Welp, that was about as frustrating a loss as there is in the NFL. On a day when the Broncos needed to dig deep to overcome a resilient foe, they came up empty. And for a team that has made so much progress from the mediocrity that defined their 2016 season, Sunday was a step backward.
Games like this will happen. Buffalo has never been a kind venue for Denver, as the Broncos haven’t won there since 2007, and one glance at the scoreboard will show that there were upsets and near upsets aplenty for week 3, so it could’ve just been one of those days. However, the fact remains that the Broncos had plenty of chances to reverse their fortunes and come away with a hard-fought win, and they just didn’t get it done. It’s really as simple as that.
Does this mean that the Broncos are no better than last year’s squad and are destined to miss the playoffs again? Of course not. It just means that they have a lot of things to improve on if they want to keep pace with Kansas City and Oakland, despite the latter getting routed last night by Washington. They’ll have a chance to do the same thing to the Raiders next week, and so long as they get back to what made them successful in the first two games, there’s no reason why that can’t happen.
Hopefully it does. On the bright side, the Raiders lost on Sunday too. It wasn’t all bad!
1. The Run Defense
Speaking of not all bad, there were a couple of encouraging developments from the loss to the Bills, one of which is the continued improvement of Denver’s run defense. Despite a shaky performance overall on that side of the ball, it certainly wasn’t because Lesean McCoy was tearing them up, as he was held to a meager 21 yards rushing (the Bills finished with 62 for the game). You have to remember that the defensive line is still without Zach Kerr and Ahtyba Rubin, and has already likely lost Jared Crick for the season. To hold up that well when you are hurting for depth is very impressive.
That kind of play bodes well for Denver moving forward, and should help their push to get back into the playoffs.
2. Jamaal Charles
There were a lot of questions in the offseason about how much the former Chiefs standout had left in the tank. Charles contributed here and there in the first two games, but lacked the breakout performance that proved he could still be a difference maker on the field. Well, I think we can put that to rest. On a day when not a lot went right for the Broncos’ offense, Charles diced the Bills for 56 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. Considering how the game turned out, one could ask why he wasn’t getting the ball more. I’m sure he was wondering the same thing.
While Charles definitely showed that his playmaking ability is still intact, questions over his durability are going to linger for the rest of his career, and the Broncos will need to be careful not to overuse him and break him down.
1. The Pass Defense
Well that was nice while it lasted. For as stout as the run defense was in stopping McCoy, the same cannot be said for the pass defense against Tyrod Taylor. They gave up several big plays to the Bills through the air and it was common to see Buffalo wide receivers wide open on crossing routes. This provided Taylor with plenty of easy completions and he took advantage, much to the dismay of the Broncos. It’s uncharacteristic of the No Fly Zone to yield yards through the air so easily, and I think part of the problem was that the pass rush just wasn’t getting to Taylor enough.
To be fair, they did put some pressure on him, but often times they couldn’t get home. I lost track of how many plays I saw where Taylor eluded a Denver defender, only to scramble or throw for the first down. He really just outplayed the defense and came through for his team when it mattered, and that was one of the big differences in the game.
2. Trevor Siemian
Chalk this one up as one of the more forgettable games Siemian has played, and it figures that he should fall back to Earth the week after he was being highlighted as a possible franchise quarterback (including by yours truly). Trevor started out fine. He led a few scoring drives in the first half and had Denver seemingly in position to take control in the second half, but that’s when everything fell apart.
Two bad interceptions completely derailed Denver’s momentum and gave the Bills the opportunity to take the lead, and the outcome was never really in doubt after that. Siemian may not have had a lot of help from his teammates on Sunday, but throwing picks on the road is almost always a surefire way of getting beat. He’s been around long enough now to know that in those situations, he just needs to throw the ball away and hope that his defense can get him the ball back. Instead, he tried to force the situation and the Bills made him pay.
Staying cool under pressure and coming through in key moments away from the friendly confines of your home field is part of the challenge of being an NFL quarterback, and not every outing goes as smoothly as you want it to. Derek Carr only threw for 118 yards and tossed two picks of his own Sunday night in Washington, and I doubt anyone in the Raiders camp is thinking of benching him or of looking for a new franchise QB. There are a lot of road games remaining and I think the expectation is that Trevor will do far better than he did yesterday. However, there’s no denying that Siemian’s struggles were a big reason the Broncos lost, particularly in a game where they needed him to take control and help shift the momentum back their way. Hopefully he learns from it, moves on and that’s the worst that he plays this year, but we’ll see.
3. The Coaching/Playcalling
Trevor wasn’t alone in turning in a stinker to follow up a stellar performance. That is also true of our coaching staff, who completely dropped the ball on Sunday, in my opinion. I have no idea why Mike McCoy got away from the running game and didn’t give Charles more opportunities to make plays. Sure, there were plenty of runs that went for a minimal gain on first down and maybe Charles is on a pitch count to avoid injury, but it just seems like a bad idea to have your quarterback throw 40 times when he’s already struggling. It was a one score game basically until the end, so there was definitely enough time to mix in more runs. Why not draw up more plays for C.J. Anderson or get De’Angelo Henderson involved? I didn’t get that.
And Joe Woods simply did not look prepared at times for what Rick Dennison was calling for Buffalo. That’s right, Rick Dennison, the same guy who helped put together one of the worst offenses in the league for the Broncos last year, completely took Woods to school on Sunday. I definitely didn’t see that coming, but perhaps the familiarity with Denver’s D made it easy for Dennison to dial up effective plays. Much like Trevor, I don’t expect our staff to get outfoxed to this degree very often and hopefully they turn it around against the Raiders.
1. The Officiating
I never want to be one of those guys that blames the referees for a loss, and I certainly don’t think that was why the Broncos came up short on Sunday, but that doesn’t excuse some of the terrible calls that were made. I have no clue what a catch is anymore. When Emmanuel Sanders bobbles a ball at first, but then secures it, takes four steps and then goes down, at that point it doesn’t matter if the damn ball moves a little or not. He already made the catch! Why it wasn’t called that way despite it being challenged, I’ll never know.
And don’t even get me started on Von Miller’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Look, I’m glad that Von owned it and took the blame rather than complaining about the call. That shows maturity and awareness that he needs to be more careful during crucial situations throughout the game, but he flat out should not have even been flagged in the first place. It was a harmless little exchange between him and Tyrod Taylor and that 15-yard penalty was essentially the final nail in the coffin for the Broncos. The Bills kicked a field goal right after and put the game out of reach.
There were questionable penalties and calls on both sides throughout the game, and it really befuddles me that the NFL allows this kind of officiating to occur year after year. With all of its resources, why can’t this league employ refs who have a clear understanding of the rules and can efficiently enforce them? There’s really no excuse not to.
Next week’s prediction: Broncos 27, Raiders 17
I’m going to venture a guess that the Broncos are going to be pretty steamed after this loss and will look to take out their frustration on the Raiders at home. That being said, the Raiders will probably be equally pissed that they got embarrassed in D.C. and they usually give the Broncos a tough game. But if the Broncos can get back to running the ball and continue to stop the run, which I think they will, then they should pull away at the end and enter their bye week at 3-1.