Two losses in four days is no reason to panic. But I think these losses have exposed some issues for the Denver Broncos that have gone under the radar so far. Let’s figure out what the Denver Broncos loss means for the AFC.
What the Denver Broncos Loss Means for the AFC
Broncos Offensive Line has issues
Denver is built on it’s defense and a running game, it was the formula that won them a Championship last season, and it was the formula they hoped to ride to victory this season with first-year starter Trevor Siemian. With an inexperienced player as their signal caller there isn’t really any way the Broncos can get away from that formula this season either. This is a huge problem when their offensive line is playing as poorly as it is.
In the opening game Denver took it to the Carolina Panthers with their ground game and finished with 148 yards rushing. Since then their run game hasn’t looked the same; going into week 6 the Broncos ranked only 21st in offensive run DVOA. Advanced stats like the Broncos pass blocking even less. They rank 31st in adjusted sack rate, and had given up 15 sacks through week 5 (29th ranked overall). On Thursday night they conceded another two sacks against the San Diego Chargers, but it also seemed like Siemian was facing pressure on every drop-back.
When an offensive line is struggling it becomes difficult to go on the road and win games. It’s especially difficult for the Broncos who are counting on their running-game to shorten games and keep their stellar defense fresh for the 4th quarter. Until they get these issues sorted out the Broncos will be a threat to lose any road game.
Maybe they were over-rated to start?
Recall that opening night victory, again. It seemed impressive to knock-off the defending NFC champion, especially in such dramatic fashion. However, the Carolina Panthers now sit at 1-4. In fact, no team the Broncos have defeated has a winning record. Previously strong looking victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals now don’t seem so impressive. This doesn’t make the Broncos a bad team, but it highlights how everyone might have been too quick to assume the Broncos were just a continuation of their dominant 2015 team.
The Broncos faced real losses in the off-season, particularly on defense. Key starters left at linebacker and the defensive line and this has impacted the Broncos run defense. Demarcus Ware’s injury has also been a huge blow. Without his contributions they don’t win that Panthers game, and his pass rush was sorely missed last night when Von Miller made little impact as a rusher.
Four wins to start the year increased expectations beyond what was reasonable for this team.
The AFC West Division Race is back on
The Broncos are no longer the division leader. Oakland sit atop the division with a 4-1 record. The Kansas City Chiefs and even San Diego sit right on their heels with two wins a piece. But the division race hasn’t truly started either. San Diego is the only team to play more than one division game already. That means the other three all have five remaining games against the division. On top of that, the Broncos still have five more road games remaining on their schedule. They will have no guaranteed victories in these games. The good news for them is that they have some time to get their offensive issues sorted out before they get into the thick of their division schedule. They play each of their four Kansas City and Oakland games in November and December.
The Bye goes elsewhere
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are each leading their divisions with only a single loss, and it appears both teams are just finding their rhythm too. Pittsburgh behind improved defensive play, and New England with the return of their quarterback. Barring injury it seems as if it will again take at least 12 wins to grab a bye in the AFC heading into the playoffs. Denver just doesn’t have the look of a 12 win team right now. Their concern has to be on just winning their own division.
It was always unrealistic to expect Trevor Siemian to step into the starting job and have the Broncos roll on like it was 2015 again. There were too many roster changes and what the defense accomplished in 2015 just wasn’t repeatable. At 4-2 Denver is still set up well to win the AFC West for the 6th straight time. But recent events have shown there isn’t as much of a divide between them and their division rivals as it might have seemed at the beginning of the season. The AFC West is shaping up to be the most exciting division in football the rest of the way.