Good Morning, Broncos fans! Denver has been a puzzling team so far this season, with all three of its losses featuring late 20+ point deficits and furious comebacks that fell short.
Yesterday's 31-21 loss to the Patriots (Gamebook, ANS boxscore) very much resembled the Week 3 loss to the Texans, with the Broncos defense getting gashed early and often via both the run and pass, before finally finding its way a drive or two too late.
What's the cause? Is it a talent deficit? A team still learning about itself, what with so much new personnel and yet another defensive coordinator?
We've cracked the code here at IAOFM.
Here's the problem with facing versatile and explosive offenses like Houston and New England: they can kill you with the run or the pass, and you'll never know what's coming. Your linebackers have to be stout and instinctive against the run, but athletic enough to cover zones and tight ends.
Denver's man in the middle is neither of those things. Sure, he can hit as hard as the rest of them, as our good friend Matt Schaub just reminded us. But he also happens to miss plenty of reads and tackles, and forget about having him cover a tight end, in what is becoming a tight end league.
Shortcomings aside, Joe Mays is the fulcrum of Denver's defensive strategy.
Hear us out. See, the trick is always to make an offense predictable - and by falling into these insurmountable deficits, the Broncos have been achieving precisely that versus elite offenses. Up 20 or 24 points, who isn't going to run the ball? So the Broncos get gashed, teams decide it's time to just run, and then suddenly Joe Mays is a somewhat effective player again.
That's when Peyton Manning gets to do his thing, but so far he's been dug a hole too deep from which to emerge.
And you thought Bill Belichick was the only innovative coach on the field yesterday? Pshaw. John Fox and Jack Del Rio have created the fall behind so much that nobody in their right mind throws the ball defense, starring Joe Mays.
Okay, we'll be serious now.
Yesterday was all about mistakes, as we will read and hear all week long.
There were the two inexcusable fumbles, first by Demaryius Thomas as the Broncos were marching for an opening tally, the second by Willis McGahee with the team on the cusp of pulling within a single score late, whether three or seven. Manning's strip sack came so quickly, we'll blame Orlando Franklin on that one; it wasn't in the massive blunder category, as were the other two.
McGahee also had the drive-killing drop on 4th-and-1 at the Pats 47, down by seventeen.
In the second quarter, a pair of highly consequential errors were made in a span of three plays: first, Peyton missed a wide open Jacob Tamme on 2nd-and-5 from the New England 39, on a play that would likely have brought Denver down to the 10- or 15-yard line. Following an incompletion on third down, John Fox inexplicably decided to punt.
Advanced statistical analysis in football has had one significant impact (if not far reaching, yet) over all others in recent years: many coaches now understand that the conventional wisdown which says running out a kicking unit on fourth down is just what you do, is just not that hard or fast.
As usual, Bill Belichick was one of the first coaches to gain this understanding, while old-school guys like Fox and Marvin Lewis have yet to get the message. To pick on Lewis for a moment, his risk aversion went a long way to preventing his team from beating the Broncos in Week 2 of 2011, and he backed that up yesterday by attempting a field goal while down four points with three minutes left to play in Cincinnati's 17-13 loss to the Dolphins.
Closing a week during which the endless loop out of Dove Valley was that the Broncos needed to score lots of points to win in New England, Fox decides to punt from the plus-39, with Peyton Manning on his team, and Tom Brady on the other.
This is equivalent to standing pat in blackjack with a soft 17, and the dealer showing an ace. You're facing a stacked opponent, your chances of improving your stead are countered by a slight possibility you'll worsen them, and instead of playing the odds, you get played by them.
Fox, and those who think like him, will likely point to the punt team downing the ball on New England's two-yard line as confirmation of his choice, but it's not.
To wit, punting from the 39 did absolutely nothing for Denver's Win Probability; it was 0.27 before the kick, and it was 0.27 after it.
Aside from playing Joe Mays on third downs, it was the worst decision by anyone on the Denver side yesterday. Point the fingers at McGahee and Thomas for their killer fumbles (as they did themselves), but don't spare Fox while doing so. His choice was almost as bad as a fumble.
Undoubtedly, Thomas can't keep putting the ball on the ground, but like last week, he had a tremendous game outside of his gaffe. Nine catches on eleven targets, 188 yards, and 9.9 Expected Points Added.
Manning, aside from that miss to Tamme, was nearly flawless, with 345 yards, three touchdowns, and 11.3 EPA.
Von Miller was again disruptive, dominant, and omnipresent, and the eyes said he was by far the best player on the field. His EPA backs it up, with his 12.5 figure leading everyone (Manning was second).
The mistakes, they were present and glaring. We all know that such errors are nearly impossible to overcome, especially on the road, and against a team like the Pats.
But don't lose sight of this: the Broncos have three of the best players in the league, in Manning, Thomas, and Miller. Yesterday, they played like it.
Keith Brooking left the game with a concussion, while Chris Kuper was deemed healthy enough to be active, but not enough to start.
At his current pace, Manning would set a personal record for passing yards in a season.
Despite the loss, Demaryius Thomas says he's enjoying learning the ropes from Peyton.
According to Jeff Legwold, Denver's nickel personnel allowed 140 yards on 33 carries yesterday.
Dave Krieger says Fox and Del Rio need to spend some time in the film room this week studying their struggling third down defense; Mark Kiszla rightly takes Fox & Co. to task for their shocking third-quarter decision to run Lance Ball on 3rd-and-4, while Woody Paige typically goes the lazy route in saying Peyton didn't fare better than did Tim Tebow last year.
Thanks to seventeen straight points to close the game and four touchdown passes by Drew Brees, the Saints overcame a 24-14 deficit to beat the Chargers 31-24. Denver remains a game behind San Diego as they prepare to head to the Whale's Vagina for a MNF showdown. During NBC's lineup introductions, San Diego safety Atari Bigby, who was born in Jamaica, offered a special nod to his birthplace. Oh, and Norv sucks.
Kansas City fell to 1-4 after losing to Baltimore 9-6 in a game featuring six turnovers and Brady Quinn's first snaps since 2009 (he was three for three); Quinn entered the game after Matt Cassel suffered a concussion.
Chiefs fans followed through on flying a banner over Arrowhead calling for Scott Pioli's ouster and a benching of Cassel; RT Eric Winston expressed his disgust at Chiefs fans who he said cheered Cassel's exit. But, you know - the Chiefs have the classiest fans in football, and the classiest organization. Star columnist Sam Mellinger says head coach Romeo Crennel has added his name to the lengthy KC firing line with his poor decisions.
Andrew Luck led the Colts back from down 21-3 to stun the Packers 30-27; Luck threw two touchdowns passes and ran for another, and Reggie Wayne had a whopper of a day with 13 catches for a career-high 212 yards.
Minnesota continues to surprise, this time by blowing out the visiting Titans 30-7; Christian Ponder threw two touchdown passes but also two picks.
Pittsburgh evened their record at 2-2 by nipping their in-state rival Eagles 16-14 after a long, late drive by Big Ben & Company.
The Giants spotted Cleveland an early 14-0 lead before pouring it on in a 41-27 win; Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 200 yards, while Victor Cruz, who will appear in a web campaign ad supporting Barack Obama, scored three touchdowns.
Alex Smith (not Joe Montana or Steve Young) led the Niners to a franchise-record 611 yards of offense as they pummeled the Bills 45-3; San Francisco posted 29 first downs to Buffalo's 10.
Seattle is 3-2 after another fine defensive performance, as this time they held Cam Newton and the Panthers to 13 first downs in a 17-13 victory.
Atlanta remains unbeaten at 5-0 after edging Washington 24-17 thanks to 345 passing yards and two TD passes from Matt Ryan. RG3 suffered a concussion in the third quarter and was replaced by Kirk Cousins; Shanny & Co. are appropriately catching some heat for announcing during the game that Griffin had merely been shaken up, and for later calling it a "mild concussion."
Likewise, Chicago backed up their five-pick game against the Cowboys by scoring two pick-sixes in dumping the Jags 41-3; the game was tied at three at halftime, but the Bears piled on 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Brees broke Johnny Unitas's record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, prompting the obvious comparisons. For Doug Farrar's money, the increasingingly complex defenses that Brees faces, give him an edge over Johnny U.
In addition to Cassel and RG3, Troy Polamalu and Bengals RB Bernard Scott were among the notable injuries from yesterday; Scott is feared done for the year.
Forget about Baltimore not having superstar Terrell Suggs for their Week 15 game against Denver; Suggs is apparently expected back within the next month.
As in the case of Washington and RG3, the NFL is investigating why Buffalo hasn't listed Mario Williams on any of their injury reports, despite Williams having complained publicly about wrist pain.