Posted Mon Sep 19th by Monty
The Broncos Six-Pack is a new weekly segment discussing six things we learned the day after the game. I hope you enjoy.
1. This was the 2nd best win in Kyle Orton’s Broncos career
Orton said it was his best, but we’ll leave those honors to his Week Five performance in 2009. (Since it’s a game I so often cite in my pro-Orton arguments on Twitter, I’ll remind you — Orton executed a 98-yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots to tie the game. Then he did it again in overtime, moving the Broncos into game-winning field goal range).
Back to 2011… Orton wasn’t perfect Sunday; he wasn’t even spectacular. His stripped fumble in the third quarter had his critics groaning once again. But considering the handcuffs placed on his offense by injury, he was efficient, careful, and dangerous enough to keep the Cincinnati Bengals defense honest.
“This is one of the best wins that I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been a part of a lot of them,” Orton said. “This is a great win, to handle it the way we did, to have a total team win. The defense played great, we ran the ball great, and made enough plays in the passing game to get the win.”
Just consider the adversity Orton faced. With Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal, and the Thomases (Demaryius and Julius) out for most of the game, Orton was left with Eric Decker and Matthew Willis as viable targets (and Tim Tebow as a headline). He still made the most of this situation. Most notably, Orton hit Eric Decker deep for two impressive, take-me-off-your-fantasy-sleeper-list touchdowns, not allowing the Bengals’ defense to stack eight in the box and shut down Broncos runners.
Speaking of Tebow… between billboards and boo-birds, Orton had to know his start against the Bengals could be his last. As steadfast as John Fox claims to be, a terrible performance speaks a lot louder than fan angst. Orton didn’t let the pressure get to him.
But this was a total team win; Orton just did his part. He finished 15/25 for 195 yards, two TDs, no interceptions, and a 111.2 passer rating. That, and the ‘W’, will keep the cries for Tebow quiet for at least another week.
2. The Broncos defense held on when it mattered
The Broncos’ defense, bleeding yards and points throughout the second half, can be summed up in one word: clutch. They held the Cincinnati Bengals to 0 for 10 on third downs until their very last drive, where the Bengals improved to a whopping 1 for 11. That’s clutch. Late in the game, with the Bengals threatening to take what would have been their first and the last lead of the game, Broncos defenders Robert Ayers, Jonathan Wilhite, and Wesley Woodyard displayed great speed and aggression in pressuring, sacking, and defending the passes of QB Andy Dalton. Clutch again.
“I thought it was a character, toughness type of win,” Coach John Fox said Monday. “We had two big stops on defense in the last five minutes of the game that were critical. We were only up two points, so a field goal would have been the difference.”
“I’m just thinking, ‘Don’t let them get in field-goal position,'” Joe Mays said. “We were only up two points, and we knew if we got them in field-goal position, there was a chance we might lose the game.
“It was time for the defense to bow up, step up, make a couple plays here and there, and we were able to do that.”
3. Eric Decker just gets it
“Eric is a great player,” Kyle Orton said after the game. “Eric is one of those guys that you can tell is just ready to take off and take it to that next level.”
He’s already reached it. With eight receptions for 166 yards, Decker already has two more catches and 60 more yards than he had all of last season. He’s making great adjustments and developing a real chemistry with Kyle Orton.
Not only is Decker fast and sure-handed, but he’s smart and personable with the fans. On Monday night he tweeted, “Gotta give a lot love and appreciation to all you fans out there! Let’s keep the excitement rolling! #broncoscountry” That, a bunch of touchdowns, and a Mile High Salute or two surely helps his reputation with the fans.
4. Von Doom Sack Count: 1.
Great game by the rookie. Elvis Dumervil was out, but Von Miller was still able to get to the quarterback.
But Miller’s effect was much greater than what can be measured by his first NFL sack. He repeatedly commanded double teams from Bengals’ offensive linemen, most notably in the defense’s coup d’etat, Jonathan Wilhite’s blitz sack of Dalton. Wilhite doesn’t have a clear path to the quarterback without Miller eating up a double team.
Miller enjoyed the first sack on his stat card, but he enjoyed his team’s first victory on the scoreboard more.
“It (the sack) doesn’t feel as good as win No. 1,” said Miller. “Hopefully we can get some more wins.”
5. Five things I think Peter King thinks I think
a. I think the Broncos thought Brandon Lloyd would play. They didn’t sign another wide receiver or promote Eron Riley from the practice squad, and Lloyd reportedly worked out before the game, going so far as to put on his game pants and thigh pads before deciding, with trainers, that he couldn’t go. That’s enough to suggest to me that the Broncos and Lloyd had planned on the 2010 Pro Bowler suiting up. And maybe, against a division rival or a tougher opponent, Lloyd would have toughed it out. Let’s just be glad the Broncos didn’t need him to and were able to pull out a win anyway.
b. I think they’ll address the receiver position this week. Royal and Julius Thomas are out for at least two weeks, and we don’t know if Lloyd or Demaryius Thomas would be available Sunday in Tennessee (though I expect Lloyd will be). Still, the Broncos are in need of at least another body at wide receiver.
Funny how Brandon Stokley signed with the New York Giants last week. There’s a former Bronco Mike McCoy could have used (particularly against the Bengals). The Giants also have Domenik Hixon — two former Broncos wide receivers that could have opened up the playbook had former coaches done things differently.
c. I don’t think Knowshon Moreno survives this season as the starter. Willis McGahee’s tough 101-yard rushing performance came on the veteran’s first start in a Broncos uniform. It took Moreno 20 games to eclipse a 100 yards rushing in a single game, and it’s a feat he’s only performed twice (both against Kansas City in 2010). And with his propensity for injuries, it makes sense for the Broncos to lean more heavily on the experienced, tougher McGahee. Moreno’s faster, and I think he retains his starting job when he initially returns, but by season’s end either injury or production will have McGahee starting in his stead.
d. I think I’ve underestimated Lance Ball. I was never overly impressed with the short and stout Terp runner, but he ran with authority against the Bengals. He rushed six times for 28 yards (4.7 average), which aren’t overwhelming stats, but I’m simply commenting on his running style. He passed the ol’ “eye ball test” Sunday afternoon. Ball lowered his shoulder and ran downhill with power. I’m excited to see what he can do as he progresses this season.
e. I think D.J. Williams’ days in Denver may be numbered. The old NFL “rule” that you can’t lose your starting job to injury will hold true for Williams… at least in 2011. Credit his productive history and leadership for that, but it says nothing of 2012. The Broncos owe D.J. $11 million over the next two seasons, but they’re getting the same productivity out of Wesley Woodyard for a lot cheaper right now. Woodyard has been effective in run support and superb at times in coverage, and he’s been a special teams captain since his rookie season, so the Broncos wouldn’t miss the leadership element. D.J. Williams’ strongest selling point may be his versatility — he’s played in all three positions in the 4-3, but the Broncos seem set in their other positions too. Joe Mays is laying the wood (he played much better than last week), and they’re not about to bench Miller.
6. Mistake-prone Broncos are lucky they weren’t facing a tougher team.
The fourth quarter was a cornucopia of near-apocalyptic errors by the Broncos’ offensive and special teams units, and they won’t be able to survive such critical mistakes against better competition in the future.
First, Ryan Clady‘s holding penalty eliminated a nine-yard Willis McGahee run, leaving the Broncos in a 1st and 20 situation with less than four minutes to play. The Broncos had a real chance to run out the clock there, but the left tackle’s penalty gave the Bengals life.
A few plays later, McGahee made a mental gaffe of his own, running out of bounds on third down and killing the clock instead of allowing it to wind down to the two-minute warning. Not only did the Bengals have life, they had time.
Finally, on the ensuing punt, Britton Colquitt lost 45 yards of net punt yards on his stat sheet following a Chris Harris out of bounds penalty. His initial 82-yard boomer was re-kicked after Harris failed to return in bounds in time. More important than Colquitt’s stats was the field position it afforded the Bengals. They were a field goal away from the upset, and only twenty yards away from the field goal.
Any of those mistakes could have doomed the Broncos to a loss. The combination almost surely should have. But the Broncos were tougher, better coached, and fortunate to be playing the Bengals Sunday. They need to tidy up if they hope to steal a win on the road against Tennessee or Green Bay over the next two weeks.