The Broncos have lost four straight and are officially on the hot seat and can watch their hopes of making the postseason blow up with another loss on Sunday night to the Patriots. Denver is limping into this one at 3-5 and the reason they’re struggling has to do with the offense.
The defense has been holding up their end of the bargain despite last week’s anomaly in Philadelphia where everything that could go wrong did. But Denver’s offense has scored just 52 points during the current four-game losing streak. And 14 of those points came in garbage time when the game was already lost in Philly. That won’t win many games and the team is struggling to find the answers to right the ship.
Here are a few of our first impressions of the Broncos before Sunday night’s matchup.
Carousel Under Center: Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been benched and the team has turned to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler started in place of an injured and aging Peyton Manning in 2015 and played well. The highlight of his career could easily be the Sunday night game where he beat the Patriots in a thrilling overtime win. However, soon after Denver’s Super Bowl win, Osweiler bristled at GM John Elway’s waffling on whether to sign the young QB to an extension or to sign Manning to a one year deal.
Osweiler bolted to Houston for a big money contract, who could blame him? But he quickly flamed out with the Texans and with them drafting DeShaun Watson, they shipped Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. And he couldn’t make the team there, despite the woes of the QB position in Cleveland. With the injury to QB Paxton Lynch, he’s was brought back full circle to the Broncos.
He didn’t play well in Philadelphia last week, but neither did any of the other players. Now the team is hoping he can catch lightning in a bottle twice against the Patriots and hold the season together (with their defense) until they know what they have in Lynch, who Elway spent a first-round draft pick on in 2016. He’s getting healthier and if Osweiler doesn’t want to be replaced again in Denver, Sunday night is a big one.
Running Game Needs to be the Focus on Sunday: In Denver’s first few games of the 2017 season, they ran the ball down the throat of their opposition and jumped out to a 3-1 start and people were already pencilling them in for a long playoff run, thanks in no small part to their dominant defense.
A big part of their quick start was the running game. Running back C.J. Anderson was averaging 82.5 yards per game, (nearly 100 in their three wins). But during the four-game losing streak, Anderson’s production has plummeted. He’s gotten only 152 yards the past four weeks with 78 of them coming against the Giants.
But don’t dismiss the Denver running game, or in case you need a refresher for your memory, think back to that snowy game in 2015. Anderson ran for 113 of Denver’s 179 yards and that running game opened up a big game for Osweiler who passed for 272 yards.
Denver as a team are averaging 4.2 yards per rush, which is exactly what Anderson is averaging. Jamaal Charles is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and Devontae Booker is tops with a 4.6 yard per carry average. Defensively for the Patriots here is where the game will be won or lost.
The Patriots aren’t doing a great job of stopping the run and with Malcolm Brown and Dont’a Hightower out, it will make the running game a harder option to stop. When Denver has run well, they’ve won. When they haven’t, their quarterback play has suffered and they’ve lost. It isn’t hard to see where the Patriots defensive focus will be this week.
Turnovers Have Plagued the Team During Recent Skid: Like everyone else with an offense that is struggling, the Broncos can’t afford turnovers and that is exactly what they’ve been doing during the recent losing streak. Denver right now is woeful -12 in the turnover department. One of the reasons that Siemian was benched was turnovers. In the seven games that he started, he turned the ball over 15 times with 10 interceptions and five fumbles.
On the flip side of that, the Denver defense will be looking to feed off of the normally raucous crowd of their home field and force a couple of turnovers of their own. They are feeling a bit salty after allowing 51 points in Philly and the Patriots are always Public Enemy #1 for them.
Again, going back to that 2015 game, what turned the tide? A turnover. Chris Harper muffed a punt in the second half and the Patriots went from having a double-digit lead to quickly being down and having to force an overtime. Turnovers will be key to both teams this week.
Don’t Expect Defensive Meltdown At Home: Pundits are entirely too quick to throw dirt on this Broncos team, especially the defense. Even many Broncos fans on social media have been quick to predict gloom and doom this week as the two teams will meet on primetime Sunday night.
Besides giving up the 51 points last week, particularly galling for members of the defense was HOW they gave them up. Philadelphia had over 400 yards of offense but 197 of them were on the ground. Entering the game last week, Denver had allowed just 510 yards rushing or 72.8 yards per game.
Von Miller spoke about that game and how the team was approaching the rest of the season this week to ESPN. “We are where we are right now,” Miller said. “Right now, [Sunday] … we’re not a good football team.
“We still have time. We still have time to be great,” he continued. “We’re not a great football team right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a great football team within us. But [Sunday], we’re not a good football team, offensively, defensively, special teams, whatever. We’re just not good right now.”
Don’t expect to see Dion Lewis running wild this week. Look for the Broncos to be much better and back to their normal selves on Sunday night.