 70 yards is horrific. That’s what Denver gave up. In other words, they aren’t playing any better this week than they did last year against the Ravens in Baltimore. And what the heck were they doing punting with 4 minutes to go? That’s giving up, and I really didn’t expect that of McDaniels.
It’s as bad as it sounds. Don’t mistake this for a go-rah. There isn’t one. 10 penalties? This is something that as Denver fans, we’re not used to. One thing that you could usually count on Mike Shanahan for, over the years, was a team that didn’t make a lot of mental errors. They made more as the process with Shannie kept going downhill. Denver did last year, and I expected that. It was the first year, a complex system on both offense and defense. Did I expect a better performance this week? Yes. And it was a huge disappointment.
Denver can’t run the ball. That means that the coverages that Denver sees are different. One small piece of good news was that Orton stayed on his feet more than I had expected. There were some excellent blocking plays, but the Ravens could just sit back and cover while their line fought for pressure on Orton. And, if that failed, Denver was going to have to try to run the ball, and that’s been a disaster. Andre Brown got nothing - but he also got hit at or behind the line. I think that he lost points with the coaches when he immediately fell straight backwards. Denver is going to have to find a solid RB, and they are going to have to give him at least a small hole.
Brandon Lloyd is a vicious go-route runner. I was surprised not to see Eric Decker or Matthew Willis, but Lloyd caught two perfect long passes for TDs, and he could do more of that. Honestly, if we had a running game, the ability to control the flow of the game would have been, if not beautiful, at least possible. Orton managed to break 300 again, and is the 6th-best in the history of the game right now in terms of total passing yards over the first 5 games. That has to tell you something - he needs a running game and some blocking, and he’s capable of taking Denver deep into the playoffs.
And, it may not happen this year, unless the Broncos pull a running game out of somewhere. Brown didn’t impress, to put it mildly. Laurence Maroney got 4.5 yards per carry, but on few carries. Correll Buckhalter was terrible and Brown lost 1 yard. But to be fair - Buck is the same guy who ran wild last year. Sure, perhaps age caught him this offseason, but the play of the OL in terms of drive blocking and gap blocking was mediocre-to-terrible - and it showed.
That is the problem with rookies and injuries - both will bring in players who will make mistakes. After a few years, if you’re doing your job, that doesn’t happen. Players know their role, those who were starters become backups. ChiBronx is right, though - if you don’t make good personnel decisions, it’s going to show, and you’re not going to grow the way you want to. Denver has a so-so record right now. They’ve gotten Brandon Lloyd, let him develop, he grew as a person and he’s deadly. So is Royal. Jabar Gaffney is usually a clutch player, although less so yesterday.
It hurt. Denver got beaten in a lot of ways. You can always find the ones the refs missed - like the face mask penalty that should have been called on Eddie Royal’s catch - the drive stalled, but would have had substantially more yardage and might have kept going. I’m going to check the film today for the hit on DT - it looked like the upper hit that did the damage was illegal. We’ll see.
But it’s back to the drawing board for Denver. They aren’t stopping the run, and they aren’t starting their own. Fix those two things alone, and this is still a team that can win. But they aren’t there yet.