It’s Not Just Losing Two Straight, It’s How They’ve Been Lost
Remember life in Bronco nation before the bye week?
Fresh off a 34-23 win in San Diego, a perfect 6-0 record and a comfortable 3 1/2-game lead over the same division-rival Chargers; life was lookin’ good.
Since then, the Broncos have dropped two straight and the Chargers have won three, cutting that division lead to one game. Granted, those two Broncos losses came against two of the league’s best defenses, the Ravens were desperate and the Steelers are surging; and the Chargers’ three wins came against the Raiders and Chiefs, both gimmies, and the Giants, losers of four straight.
More concerning has been the way the Broncos have lost. The offense has scored just 10 points in the last two weeks, 17 in total if you count the fumble that Robert Ayers returned for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half against the Steelers Monday night.
The offense did absolutely nothing against the Ravens, mustering a mere 200 yards of total offense. Things started looking up against the Steelers. The Broncos outgained the Steelers 183-54 yards in the first half, but went into the break down 7-3 after Steelers’ safety Tyrone Carter returned Kyle Orton’s second interception of the season 48 yards for a touchdown.
Orton hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since the bye; match that with his three picks against the Steelers, and you have a dismal quarterback rating.
Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal both got more involved, totaling 11 catches for 112 yards and 5 for 74 respectively. But Orton couldn’t find either when it counted, most of those yards coming in the first half.
The running game? Stuffed (27 yards on 14 carries for the team). What do you expect facing the league’s top defense against the run, which begs the question: Why so many first-down runs when those short, first-down passes worked so effectively, particularly on the opening drive?
Josh McDaniels’ cautious play calling on offense has really started to hamper the Donkeys. McDaniels has been too hesitant to stretch the field with the long ball (probably because he, like everyone else, has no confidence in Orton’s arm), and in his adamant desire to remain unpredictable; he’s become, well, predictable.
The biggest concern has been the not-so-dominant performance of late from that dominant, pre-bye Broncos D. The 30 and 28 points surrendered to the Ravens and Steelers over the last two weeks have been the two highest outputs the Broncos have allowed this season.
And those unbeatable second-halves? History. The Broncos have become the second-half beaten, outscored 45-14 in the two second halves since the bye.
The Steelers opened the second half by cruising through the Broncos’ defense for 37 yards on six plays before the Roethlisberger fumble, and lone highpoint of the Broncos’ performance. But the tone was set. On the ensuing drive, the Steelers responded with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Big Ben bounced back, completing all three of his pass attempts on the drive, including the three-yard touchdown strike to Hines Ward.
In the third quarter alone, Roethlisberger shredded the Broncos secondary, sprinkled with a few quick dashes from Rashard Mendenhall, for 199 yards of total offense.
The score remained 14-10 as both teams traded punts, until Kyle Orton missed Brandon Marshall badly with 8:30 to go in the game. Troy Polamalu made the interception, and three plays later Mike Wallace was dancing in the endzone after Roethlisberger 25-yard touchdown strike, Roethlisberger’s second.
It was over from there, Roethlisberger would add a third touchdown to his tally, and Orton a third pick, and the Broncos went down 28-10 at home.
The Broncos visit Washington this Sunday with a chance to regain their pre-bye form against the 2-6 Redskins. The offense needs to find its flow, and the defense needs to reassert itself.
If those things don’t happen, with the Chargers close behind, it could be another not-so-good bye to the playoff hunt.