There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks about whether the Broncos defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl. After Thursday’s the loss to the San Diego Chargers those talks escalated, but what many are overlooking is who is responsible for that loss; the heralded, record-setting offense.
Of course, the defense wasn’t anything special in that game, but with one of the most electric offenses in the history of football on your side, you should expect to win every time when you only give up 27 points. It has been known all year that this defense wasn’t great, and this game didn’t expose anything new on that side of the ball, but the same cannot be said for the offense.
As Manning and the gang put up a measly 20 points on just 295 yards of offense, a few things became apparent.
First of all, despite the plethora of weapons Manning has at his disposal, this game made it very clear that Wes Welker is the most important of all. He may be seemingly half the size of Demaryius Thomas, and trail Thomas and Decker by 416 and 352 yards receiving respectively, but Welker’s presence on third down sky rockets his value on this team; Thursday showed that. The Broncos were an abysmal 2-of-9 on third downs without Welker in the loss to the Chargers. The small slot receiver is leading the team in third down receptions with 18 and is averaging 11.4 yards per catch in those situations. His ability to get into open space quickly is unmatched by anyone on the team. Even when he isn’t making the catch on third down, the amount of attention he demands from the defense opens it up for other players to find space in the middle of the field.
The impact of Wes Welker’s importance is magnified by the fact that he has no real backup at the slot position. This is understandable because I’m pretty sure that when he left New England, Tom Brady and the Patriots picked up every other small, white, fast, slot receiver in the league. But it doesn’t change the fact that when Welker goes down the Broncos have nobody similar to fill in for him.
The next thing we learned about this offense on Thursday Night Football — which never produces good football by the way, but that’s a whole other column — is that the Broncos need to be able to run the ball effectively for their offense to click. The Denver offense ran the ball for a ridiculous 18 yards on 11 carries in the game against the Chargers. Knowshon Moreno, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the year, averaged just 2.4 in this game, and Montee Ball who was averaging a similar 4.3 yards per carry averaged negative yardage on his three carries. This wasn’t the ’85 Bears defense they were going up against either, the Chargers came into the game allowing over 110 yards rushing per game to their opponents.
What it meant, coupled with their awful performance on third downs, was that the Broncos could not stay on the field for any extended period of time. In an era where time of possession seems to be losing it’s value, it may have been the most important stat in this game. During the second and third quarters, in which the Broncos were outscored 21-0, Denver possessed the ball for just six of the 30 minutes and amassed a grand total of two first downs. The Broncos just kept handing the ball back to a Chargers offense that was hitting it’s stride, and as the Bolts put together long drive after long drive, the longest breather the highly regarded Broncos offense could get for their highly criticized defense just over 2 minutes.
It was almost a perfect storm for the Broncos that in the game where they don’t have their third down conversion machine, it also becomes the game where they can’t run the ball to save their lives, and it cost them. The offense never got in any sort of rhythm and they put up their lowest scoring game of the year by a long shot. Luckily for Denver, they have two games that should serve as tune-ups before the real season starts.
This is their chance to get Welker healthy and back in the flow of the offense, and a chance to tidy up their running schemes, because as we leaned on Thursday, they need both desperately.
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