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Sluggish Colts-Broncos Game Shows QB Trades Rarely Result in Quick Fix

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2022

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 06: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos scrambles against the Indianapolis Colts at Empower Field at Mile High on October 6, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Broncos QB Russell Wilson (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

We'll freely admit it. Thursday night's game between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos looked like a stellar matchup over the summer.

The Colts were coming off a nine-win season and added quarterback Matt Ryan in the offseason. The Broncos had the league's third-ranked scoring defense in 2021 and added a future Hall of Famer in Russell Wilson.

But the 12-9 Indy OT win Thursday night was a snoozer that produced more social-media jokes than offensive fireworks.

Wade Phillips @sonofbum

I think both team should consider punting on 1st down.

Though the defenses played well, this was an exhibition of bad quarterback play—a far cry from what we would have expected a few months ago.


Over the past few weeks, the potential for a sluggish low-scoring game became apparent. Neither offense had been rolling, and neither was getting great quarterback play. The Broncos scored just 66 points during their 2-2 start, while the Colts had just 57 during their 1-2-1 run.

To be perfectly fair, both teams have underlying issues. Denver has been plagued by questionable play-calling and clock management. Struggles with managing time forced rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett to hire a game-management assistant. But that didn't solve the bewildering play selection, especially late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.

The Colts lack receiver depth behind Michael Pittman Jr. and have an offensive line with some question marks. Thursday, Indy tried moving Matt Pryor from left to right tackle and inserting rookie left tackle Bernhard Raimann into the lineup. The Colts' pass protection was abhorrent, as the Broncos sacked Ryan six times.

Ross Tucker @RossTuckerNFL

Colts are perfect example of why 5 average OL > 3 above average & 2 below average OL.

And both teams were short-handed at running back Thursday. The Colts were without Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and lost Nyheim Hines early in the game to a concussion. The Broncos lost Javonte Williams for the season to a torn ACL on Sunday.

Still, the Colts and Broncos should be getting more from their quarterbacks, and neither did much to help his team Thursday.

Ryan finished 26-of-41 for 251 yards with two interceptions. Wilson finished 21-of-39 for 274 yards, two picks and four sacks taken. Both threw bad interceptions, appeared skittish in the pocket, missed open receivers and failed to consistently threaten defenses deep.

Big plays through the air were few and far between.

Prime Video Sports Analytics & Insights @PVSportsStats

Neither QB tonight has had success throwing the ball over 10 Air Yards, combined they are<br><br>1/9, 18 yds and -62.3% Completion Percentage Over Expected

Moving the chains proved to be difficult throughout the evening. Indianapolis converted just 25 percent of its third-down opportunities. Denver converted a mere 13 percent.

Combined, the two teams were 6-of-31 on third down. They ran a combined 144 plays and had only 37 combined first downs. Of course, penalties didn't help (15 combined), but the offensive struggles were largely the product of poor quarterback play.

Both quarterbacks did pick up the pace for stretches—we saw 681 yards of total offense—but this was still a game without a touchdown. It probably shouldn't have gone to overtime, but Wilson threw a red-zone interception with enough time left in regulation for Ryan to mount one final drive.

NFL @NFL

This game is really something else. An end zone interception for the <a href="https://twitter.com/Colts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Colts</a>, and Indy is still in this! 😮<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/INDvsDEN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#INDvsDEN</a> on Prime Video<br>Also available on NFL+ <a href="https://t.co/qcjXnKGOp7">https://t.co/qcjXnKGOp7</a> <a href="https://t.co/95qRekrIi6">pic.twitter.com/95qRekrIi6</a>

It was, of course, a field-goal drive that opened up an extra period.

It's safe to say that, to this point, the Colts and Broncos aren't getting what they traded for in new quarterbacks. It's a trend that has largely been the case for teams that traded for new starters in 2022.

Indy's 2021 starter, Carson Wentz (82.3 rating), has been average at best for the 1-3 Washington Commanders. The same can be said for Baker Mayfield (75.0) and the 1-3 Carolina Panthers.

Washington and Carolina likely viewed Wentz and Mayfield as upgrades over Taylor Heinicke (85.9 rating in 2021) and Sam Darnold (71.9), respectively. Neither really has been. Few saw those teams as playoff-caliber, though, which is where they differ from the two we saw on Thursday.

For teams thinking they can just scoop up a new "franchise QB," this game should serve as a cautionary tale.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Brady in 2020 and immediately won a Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford last year and did the same. However, acquiring a Pro Bowl—or former Pro Bowl—quarterback won't make a mediocre team a title contender.

And mediocre is exactly what the Colts and Broncos are.

A 37-year-old immobile quarterback was not the right quarterback for a run-first Indianapolis team with inconsistent pass protection. At least acquiring Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons only cost a 2022 third-round pick.

If Ryan continues to struggle, it shouldn't set Indianapolis back more than a year.

Things have been even more disappointing for Wilson and the Broncos. Acquiring him and a fourth-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks cost a massive package—two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, Drew Lock, Shelby Harris and Noah Fant.

If Wilson's play doesn't improve significantly and quickly, Denver could be set back for years.

With a combination of Lock and Bridgewater at quarterback, the Broncos ranked 19th in passing yards and 16th in net yards per attempt last season. Coming into Thursday, they ranked 18th and 16th, respectively.

Scoring points has been a struggle, to say the least.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

After that Russell Wilson interception, the Broncos are now 0-3 in the red zone tonight and have scored a TD on just 23% of their red zone drives this season.<br><br>That is the worst mark by any team through 5 games since 2010 (Carolina - 22%, Washington - 23%).

This is not the sort of cooking the Broncos expected with Wilson in the kitchen.

Here's where we point out that either of these teams could catch fire at any time. The Colts will get Taylor back, which should spark the offense some and help keep the pass rush away from Ryan. Wilson, Hackett and the Broncos offense may finally get on the same page.

However, it feels extremely unlikely that trading for Wilson or Ryan will yield a Super Bowl in 2022, which perhaps should have been expected.

Yes, we've watched Brady and Stafford quickly deliver championships with their new teams over the past few years. The reality, though, is that there just aren't that many teams truly a quarterback away.

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