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AFC West

Denver Comeback Falls Short After Ugly Start

After last week’s walk-off win versus the Chargers, the Denver Broncos couldn’t recapture that same magic against the Atlanta Falcons in week nine. After another sluggish start from the offense, the Broncos’ late comeback fell short as they lost to the Falcons 34-27..  As always, let’s get to our Denver Broncos post-game recap and review.

 

GAME RECAP:

The Falcons came out as the aggressor to start the game. Matt Ryan, who finished with three touchdowns, led a 10-play drive to open the contest. However, the Falcons couldn’t quite make it to the red zone and settled for a 52-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo. Similar to last week, the Broncos offense started off flat and had to punt on their first possession.

Ryan then led an 11-play drive, but this time the Falcons were able to find the endzone. Ryan found Olamide Zaccheaus streaking downfield after beating CB Davontae Harris for the touchdown. Without starting CBs A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan, Harris struggled to keep up in this game and Ryan took advantage. The Broncos were able to get some points on the board on their next possession. Brandon McManus hit a 43-yard field goal to make it a 10-3 game early in the second quarter.

Unfortunately, the Broncos still couldn’t stop the Flacons’ offense. Ryan and Julio Jones continued to pick on the Broncos young, inexperienced secondary. After a nine-play drive, Ryan connected with Brandon Powell for another Falcons’ touchdown. With the Falcons up 17-3 the Broncos needed to score; unfortunately, they went three-and-out and had to punt once again.

The Falcons were able to string together another long drive, but a big Dre’Mont Jones sack forced a field goal. Koo connected from 35 yards away to make it a 20-3 game going into halftime.

The Broncos had a promising start to the second half. They started with the ball and had success moving down the field. The drive did stall, but McManus was able to convert a 41-yard field goal into three points. On the first play of the Falcons’ ensuing drive, Justin Simmons picked off Ryan to give the offense another chance. Unfortunately, the offense had another uninspiring three-and-out.

Jones and Ryan continued to take advantage of the Broncos missed opportunity and connected for a 21-yard touchdown. Jones was left all alone in the endzone after beating rookie Michael Ojemudia. With the score, the Falcons now had a 27-6 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Broncos finally found the endzone early in the fourth quarter. Lock, who had struggled through the first three quarters, found Jerry Jeudy for a 20-yard touchdown. Jeudy ran a beautiful route and was able to score pretty easily for his second career touchdown.

The Denver defense forced a quick punt after the Jeudy touchdown, and it felt like the momentum was starting to swing in the Broncos’ favor. Then, on the first play of the next drive, Lock threw an ugly interception and the Falcons immediately had the ball in the red zone. Two plays later, Todd Gurley punched it in to put Atlanta ahead 35-13 2ith 9:05 left in the game.

To the Broncos credit, they did score two more touchdowns down the stretch to give themselves a chance. First it was Lock finding Tim Patrick with 3:23 left to close the gap to 20-34. A Falcons’ three-and-out would lead to another Broncos touchdown. This time Lock did it with his legs as he rushed in for a 10-yard touchdown. Down 27-34 with 1:52, the Broncos had a sliver of hope once again. It seemed like déjà vu from the Chargers game just a week ago.

The Broncos defense delivered on their end and forced a three-and-out. With just 38 seconds left, Lock had a chance to lead another comeback drive late in the fourth quarter. However, the Broncos couldn’t recreate their magic from last week and turned the ball over on downs. Three bad incompletions and a fumbled snap on fourth down squashed the comeback dream.

Although the Broncos gave themselves a chance in the fourth quarter again, they simply can’t keep relying on late-game heroics. The loss in Atlanta drops the Broncos to 3-5 on the season, while the Falcons improve to 3-6.

 

GAME REVIEW:

It was another tough game for Broncos Country. With injuries continuing to pile up, the Broncos just don’t have the firepower needed to overcome their shortcomings. As always, there is a lot to unpack after this near comeback. Let’s take a look at my 10 takeaways.

 

Offense Can’t Afford Slow Starts:

The offense followed the exact same trend as last week, except their comeback fell just short this week. In the last two games, the offense hasn’t been able to wake up until the fourth quarter with their backs against the wall. It was a lot of the same issues that derailed the offense last week. They struggle to move the ball on the early downs and are forced into a third and longs that seem nearly impossible. They finally start to find their rhythm in the fourth quarter, but this week it was too little too late. The Broncos can’t afford these slow starts anymore. It’s unrealistic to play catch-up for the majority of the game and expect to win.

Pat Shurmur To Blame?:

Branching off of the slow starts, some in Broncos Country are starting to point the finger at Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur. I don’t believe that it is all his fault as the players need to execute. That being said, Shurmur’s play calling has left a lot to be desired the last few weeks. While the end-around to KJ Hamler was a nice wrinkle, this offense has become very predictable. It seems that every second and long is a guaranteed run up the middle. First downs are either a short run or a deep shot hoping for a miracle. All that being said, this offense has shown flashes. They seem to be an entirely different team when running the hurry-up. The talent is surely there and will be overflowing next season when everyone is healthy. Once again, I’m certainly not placing all of the blame on Shurmur, but it would be nice to see this offense have a little more creativity.

Lock Continues To Struggle With Consistency:

It was another week with some good and a lot of bad for Drew Lock. Much like last week, he seemed to be a different quarterback at the start of the fourth quarter. During the first three quarters of the last two games, Lock is 26/50 for 255 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. However, during the fourth quarter of those games, Lock is an overwhelming 25/38 for 306 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. I do still think that Lock is the Broncos’ best chance at a franchise QB as of right now. He’s shown that he has the ability to be an above average NFL QB, but he just can’t execute consistently. Broncos Country needs to see a full game from Lock, not just a fourth quarter.

Can’t Overcome Injuries or COVID:

Denver has been decimated by injuries since the beginning of the season, which we’ve talked about in length. Now, in the last few weeks, COVID-19 has also started to impact the team. Between the front office (John Elway and Joe Ellis), the coaches (Mike Munchak and Curtis Modkins), and the players (Shelby Harris and Graham Glasgow) coronavirus has run through the organization. While the Broncos are confident that all positive tests and interactions have come outside of the facilities, COVID and injuries has left this team thin everywhere. The Broncos entire starting defensive line of Mike Purcell, Shelby Harris, and Jurrell Casey was inactive versus the Falcons. Bryce Callahan was also a late inactive leaving Denver without their top two cornerbacks as Bouye is dealing with a concussion. The Broncos had to turn to Jake Rodgers, the 4th tackle on the depth chart, in Atlanta after Demar Dotson got injured. Promising rookie TE Albert Okuegunam tore his ACL in the game and will now miss the rest of the season. It just never seems to end for this Broncos team who now has 13 total players on the IR, nearing $45 million in player salary. The mantra “next man up” can only apply when there are enough men to step up.

Jerry Jeudy’s Best Game Yet:

It’s been a long time coming for first round pick Jerry Jeudy‘s breakout game. With reports that he’s stepped up in practice, the big game seemed inevitable. We’ve seen some amazing plays already, but haven’t had the complete game until Sunday when he had a game-high 125 receiving yards on seven receptions and one touchdown. In a game that could have featured three former Alabama receivers had Calvin Ridley played alongside Julio Jones, Jeudy was the best of them all. Watching film, his separation on routes has been impressive all year so it’s great to see an emphasis on getting him the ball. This is only the first of many building blocks for Jeudy as he’s going to be a great player for the Broncos.

Bryce Callahan and De’Vante Bausby’s Absence Magnified:

Bryce Callahan was a late inactive that really hurt the Broncos. Essentially, the Broncos were tasked with slowing down Julio Jones and Matt Ryan without their top two corners. They were already missing A.J. Bouye, who is in the concussion protocol after teammate Kareem Jackson knocked him out in the Chargers game. While rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey held their own, it was veteran Davontae Harris who was a liability for the Broncos. Many were wondering why Harris was kept on the team rather than De’Vante Bausby a few weeks ago, and that was just magnified after Harris’ tough game. It seemed like every big play for the Falcons came at his expense. While Jones was largely kept in check minus his touchdown, it was the Falcons’ lesser known WR that killed the Broncos. The Falcons were also without Calvin Ridley, which ended up being a blessing for the Broncos. Hopefully Callahan and Bouye can return soon, because their absence was surely amplified on Sunday.

Bradley Chubb Absent Sunday:

Bradley Chubb has started to pick up steam the last few weeks, but he was a non-factor in Atlanta. The pass rush as a whole was underwhelming Sunday, but I kept waiting for Chubb to make that one big play. That never happened. It’s been great to see him get more comfortable and explosive from the ACL injury last season, but this was not a game to remember. He and Malik Reed need to find ways to pressure the quarterback without the help of a blitz. The secondary is so thin right now that it’s risky pulling anyone out of coverage. I do think this was an anomaly for Reed and Chubb, but certainly worth mentioning.

Offensive Line: Battered Liability Right Now:

The offensive line has had a rough 2020. Things didn’t get any better on Sunday. The entire right side of the offensive line was comprised of back-ups on Sunday. Graham Glasgow, the starting right guard, is on the Reserve/COVID list, so Austin Schlottmann had to fill in for the second straight game. Demar Dotson started the game at right tackle, but had to leave because of a lower leg injury forcing Jake Rodgers to play. Without Ja’Wuan James, Elijah Wilkinson, and Dotson, the Broncos were down to their fourth option at RT. Not ideal. While Rodgers and Schlottmann had some good moments, it’s hard to get anything going with such a battered o-line. The Broncos desperately need some good luck among their front five moving forward.

Never a Good Sign When Lock Is The Leading Rusher:

I’ve talked a lot about the running game ever since Phillip Lindsay returned from his turf toe injury earlier this season. Lindsay has looked great while Melvin Gordon still seems to be finding his role. Well, neither of them played well on Sunday. The Broncos struggled to get anything going on the ground as they rushed for just 103 yards in the game. Lock was the leading rusher with 47 yards, which is never a good sign, and was the only one to find the endzone. Lindsay finished the game with just 23 yards on eight carries (2.9 yards/carry), while Gordon only totaled 18 rushing yards on six carries (3 yards/carry). That kind of production isn’t going to win Denver many football games. The Broncos need to have a more balanced attack if they still want to make a late push for a playoff spot.

Road Ahead: Vegas Baby!

Next week the Broncos will play their first game in Las Vegas against the hated Raiders. The Raiders have put together a strong start to the season and are in second place in the AFC West with a. 5-3 record. With big wins against the Chiefs, Saints, and Browns, this Raiders team is going to be a tough test. Vegas narrowly escaped Justin Herbert and the Chargers last week after a last second touchdown was reversed. Running back Josh Jacobs is going to be a tough matchup as our defensive line is so thin right now. Hopefully Shelby Harris is able to return and help stop the run. It will also be the first matchup between Jeudy and his former Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs III, who was drafted 12th overall this season. The Broncos will need a win next week if they want to keep some playoff hopes alive. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:05MT next Sunday.

 

Hopefully you learned something from this week’s game recap and review. If you did, or if you disagree with me, let me know over on Twitter @gardensportz.

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