The "Quit" is Back?
Preseason is a difficult time to get a feel for the character and emotional make-up of a team and its players. But if Saturday’s performance by the Broncos in Seattle is any indication, this season could end up being a bad dream.
The Broncos played an uninspired, soft, and mistake-prone game; marred by questionable coaching decisions, and a starting QB that went from improved to lost in a self-induced Seattle fog.
The most worrying aspect of the game was the let down the team had after turnovers and other questionable player and coaching mistakes on both sides of the ball.
Bronco fans know all too well, the tendency that past teams had to quit or let up on a game when faced with adversity. Unfortunately, that trait seems to have remained, despite hopes that the problem would leave with Mike Shanahan.
It hasn’t, and after the team "gave up" on Seattle’s final drive of the first half, the second half was so bad that it doesn’t even warrant comment or attention (yes, it was that bad).
The First Half – Hope Turns to Hopeless
The Denver defense opened up the game letting Seattle convert on two third-downs during the first drive; which ended with a third-and-34 yard pass play from Matt Hasselbeck to Deion Butler. The pass was thrown perfectly, but Andre Goodman had a chance to make the play and couldn't find the ball in the air.
McDaniels' defense was uninspired on the drive and soft in coverage. It seemed content letting Seattle throw the ball to wide open receivers underneath.
There was simply no passion.
The first offensive series for Denver saw Kyle Orton lead the Broncos on a 12-play, 78-yard drive. They converted on three third-downs, and Orton threw a perfect pass to Brandon Stokley for a touchdown.
The highlight of the drive was a 26-yard screen to Eddie Royal, where he showed his nifty running skills after the catch. The only black mark on the drive was an incomplete pass to the left on second-and-goal from the three. It was thrown right into coverage, but knocked away from Ken Lucas by Tony Scheffler.
Throughout the preseason, Orton has been making his reads without looking defenders off. He seldom goes to a second or third progression even if the initial receiver is well covered.
Another flaw in Orton’s game is how lackadaisical he is with his play action technique. Orton doesn't try to sell it in the least, and the defense gains an extra half step or more as a result.
On Seattle's second possession, the Denver defense forced a punt after DJ Williams sacked Hasselbeck to end the drive.
On the second Denver drive, Ryan Clady was called on a rare clipping penalty on a 29-yard run by Peyton Hillis to the Seattle 11. Clady’s clip didn’t aid the run, and was a result of not keeping his head up while falling on the back of the legs of the lineman he was trying to block.
Facing a first-and-25, they gave Buckhalter the ball for a four-yard gain and threw a 12-yard pass to Daniel Graham. On 3rd-and-9, McDaniels ran the exact same screen pass to Eddie Royal, which was the same side and third-down situation they’d run the previous series. This time, the Seattle defense was waiting for it and it never had a chance.
Why would you run a gimmick play that relies on catching the defense off guard again? Not to mention, in an identical situation from the previous series? Weird.
Lucky for them, Matt Prater kicked a 53-yard field goal to end the drive.
Seattle’s next two drives ended in punts, with Denver going for one three-and-out, before putting together a nice drive in the second quarter.
Starting on the Denver 13, the Bronco offense pushed the ball all the way to the Seattle four. During the drive, Orton lost his bearings, or more specifically, his awareness of the play clock. The play clock expired four times resulting in two burned time-outs, one delay of game penalty, and one instance where a penalty wasn’t called, even though the play clock was at zero for two seconds when the ball was snapped.
We heard reports of a problem with the helmet communications equipment, but on each play, Orton had plenty of time, and yet was completely oblivious of the play clock. He didn’t even look.
On 1st-and-goal at the four-yard line, McDaniels ran Jordan up the middle for three yards to the one. Then, with three downs to punch it in, he had Orton throw three consecutive times. Orton tried to squeeze the first pass into Gaffney between two defenders, putting the ball in danger again. The second pass hit Gaffney in the back of the end-zone but was dropped. And on the third pass, Orton pulled a "Plummer" and tried to throw a left-handed pass to a group of players where it was picked off. The foggy haze of Seattle was seen wafting around Orton’s head as he left the field.
Why a coach has a struggling QB throw the ball three times with one yard to go for the score, is the first question; and why Orton throws the ball up for grabs, left-handed, on fourth down—when an incomplete pass gives Seattle the ball at the one with three minutes left in the quarter—is the other question. It was amateur hour at Qwest Field, and the 13th man was Orton’s brain fart.
Needless to say, this is where the Denver defense could have risen to the challenge, but again, they allowed Seattle to get beat on third-down with a screen pass for a big gain.
On the play, it appeared that DJ had the coverage of the back coming out of the backfield, but Denver was on an all-out blitz, and they were burned for the second game in a row on the same play. The coaching cannot be considered effective when they can’t shore up weaknesses like covering the back on an blitz.
Seattle took the ball 80 yards in the final three minutes, converting two third-downs and one fourth-down. The Hawks' threw a touchdown pass over Goodman’s head (again) to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Goodman was a step late on the coverage, and throughout the drive, the Broncos played 10-15 yards off the receivers, and seemed content to let Seattle score.
Even Champ Bailey was caught on a key 4th-and-2, and then a 3rd-and-10 pass was completed right in front of him. It appeared he wasn’t even trying.
The first half should have been 17-7, but instead ended 10-14 in Seattle’s favor.
The most disturbing aspect of the first half was the inept play-calling by the coaching staff on the offense; and Orton’s slide from being effective to making bone-head plays in the red-zone.
The defense played well against the run and had three quarterback sacks, but played soft in coverage and couldn’t get off the field on third and fourth downs as a result.
The Second Half – From Bad to Worse
At halftime, I think McDaniels decided to try and run the ball more, and finally use his tight ends in the offense, as there were only two balls thrown to them in the first half; one for the near interception on the first drive, and the other to Daniel Graham for a 12-yard gain.
He kept Orton to start the second half, and after a two-yard carry by Jordan, a short pass to Scheffler was fumbled after the catch, and Seattle returned it to the Denver eight-yard line. The Denver defense stopped Seattle and only allowed a field goal. But you can hear the air being sucked out of them at Qwest Field.
Orton played another series after that on a three-and-out, featuring one run by Hillis for a one-yard loss, and two anemic throws by Orton that weren’t even close.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they had to continue playing the second half, and those looking for a collapse weren’t disappointed.
The second half low-lights included:
- Scheffler’s fumble leading to a Seattle field goal.
- Spencer Larsen forgetting to block a rusher, which resulted in a partially blocked 15-yard punt.
- A Seattle touchdown on 4th-and-1 where the defense again had trouble covering receivers on key downs.
- McDaniels failed to challenge an obvious bobble of a TD reception. The pass was incomplete, and it wasn’t even close.
- A fumbled punt by McKinley lead to another Seattle field goal.
- An injury to Chris Simms on a late and low hit.
- Four sacks of Brandstater by Seattle.
The slide was steady, it was tangible, and it was complete by the time the game mercifully ended.
It is only preseason, and I know you can’t take game results too seriously, but the quit in the team and lackluster job by the coaching staff are areas of concern.
Orton is improving, and if he works on his game these next two weeks, he may be productive enough in the first three games of the season (the easiest and must win games) before facing the real beasts on the schedule.
The glass is half full because…
- Orton was accurate on his throws for the most part, and the offense moved with relative ease.
- The receivers catch most of what is thrown at them and display good moves after the catch.
- The offensive line continues to give Orton good protection.
- The Bronco defense continues to put pressure on the quarterback with three sacks.
- Coverage underneath by the linebackers was improved, although they did miss some key assignments.
- The run defense was solid, although Seattle didn’t really commit much to it.
- Prater hit his only field goal-try, which he needed badly to help his confidence.
The glass is half empty because…
- Orton has tunnel vision. He makes his reads at the line of scrimmage and leaves the defense very little guess work.
- Orton puts no effort into his play action, selling fakes, or looking defenders off where he’s going with the ball. The defense takes full advantage of this, and is usually right on top of the receivers when they do catch the ball.
- Orton makes too many mental mistakes in clock management and the red-zone. He is far from comfortable out there, and it shows.
- The offensive line is struggling to open holes for the running game.
- The running backs do not consistently run hard and are tackled too easily; especially Jordan and Buckhalter.
- The offensive play calling is predictable and does not feature the tight ends nearly enough.
- No pass plays are thrown over 10 yards. To call this passing game dink-and-dunk is an insult to Mouse Davis.
- The defense struggles to get off the field on third and fourth downs.
- Pass coverage is as soft as a baby’s bottom. Very few plays are defended aggressively.
- Special teams struggled in finding someone to field punts and kick-offs. Most of the kicks were either bobbled or not fair caught when they should have been.
- Injuries became a factor with Simms, Smith, and Thomas all leaving the game, although Thomas later returned.
No Minerals in Mile High
Over the years, the Broncos have not fared well when faced with adversity in game situations. Turnovers or major mistakes seemed to deflate the team’s enthusiasm in the past, and lead to sloppier play. I put that on the coaching staff as much as I do the players.
This game could have been a major step in building confidence at the halfway point of preseason, but instead, it ended up a major disappointment, as play deteriorated after the Orton give-away on the goal line.
McDaniels’ play-calling is painful to watch. He throws a lot of "trips" and four-receiver sets out to confuse the defense, but where the ball is going is usually easy to forecast. Defenses have already figured out the Broncos' simple offense.
In the game, Knowshown Moreno wasn’t in the line-up, and that's probably an indicator that McDaniels doesn’t trust the three backs he has fighting for playing time. But with more passes than runs (23 vs. 11), the offensive line will have a hard time getting in sync. When they do attempt running plays, they are slow developing, and most of the time out of the delay/draw/counter shotgun formation, which has yet to work.
McDaniels is also struggling with his overall game management.
Plays are coming in later than they should, substitutions are late, and reviews of plays for possible challenges are not being handled properly. I’m not saying he is the second-coming of Herm Edwards, but he has two more games to improve and get the feel for managing the game from the head coaches’ position.
This team is on the precipice; they could be very good or they could be very bad. The resilience that good teams display was absent in this game, and with a difficult schedule this year, the Broncos are going to have to learn to deal with and overcome adversity. The Head Coach and his staff need to set the tone, and lead by example by game-managing better on all levels.
Orton improved from last week, but seemed to go backwards after the interception. I’m sure he wishes he could have it back, but that isn’t reality.
On the other side, Hasselbeck continually looked defenders off receivers and kept the defense guessing where the ball was going on each throw. I hope Orton reviews the defensive tapes of the game and watches how a good veteran does the little things well: ball handling, play fakes, progressions, reads, and handling adversity. Nobody talks about Hasselbeck as being strong-armed, or mobile, but he’s always a winner when he’s healthy, and Orton could learn a few things by studying him.
Cutler comes to town this weekend, and the comparisons are unavoidable. But Orton needs to show his mental toughness, and work hard on his weaknesses. He needs to come out strong, or I'm afraid his confidence going into the season will be shot.
Orton is not exhibiting the toughness he had in the Windy City. Even though it is only preseason, the whole team and coaching staff needs to grow a pair and toughen up, or this could be a long season for Bronco fans.