As the ultimate professional team sport, very seldom are there games that are blown by two individuals like the Broncos had against the Colts last week. Josh McDaniels continued to show a remarkable lack of imagination with his play-calling in the red-zone. Rookie Perrish Cox was exposed badly by Peyton Manning and his two receivers, Austin Collie and undrafted rookie Blair White.
Offensive game-planning 101: “All warfare is based on deception.” (Sun Tzu)
Football is hardly warfare, but there are parallels that properly reflect the Broncos’ lack of production in the red-zone this year. In no game was this as obvious as it was against the Colts. All of the running plays were scripted toward the same holes and from mostly the same formations. The throws that Kyle Orton did make were too often fade, outside, or sideline routes. Instead of using the whole field as he had done while racking up over 500 yards passing on the day.
McDaniels knows his young offensive line is composed of players that excelled in college in pass protection. Not one of the players coming from a team that ran the ball a majority of the time. He also knows his running backs aren’t healthy. They haven’t played much behind this line due to injury in the pre-season or because they came to the team late via trade. With that being the case, why run the ball so predictably from power formations all of the time and try to muscle the ball into the end-zone?
A coach should know the team’s weaknesses and when the offensive is particularly weak in an area. The defense knows it as well and it is up to the offensive coordinator to call plays that scheme away from those weakness using a variety of methods including;
- Counter or misdirection runs.
- Swing passes or screens to the outside.
- Spread formation and use of four receiver sets.
- Throw to the tight ends.
- Use the middle of the field instead of throwing everything to the sidelines and corner of the end zone.
There is plenty of blame that can be put on the offensive line for not opening up bigger holes. And even more on the running backs that can’t punch it through even though they make it to the line of scrimmage without being touched. Coaches don’t help the situation by being so predictable that almost every fan knows where the play is going each and every time. This problem is a carry-over from last year. Unless it improves, the Broncos offense is in big trouble. With five trips to the red-zone, the offense left at least 18-30+ points off the board they should have scored and the complexion of the game changed dramatically.
Perrish Cox’s Day Off
A major key to the loss was the poor play of rookie Perrish Cox. Cox was pressed into a starting role due to the injury to starter Andre Goodman. He played most of the game opposite Champ Bailey who was assigned to Reggie Wayne.
A brief rundown of Cox’s day;
- 1st Quarter - muffs (fumbles) the Indy punt late in the first quarter, and instead of the Broncos having the ball the result was a Colts 6-0 lead as the Broncos defense was able to hold them to a field goal.
- 2nd Quarter - on the sole Indy touchdown drive of the first half, Cox let rookie and practice squad player Blair White open for a 10 yard completion to the Denver 15 on a second-and-nine play after Kyle Orton’s interception. Letting an undrafted rookie beat you inside is inexcusable at the NFL level and Cox looked lost.
The first half result was that Cox was directly involved in and responsible for at least 3 of Indy’s 13 points and possibly more if he had just caught the punt and played the rookie White competently on the key 2nd down.
- 3rd Quarter - on the Colt’s second drive of the 2nd half, and the Colts facing a 1st and 20 from the Denver 32 yard line, Collie caught a quick pass in the slot that went for 27 years to the Denver 40-yard line. On the play Cox played opposite White, to the outside of Collie, but allowed himself to be sealed off by White. He looked like he quit on the play the minute the pass was completed. If Cox makes any kind of play on the tackle, which he should going one-on-one with a receiver, the gain is less than 10 yards and puts the Colts in 3rd and long. At the conclusion of the same drive Cox was burned by White again. This time on a fade route after White faked an inside route like the one he’d run before. The result was a touchdown and a 20-10 Colts lead.
- 4th Quarter – 2nd and 9 on the Denver 23 yard line. With the score 20-17, Cox was again burned by Collie. This time to the outside when he misplayed the ball in the air. He lost the receiver behind him and the Colts went up 27-17 and the Broncos faced a two score deficit.
Cox is a rookie. I guess everyone likes to give rookies a free pass. But he was put in a position to make plays and he couldn’t even make the simple ones. Both of the Colt second-half touchdowns came at his expense. He let key drives stay alive due to his lack of ability to make the plays he’s supposed to be capable of.
Part of the blame has to go to the defensive coaches for not going to other players in place of Cox. Which must not speak well for their confidence in Cassius Vaughn and Syd’Quan Thompson. But had Cox played his position adequately it would have been a different game for the Broncos on defense and the offense wouldn’t have had to play from behind.
The commentators and general media like to push their jock-sniffing, pro-Manning, agenda and make it sound like he’s not beatable. But the throws he made against Cox were not miraculous or water-to-wine miracles. They were made possible by a Broncos cornerback that had a very bad day.
If the Broncos are to succeed against their next three opponents (Titans, Ravens, and Jets), Josh McDaniels needs to get more creative in the red-zone. The Bronco defense needs to either get Andre Goodman healthy, get a lot better performance out of Perrish Cox, or put someone else in who can do the job right.