It would be foolish for anyone to think the Broncos will breeze their way to the Super Bowl now. The Colts spoiled not only the return of their former quarterback, but also any dream of Denver going 16-0.
Give the Indianapolis defense credit. They brought the offensive machine of Peyton Manning to a complete stop. In previous weeks, the Broncos marched down the field with ease. Sunday night, they had seven consecutive drives without gaining a first down.
That wasn’t the result of the Colts’ defense doing one thing right. They did everything exceptional. Cornerbacks played tight coverage on the Broncos’ receivers and the front seven gave Knowshon Moreno little room to work with.
Oh, and there was also Robert Mathis embarrassing left tackle Chris Clark nearly every pass play. As a result, Manning was hurried, knocked down and sacked throughout the game.
The NFL always employs the “next man up” philosophy. But at some point, a decrease in level of play becomes evident. Clark and Chris Kuper are nowhere near the pass protectors of the injured Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin.
With a bye week approaching, the Broncos may sit Franklin against the Redskins in the hope that three full weeks of rest will allow him to be ready for the second half of the season. Either way, Louis Vasquez needs to move back inside to guard as soon as possible.
This was supposed to be a game made for Moreno. The Colts struggled against the run all year, but figured to focus on stopping the pass. Knowshon turned out to be a no-show, gaining only 40 yards on 15 carries.
The lack of a running game forced the Broncos to pass a ton. Manning’s passes were routinely wobbly and underthrown, an indication that he may have been dinged up from all the hits.
But his receivers did little to help. Eric Decker was more concerned with drawing pass interference than running his route. And Wes Welker’s name wasn’t called until the second half.
Sure, Denver put up 33 points. But they were bullied and even overmatched by the Colts’ defense. The Broncos now carry a minus-2 turnover margin into Sunday. It’s ridiculous how a team that turns the ball over more than it takes the ball away is 6-1.
That may fly during the regular season, but definitely not in the playoffs. That means Ronnie Hillman and Trindon Holliday shouldn’t be trusted unless the Broncos have a sizable lead.
Raise your hand if you thought Von Miller being back would make this defense loads better. Miller was virtually invisible against the Colts. But then again, so were the rest of his defensive buddies.
If being the worst pass defense in the NFL was bad enough, call the injury to Champ Bailey catastrophic. Bailey didn’t even play six full quarters this season before re-aggravating a hamstring issue. John Fox calls the cornerback’s injury “week-to-week.”
Trades rarely occur in the NFL, but the Broncos need either an impact defensive tackle or cornerback. Besides Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips, the defense has been a joke.
Without something extraordinary happening internally or a trade, the Denver defense might as well wave the white flag before they have to deal with Tom Brady and Jamaal Charles in the coming weeks.
The 2-4 Washington Redskins come to Denver next as Mike Shanahan returns home. As is the case with most Shanahan-coached teams, the Redskins rank as a solid offensive team. But they’re also one of the worst defensive teams in all the NFL.
We saw Andrew Luck hurt the Broncos with his ability to run. Robert Griffin III will do even worse damage if Jack Del Rio can’t get his defense tuned up in the coming days. RG3 will run plenty of play-action and has speedsters like Pierre Garcon that can get behind the Broncos’ defense in a hurry.
Three keys to the game for Denver:
- Stop the run. Shanahan loves zone blocking and stretch plays. Alfred Morris is a tank, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. If he gets close to 25 carries and over 125 yards, the Broncos have a problem.
- Receivers must win. The NFL is a copycat league. Teams will get all over Bronco receivers, just like the Colts did. Manning’s playmakers need to beat their defenders off the line of scrimmage.
- Enough with the fumbles. The Broncos lead the league in fumbles. That stat has to change in a hurry. Washington has only forced five fumbles, so this is not a defense like the Colts.
My prediction: Broncos-42, Redskins-27