The Morning After: This One’s On The Offense

Anybody got an aspirin?

Let’s review what happened yesterday: The Denver Broncos defense gave up 126 yards of total offense, 13 points (the two the Raiders scored on the safety aren’t the defense’s fault) and the Broncos still don’t win the game.

Even if you take away the safety and Brock Osweiler throws the ball away, the Broncos still lose if everything else remains equal.

It’s easy to point fingers at a few favorite targets, but if we are honest with ourselves, those favorite targets are not the reason the Broncos lost. Bill Vinovich may have missed a couple of calls, but that isn’t why the Broncos lost. Denver did have a safety taking the field who hadn’t played a game in nearly two years, but he isn’t the reason the Broncos lost. The Broncos had injury issues, but you can’t blame them for the loss when you consider the bulk of key injuries were on defense (three safeties out, a rush linebacker who was limited in his snaps, a defensive tackle coming off an ankle injury and an inside linebacker out with a concussion).

No, if we want to blame anybody for this loss, we need to look at the offense and, to an extent, special teams. Of course, we know about Britton Colquitt, but his punting wasn’t as costly as the muffed punt Emmanuel Sanders had that gave the Raiders great field position. If you want, you can say that about 20 percent of the loss fell on special teams.

The other 80 percent fell on offense and there’s no other way to put it. Even the best defenses are going to give up a couple of scores in a game, but if the defense only gives up 13 points, it’s reasonable to expect you should win that game with a respectable showing on offense. But that didn’t happen yesterday.

It’s easy to say that Brock Osweiler has plenty to learn, but it’s not like he’s a rookie. Missing a wide-open Virgil Green in the end zone isn’t a good sign for any QB. And while it’s true Osweiler didn’t throw an interception (but he had a couple that were nearly picked off), his unwillingness to throw the ball away is a problem. If he’s going to be the long-term solution at QB, he needs to learn it’s OK to throw the ball away and not try to create a play out of nothing.

Of course, it didn’t help that CJ Anderson was out with an ankle injury. And we may have found out that Juwan Thompson isn’t an adequate replacement for him. He has a future as a depth and special teams guy, but not somebody who can take over the load. Ronnie Hillman works fine as the back to run around the ends, but he’s not a between-the-tackle runner. And we may have to accept that Kapri Bibbs isn’t the answer, either, and that’s not because he wasn’t promoted from the practice squad this past week. (There was no room for him, anyway, given the Broncos had multiple safeties injured.)

Then there’s Michael Schofield, who was overwhelmed by Khalil Mack all day long. To be fair, Mack is on his way to becoming one of the elite defensive players in the NFL. But after having a solid start when thrust into the starting lineup, Schofield has rapidly regressed. Why the Broncos didn’t bother to have somebody join Schofield in double-teaming Mack on plays on which the Raiders only rushed three or four is a mystery.

It didn’t help that Demaryius Thomas tried to play through a shoulder injury or that Vernon Davis thought too much about gaining big yardage, both with his earlier attempts to double back to run around defenders and his dropping what would have been a fourth-down conversion late. Back to Thomas: It’s understandable he wants to make up for his bad game against the Patriots, but he shouldn’t do that at the expense of his health. Even if he says his hands were the issue with his drops, the shoulder injury was not helping his cause. And with both players, they were clearly thinking too much and that leads to mental mistakes.

Finally, we have to consider the real possibility that the offense every Broncos fan loved when the likes of Terrell Davis and Tom Nalen were around isn’t going to get it done without some adjustments to the offensive scheme. The first head coaching stint doesn’t always reflect what a coach is capable of doing, but the second one certainly does. Gary Kubiak and his staff have done some good things in the past and they’ve generally been wise when it comes to not rushing players back onto the field before they are ready. But they need to open things up a bit for Osweiler, even if he’s struggling to completed downfield throws. They also need to be prepared to adjust the blocking scheme when opposing teams pick on a particular player.

As far as the personnel goes, we have reached the point of the season in which the Broncos aren’t going to bring in replacements for anyone on the roster unless somebody is injured. If it wasn’t for injuries, Shiloh Keo doesn’t get signed to the roster, and chances are, once certain players are healthy, the Broncos may release him to get depth at another position, perhaps from a practice squad promotion. We can certainly discuss offseason needs, but dwelling on what might have been isn’t going to solve the Broncos’ current offensive woes. That’s only going to be solved through appropriate adjustments as the coaches see the opponent’s game plan unfold.

And, yes, it may be worth asking whether or not Peyton Manning should be put back under center if the Broncos go another game without an offensive touchdown. True, half of Peyton’s starts can only be graded as “unacceptable,” and that’s the diplomatic word. But Peyton might have some incentive to get his play back up to at least “respectable” levels if he goes back onto the field this season. First, it’s the only way he gets a chance to collect that $4 million he gave up from his guaranteed salary. Second, it’s the only way he’s going to show a team who has pieces in place to make the playoffs, but needs a quarterback to get there, that he’s worth taking a chance on next season. No, the Broncos won’t bring him back, but a team like the Texans or the Jets might. But they’ll only do that if he shows he can put up respectable numbers. If he stinks it up, the only teams who might call for his services are the exceedingly desperate (hello, Cleveland!) and while Peyton may be stubborn about playing next season, he isn’t stupid and won’t take any old offer.

I do believe Osweiler should start against Pittsburgh. But if the Broncos offense struggles again, it’s time to go back to Peyton. The only condition is that the Broncos will not run the pistol any longer. They can run the majority of snaps from shotgun because the running backs can be effective in those conditions and teams could still be kept guessing as to what the Broncos will do. But some snaps will have to come from under center; they’ll just need to be selective on when they take place.

Regardless of who starts and who plays where, though, the Broncos need to figure out those adjustments on offense. We can’t use the excuse that Osweiler is inexperienced any longer. Nor can we grumble about “woulda, coulda, shoulda” regarding the past offseason. The time has come to get better results on offense and to find a way to get them, which means some coaching adjustments have to happen and certain mental mistakes need to be eliminated.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.