As good as the Broncos offense is, the defense may be just as bad.
They look lost, confused and tired. Jack Del Rio’s group is getting called for penalties, doesn’t have the right players on the field and stand around while teams walk into the endzone.
Peyton Manning can’t play defense, too.
The Denver D is missing four starters in Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey, Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe. And there has been plenty of talk of conspiracy this week involving the benching of Wesley Woodyard and Duke Ihenacho. The group is a mess.
But there is lots of talent on the defense. Many of the players remain from last year’s squad that finished in the top five. There really is no excuse for the defense to be as bad as they are.
The Broncos possess a Super Bowl caliber offense but it can not do it all. The defense has to come up with stops and they seem few and far between. The bend but don’t break approach can only work for so long.
There have been some bright spots on the squad. The free-agent signings of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Shaun Phillips look like steals. Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan have blossomed after being late-round draft picks.
There just have not been enough big plays.
During Thursday’s loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos were continually gashed by Ryan Matthews in the run game and Philip Rivers found plenty of open receivers down the field. When the offense sputtered, the defense was not there to pick the team up. Keenan Allen had two touchdowns in the first half.
The Broncos could still claim the No. 1 seed with the defense they are putting on the field. They need the Patriots to lose another game and Denver needs to win out. New England has some tough opponents left. But everything could change in the playoffs. Denver was exposed in last year’s loss to the Ravens in the postseason. This season could be no different.
If the Broncos get in a slug fest with a team like the Cincinnati Bengals or even division rival Kansas City Chiefs, there could be trouble. The Broncos are struggling to keep teams under 28 points. That is not a recipe for success.
Their biggest downfall seems to the struggling secondary. Rodgers-Cromartie holds down whatever receiver he is covering but the rest of the group is lost. Rookie Kayvon Webster is getting picked on all the time and Chris Harris isn’t making the plays he did last season. Tony Carter, who played well last year, doesn’t even see the field if it is not a punt or kickoff.
The Chargers finished with 27 points and 337 total yards. Giving up that much is going to put the Broncos in holes that will be tough for Manning to even dig them out of.
In the first half, Denver’s offense went three-and-out three straight times. That was the first time it has happened since the Broncos’ loss in Indy. The defense came up with one stop, gave up a touchdown and the third time the half ended. Again, no ability to get the ball back in the hands of Manning. He sits on the sideline looking at pictures while the defense chases.
Manning was not his best and either was the offense during the loss. Manning threw a costly interception that sealed the game for San Diego. But the defense is not putting this team in good spots.
The move to bench Woodyard is coming back to haunt Denver. The unit has no fire and passion without him on the field. He played more than he did against the Tennessee Titans but Paris Lenon still sees a good amount of time.
When the Broncos won the Super Bowl, their defense was never the story. They were just steady and stellar. You could call them a balanced defense with no real superstar. The 2013 edition has a star in Von Miller but is nowhere as good as the Super Bowl winners.
Denver has two weeks to figure this out. The defense has to get better or it will be one-and-done again. Will a healthy Champ Bailey help? Who knows, there has to be some help somewhere or things are looking bleak.
Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke
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