Defense-defense was the theme of the day in the game between the 6-0 Denver Broncos and the 3-3 Baltimore Ravens. So just for good measure, any way you say it or spell it, you knew it would be prevalent in Sunday’s NFL contest.
So now knowing that, the first huge mistake of the Josh McDaniels era in the regular season is that the Broncos did not choose to defer until the second half. Instead the Broncos chose to get the opening kickoff and go on offense. They then promptly went three and out with a very poor first series and suddenly the battle of field position was predictably a bigger issue than the credit being given to it.
Knowing that field position was going to be an issue in this game going into it, why the Broncos chose to go on offense immediately left a few fans a little baffled at the decision.
So maybe you’re surprised, maybe you’re not, but trust this.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated, but the team with the better scheme, mental preparedness, and coaching won this game on Sunday.
This could have been a statement game for the Broncos, instead the Ravens made the statement and the Broncos organization has to digest a few painful lessons that came out of this game Sunday.
The Denver Broncos now have to address how to better complement their short pass game by taking deeper shots down field.
The Broncos also learned that they should make a commitment to the run game when it is working, especially against a physical football team.
Finally, the Broncos should have learned that if they don’t address what they learned on Sunday they should expect their defense to eventually not be able to cover the shortfalls of the offense.
The Ravens Showed Up Ready to Play
Credit the Baltimore Ravens for coming ready to play on Sunday against the Broncos. From the very first snap to the end, the Baltimore Ravens showed they wanted to desperately win their seventh game of the season against the Denver Broncos.
After the opening kickoff the Broncos went on offense and the Ravens sent a message from their defense along with two outside linebackers blitzing from their 3-4 set. Raven backer Jared Johnson was locked on Brandon Marshall and failed to deliver the ball to him or even look for the safety valve. The Broncos tried a couple of small screens and that was that on offense until they got their first drive going in the second half.
The Baltimore defense was punishing in more than one way and ready for the Broncos short passing game. Herein lies the fault of the Broncos offensive attack and it will come under future attack as well. Without the implementation of a deep passing game, defenses like the Ravens can easily and more readily rally from zone coverage to snuff out any short and mid-range plays. This was the case on Sunday.
From the start the Ravens had an intensity that was missing on the Broncos offensive side of the ball, and eventually over time, the Broncos defense couldn’t match their production.
While both teams were coming off of byes it looked like the Broncos offense was still on vacation or in serious need of another one. That sort of effort coming from an undefeated team was pathetic; it showed a group of guys believing more in the press clippings about them than the need to work harder to get the job done right.
The Ravens were also able to inflict pain and punishment on the Broncos in forcing the only turnover of the game. Near the end of the first quarter Knowshon Moreno nullified all the good that was starting to be produced in the ground game. On a 2nd-and-9, Kyle Orton made a horrible choice on a double pump to Knowshon Moreno. This gave the play less time to develop and less time for Moreno to control the ball. Moreno briefly had the ball in his hands with two feet on the ground as his shoulders turned up field; almost as quickly he was lit up like an early holiday greeting and immediately fumbled the ball. The Ravens All-Pro safety Ed Reed showed his metal on the hit that dislodged the ball from the Broncos rookie running back. The turnover led to an early 3-0 lead for the Ravens but credit the Broncos defense for being tough in the early going and holding the Ravens to only six points in the first half.
Couple the bad field position and the only turnover of the game against the Broncos with poor punting from new arrival, veteran punter Mitch Berger, the Ravens won the battle of field position almost by default alone.
Broncos Offensive Line
The Broncos have a very athletic offensive line, but it came under fire on Sunday and a big injury occurred early at right tackle when Ryan Harris went down. It appears that the injury could be a broken big toe and possibly affecting two of his toes. On the afternoon the Broncos offensive line had problems mitigating the pass rush of the Ravens especially versus a strong front four and a 3-4 blitz scheme. This is something that has to be corrected immediately if the Broncos are to have success on offense the rest of this season.
Certainly it’s not a time to panic but a time to give a full evaluation across the board. When one of the stronger offensive lines in football has problems the whole game plan needs some further review. The Broncos should have had greater anticipation about the Ravens defensive attack and due to the lack of a crisp game plan and proper adjustments along the way the offensive line was made to look as poor as they have been in some time.
Kyle Orton’s Poor Performance
Kyle Orton entered Sunday’s contest with nearly a 64% completion percentage, nine touchdowns, and one interception. Orton saw his completion percentage fall only two points while his game average in yardage was nearly 110 yards under par.
What this statistic really reinforces is that if the team does not address mixing up the play calling more the overall production will go down.
Essentially if you complete 62% of your passes but aren’t moving the ball consistently or causing headaches for the defense then this statistic is irrelevant.
The one time the Broncos really did challenge the Ravens was on their first scoring drive of the second half when they opened up the offense and wound up with a touchdown.
The overall lack of production from the Broncos clearly stemmed from the lack of a consistent attack to put pressure on a Baltimore defense that was dictating the outcome of the game.
Sure the Broncos had 17 first downs to Baltimore’s 16 however the game is about consistency and dictating play. The Broncos earned the majority of first downs in an inconsistent manner rendering the output useless.
Again, the Ravens were able to control the game because they were not being challenged enough on defense to stop the Broncos offense.
Poor Special Teams Play
With the opening kickoff of the second half Ravens cornerback turned kick returner Lardarius Webb went 95 yards after hitting the seam just right and went untouched for a touchdown. That play put the Ravens in control of the football game with the score 13-0.
Conversely, Eddie Royal returned two punts for two yards and six kickoffs for an average of 18 yards a return.
To add more salt to the wound, the Broncos constantly lost the battle of field position in the kicking game. Newly aquired punter Mitch Berger could only muster a 36.3 net and an average of 38.4 yards on eight punts.
In a nutshell it was the sort of effort that just isn't going to get the job done.
Broncos Defense Worn Down by Ravens
Don’t misconstrue this point as a problem with the Broncos defense, overall the Broncos still have their MOJO cranking on defense. The problem here is the failure of the offense to cover the defense. The utter failure to control the tempo on offense and the clock led to the eventual demise of the Broncos defense.
It would be wrong to pin the loss on the Broncos defense entirely. There is one issue that this team wound up losing down the stretch of the football game. The Broncos defense began to lose some composure in a mild form as they were eventually losing the battle against the Ravens rushing attack late in the game.
The Ravens were more intense on defense than the Broncos were when it came to shutting down the opposition. This is also a key mental note to make as the team will not be afforded those sorts of opportunities to bounce back from down the stretch.
Overall, the Broncos held the Ravens in check with a short field, but they needed to find better ways to disrupt the deeper penetration by Joe Flacco and company.
The Final Summary: Denver’s Schemes Failed Where Baltimore’s Did Not
It all goes back to a good offense being a team’s best defense. On Sunday the Broncos offense and their play calling were poor at best.
The most important point here, however, is that the offense needs to mix up the play calling more. The offensive scheme should have been more robust and daring in finding a willingness to go deeper with some of the pass routes. Additionally, the Broncos started to have some good spurts of running the ball but failed to keep the momentum going. This all happened because the Broncos were forcing short passes when they weren’t really open inside the Ravens short zone coverage. Additionally the routes the Broncos chose to use had to struggle for first down yardage.
In essence that is not the way to attack a team like the Ravens. Because the Ravens are so intense on defense you have to make a commitment to out physical them and out smart them in the pass game. The way the Ravens played is the way they always play; there was nothing new under the sun there. The Broncos needed to be creative in how they schemed for this game and they fell very short of their goal. Very good defenses like the Ravens will force the other teams’ hand. Unless there is an adequate response the team is in trouble on offense.
The reason the Ravens offense had success was because they weren’t afraid to challenge the defense of the Broncos. That was the clear difference in the football game. The Ravens offense decided to get physical in the running game and stretch the Broncos secondary. The Denver Broncos failed on offense because they failed to execute in a similar fashion to the way the Baltimore Ravens did on offense.