5 Reasons the Denver Broncos Lost Against the Baltimore Ravens
The Broncos Were Ready to Roll...What Happened?
The Denver Broncos came into Saturday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with everything going their way for most of the season. Peyton Manning as their new quarterback, the defense found their way into the number two slot in the NFL, and the Broncos coaching staff looked like heroes the way everything was beginning to take shape.
The signings that Executive Vice President John Elway brought in before the season began, as well as the personnel brought in as cuts were made looked absolutely brilliant as players such as Keith Brooking, Dan Koppen, Trindon Holliday and others fit right in and became forces in their respective positions.
The offense began to resemble a machine by season's end as the Broncos reeled off 11 straight wins and scored at will on almost every opponent. The secondary became a stalwart that refused to break to the will of any quarterback they faced. The Broncos received outstanding effort from young guys that stepped up when their name was called, such as Wesley Woodyard, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe, Ronnie Hillman, and the last few games, Knowshon Moreno.
There was no way that the Broncos could gain the number one seed in the AFC while winning 13 games, and lose to an aging Ravens team that played hurt most of the year, and was beaten by the orange and blue just a few weeks earlier 34-17. There was no way that Ray Lewis would extend his retirement party past the city of Denver to advance to the AFC Championship game. There was simply no way that Joe Flacco would out-duel Manning, on the road, to set up a rematch of last season's title game.
But that is exactly what happened on Saturday. The Broncos and Ravens played a playoff classic at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in a double overtime thriller that was greater than the hype that surrounded it. I refuse to put any blame on the referees, even if it was the worst officiated game I have seen since the replacement refs earlier in the year. I also refuse to lay blame on Manning, as he was harassed all game by a relentless Ravens pass rush that when they weren't knocking him down, were batting down his passes. Manning still threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
So I will not touch those two avenues for debate in these slides. I will, however, explain the real five reason why the Broncos lost to the Ravens on Saturday. It is no debate that in the end, the Ravens wanted it more. They showed it in their play. They showed it in their hustle, and their will. As a Bronco fan, this is a bitter pill to swallow as the Broncos were on target for a nice ride this year. But that just reminds us that no matter what, there are never any paper champions. You must play the game.
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Offensive Line Looked Beaten
The Denver Broncos offensive line had been one of their strengths throughout the regular season allowing Peyton Manning the space and opportunity to make his reads and throws. On Saturday, it seemed as if the pocket was collapsing on almost every play as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Paul Kruger and Ray Lewis were invoking their will on Ryan Clady and company.
With the return of injured starter Chris Kuper, the line looked as if it took a step back as he fell victim to a dominant pass rush that, when the Ravens were not getting at Manning, they were consistently batting away balls. Clady was not the force he usually is and the Ravens accounted for five QB hits, three sacks, eight deflected passes and forced Manning into fumbling twice, losing one.
This was a game that Manning did not need the extra pressure, especially when battling a -2 degree wind chill and never having great success in the cold anyways. I question whether it might have been better to get Kuper out of there early in the game and go with a Manny Ramirez as a change of pace more often. But when one of your strengths becomes a weakness, there is only so much any QB can do under the duress that came Manning's way.
No Separation From Receivers
We talked all week prior to the game about two talented wide receivers that were ready for a breakout game to set them apart from the rest of the league. They wanted to be known a Black and Decker, but they might want to go to the repair shop, because they were definitely broken on Saturday. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker accounted for nine catches, just over 100 yards and one touchdown between them. Not necessarily glaring stats for two young men that eclipsed 1000 yards and had 23TDs in the regular season.
The problem throughout the game was the fact that the Cary Williams and Corey Graham played them close to the vest all day and did not allow separation at any time. There were no giant gains of 80 yards by Thomas as in last year's playoff game. There were dropped passes and long droughts of invisibility. And quite frankly, Manning looked towards others, such as Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley because Thomas and Decker were simply not getting the job done. This will be another growing experience for them, but when you want to be known as big time, you have to get on the field and play like it.
Where Was Von Doom?
The Broncos had the fiercest pass rush in the NFL all season with players such as Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard attacking almost at will. When you have what most would call the best complete linebacker in the game in Miller, it is almost expected that the opposing quarterback will be under some kind of duress in a playoff game. This was clearly not the case on Saturday. Von Doom was nonexistent to the point that you questioned whether or not Miller and Dumervil were even on the field.
I saw with my own eyes and have heard the analysts debate the referees lack of holding calls on Dumervil, and I told you I would not blame them for this loss. Dumervil needs to rise above the refs. Miller needed to prove why he is the best in the NFL by taking control of the game as few in this league can. Neither did that on Saturday. When the pass rush is nonexistent, Flacco could just sit back, make his reads and go through his motions. The only player that came out on the defensive side of the ball like a possessed man was Woodyard.
This is the main reason why the secondary was exposed. The Broncos lived all year on a pass rush that allowed it's secondary to be in the right place at the right time, and make plays. Without the pass rush, the secondary proved they were not as good as was believed.
The Secondary Played Like Vintage 2010
This was the worst display of positioning, coverage and athleticism I have seen for a long time, and I have seen some bad Broncos secondaries over the years. I understand that Torrey Smith and Anquan Bolden are professionals, but there is no way that Champ Bailey, Chris Harris and Rahim Moore should have been beaten on any single play that was thrown their way. I would love to be able to just say that the Ravens wide receivers were better on Saturday, but they weren't.
This was a combination of Champ looking older and slower, Moore out of position and Harris not being able to cover everyone himself. I give Flacco and the Ravens coaching staff credit for exposing Bailey early and often, as there are not many coaches this year that have tried that tactic. But again, when the front seven is not getting it done, it is usually the secondary that suffers down field. It may be easy to blame this on any one player, but the reality is that the defense as a whole played more like vintage 2010 than 2012.
Coaching Not To Lose Will Never Help You win
Watching this game, I now understand just how San Diego Chargers fans have felt for the last few years. Forget the conventional play-calling by Mike McCoy. When you have Peyton Manning under center, if he truly does not like the play, he will override that call. Forget the fact that Jack Del Rio did not attack the line of scrimmage and mix his blitzes better. This game was lost by the lack of killer instinct by Head Coach John Fox.
The end of the first half, Fox decided to allow the clock to run out with a short run by Jacob Hester to go into halftime with a 21-21 tie. Then he decides to end regulation the same way with 31 seconds on the clock and two timeouts instead of trying for field position to give Matt Prater a chance to win the game. When a team like the Ravens sees a lack of killer instinct, they go for the jugular. They are a hungry bunch of players that refuse to lie down.
When you have Manning on your team, a kicker that is good from 55 yards, two timeouts and 31 seconds on the clock, you should never take a knee. Go for the game! Coach Fox's conservativeness reminded me of Norv Turner, and the many years of watching him ruin Chargers seasons. Let this be a lesson moving forward. Manning did not win as much as he should have with the Colts because he made that team a machine that just simply ran. This Broncos squad needs a pulse, and it starts with Fox. You will never win in the NFL while coaching not to lose. Here's to a better end in 2013!
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