As much as everyone in Bronco Nation wanted the win streak to continue all season, last week's sobering loss at the hands of the Ravens made clear that all the tricks and gimmicks of Coach McDaniels' schemes were getting figured out. Monday night's game against the Steelers further solidified that.
Without some deep component to the passing game, the Broncos are in for a rough second half of the season.
The defensive play of the team is clearly better than last year's squad, a testament to the coaching prowess of Mike Nolan, ever under-appreciated during his tenure in San Francisco. The defense went stride for stride with Pittsburgh into halftime, something that the 2008 defense could've only dreamed of. But no defense can be expected to win a game while being complemented with a three-and-out offense.
Not to take away from Pittsburgh's stout defensive effort, but the Broncos flaccid offense was the reason the Steelers were able to come away with the win. Some observations on the offense thus far:
(1) We have two run plays: a single back dive with or without TE motion, and an I-dive with or without motion. It seems to be lost upon Coach McDaniels that there are other running lanes than up the middle. While none of the running backs are outright burners, an outside run could net a huge gain simply because no one thinks Denver will ever try it.
(2) Kyle Orton is generally accurate, but can't throw past 15 yards: This one was a given going into the season. I honestly like Orton, especially in light of how harshly he has been compared to Jay Cutler since the trade was announced. But his limitations are now being heavily exploited, and unless McDaniels changes some playcalling and throws deep, there is no reason for any defense to not stack everyone within seven yards of the line, blitz all the time, and bump the receivers off their routes. Orton can't run well enough to make defenses pay for doing this either.
(3) We seem to have about two pass plays as well: The RB/WR screen pass has been gobbled up each of the last two weeks by talented defenses. Used sparingly, its a good utility play with the potential for huge gains. Used several times a week, it has become predictable, especially since the entire defense is playing up anyway. The other route is to send Marshall, Royal, or Stokely on a slant and hope they get a step. I guess you could conceivably call the lobbed jump-balls to Marshall a play too, but after Troy Polamalu nearly took it out of Marshall's hands this week, McDaniels needs to scrap that one for a while too.
(4) Our offensive line gets scared by the hype, and then dominated: The Ravens and Steelers both have a solid front seven, but by the way our offensive line let rushers through all game long, you would've thought Orton a tackling dummy.
When the receivers get bumped off their routes, Orton has a bad habit of second-guessing himself, where he telegraphs where he wants to go with the ball with a half-hearted pump fake. See the play against Baltimore were poor Knowshon Moreno got lit up by safety Ed Reed because Orton practically shouted he was dumping it off to the flat.
I want to see some of last year's top performers get back in the mix, namely Peyton Hillis and Tony Scheffler. I can't comprehend why Hillis isn't getting more use in short yardage than he was last year (other than if its just because he is Shanahan's guy). And Scheffler has the speed to get open, and the size to out-leap most defenders.
Furthermore, I don't think that Knowshon Moreno has had a run longer than 10-12 yards all season long. For a guy who was touted as the top RB in the draft, I want to see more out of him. Terrell Davis was much less lauded and a late round pick. I know Moreno's still a rookie, but I haven't seen much of the explosive playmaking ability that was constantly on display in his college days.
A 6-2 start is still a great for a team that was given an ice cube's chance in hell this season. And with games against Washington, Oakland, and two against Kansas City, Denver is still a lock in my mind for at least a 10-6 finish. But Baltimore and Pittsburgh have now clearly exposed the way to beat Denver's offense. It's time for Kid Belichick to get a little creative and expand that playbook.