BRONCOS

It’s not just the losing, it’s that the script stays the same for the Broncos

Nov 13, 2022, 5:41 PM
Russell Wilson sacked...
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Denver Broncos of recent years have become like a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. You turn on a game, and you basically know what you’re going to get.

The details change, and the general story arc remains the same.

The only difference is that the saccharine-sweet endings of the paint-by-numbers holiday fare are replaced by the Broncos picking bits of grass out of their teeth after being knocked into the ground once again.

This time, it was a 17-10 loss to Tennessee.

Injuries? Going from bad to worse. By the time Graham Glasgow succumbed to a shoulder injury, the Broncos were on their No. 3 options at left tackle, right tackle and center.

Predictably, Russell Wilson found himself dodging a fusillade of blue-on-blue Titans. They hit him 5 times and sacked him once in 23 pass plays before halftime. In the second half — with the Broncos literally out of backup linemen in uniform after Glasgow joined the injured Billy Turner in the locker room — he absorbed 13 hits and 4 sacks in 25 pass plays.

Third downs? Still a problem. Denver went 4-of-17 on third downs — although, it must be noted, the Broncos’ two longest gains came on third down — a 35-yard pass to Kendall Hinton and a 66-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Jalen Virgil.

Those two plays were all that saved the Broncos from complete offensive embarrassment. They gained 101 yards on those two snaps, and 212 yards on the other 71 — an average of under 3 yards per play.

And after converting four of their first eight third-down tries, they went 0-for-9 the rest of the way.

“The third down is what’s continually gotten us,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said.

But first and second down are a problem, too. The Broncos’ average third-down distance needed Sunday was 8.1 yards. Seven of those third downs were third-and-10-or-more.

Same as it ever was.

AS FOR THE DEFENSE?

“The defense did their job,” Hackett said.

It wasn’t perfect. But when you hold Derrick Henry to fewer than 3.0 yards per carry and under 60 rushing yards in total, you’re supposed to win. Teams that did that were 10-2 against the Titans. Now, after the Broncos’ loss, they’re 10-3.

“That was No. 1 for us: Take him down first, and then hopefully play off the pass on that one,” inside linebacker Josey Jewell said. “I thought we did a pretty good job, but still, there were too many big plays on that end.”

Specifically, the third-quarter flea-flicker.

And that laid bare the defense’s non-existent margin for error.

A rookie cornerback — Damarri Mathis — slipped. A No. 4 safety making his first career start — P.J. Locke — got caught up with Mathis. And with both on the ground, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine had a zip code to himself near the Titans sideline. Once Ryan Tannehill received the pitchback, he delivered an on-target pass. And when 13-year veteran Kareem Jackson missed the tackle, the Broncos were behind to stay.

“People just need to be able to worry about their assignment on that one. I’m sure we’ll talk about it tomorrow and get that fixed,” ILB Josey Jewell said.

One doesn’t doubt that the defense will fix it. Most reserves on that side of the ball eventually prove worthy. Locke’s game was solid Sunday. Mathis has steadily improved in coverage since making his first start against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Yet the point stands: It shouldn’t come down to one play. If the Broncos offense was at all efficient, it wouldn’t.

Same as it ever was.

SO, WHAT’S NEXT?

“I think you can always go on a run in this league,” Hackett says. He then noted the players who will return from injuries.

And, yes, the Broncos will — at minimum — get KJ Hamler, Justin Simmons, Baron Browning and Randy Gregory back in the coming weeks. Assuming the Broncos “dodged a bullet” on Jerry Jeudy’s ankle injury, as Hackett suggested could be the case, the third-year receiver will return, too.

But the Broncos weren’t exactly tearing up the league at closer to full strength, either. That’s the rub.

The offense struggled with most of its pieces intact. It struggled with an offensive line down to third-teamers at three spots — against a Titans team engulfed in a tsunami of its own injuries, to boot.

It was a loss cut from the same template of so many in recent Broncos years.

The offense remained stuck in the mud.

The defense played heroically. Its mistakes were few – but with just 10 points on the board, it only took one major miscue to doom its efforts.

And thus, the Broncos need of a miracle run to be in the playoffs. Just like the previous five years in which hope died when the weather cooled.

Same as it ever was.

***

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It’s not just the losing, it’s that the script stays the same for the Broncos