Broncos cannot run from the truth

Inability to stop run and run consistently undermining season
Jets Broncos Football
Posted at 5:40 PM, Oct 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-09 19:40:37-04

DENVER — The Broncos cannot run from the truth.

They carry a 1-4 record, remain winless at home, and face the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, a team that has beaten them 15 straight times, on Thursday night. Denver remains one of the league’s biggest disappointments. There are layers to losing. But the Broncos can trace their awful start primarily to their inability to stop their run and their lack of a consistent ground game.

Through five games, the Broncos boast the worst defense in franchise history. And nowhere is this more evident than against the run. Denver has surrendered 755 yards rushing over the past three games, the most during a three-game span and third-most in NFL history over the past 40 years. The Broncos held a 13-8 halftime lead vs. the Jets, then Breece Lightning happened. Breece Hall put on a clinic that led the Broncos’ latest painful exit.

Hall finished with 177 yards on 22 carries. The real damage came after halftime when the Jets posted 150 yards on 19 carries, including a 72-yard touchdown burst from Hall on New York’s first play of the third quarter that changed everything. The Jets took a 15-13 lead and never relinquished it.

“Just going through (the tape), our gap integrity has been poor in all three games. We got wide yesterday on the big run. That was the first topic this morning. In other words, this has been — it’s going to be tough to win games if we can’t stop the run defensively, and we have to get it cleaned up,” Coach Sean Payton said. “I’d start with pitting the right gaps and then understanding, scheme-wise, what we’re getting and how to restrict those holes. A lot of it — it’s not communication, it’s technique, but that has to get better.”

There’s no way to overstate the defensive’s dramatic collapse. They have gone from functional last season — despite a three-game slide at the end of the year — to forgettable. Under first-year coordinator Vance Joseph, the defense ranks last in yards per rush (5.9), yards per play (7.9), yards per game (450.6) and points per game (34.4).

While the defense only allowed 23 points to the Jets offense — the other nine came on a safety and a scoop and score — the missed assignments and poor tackling continued to plague this group.

“We’ve got to be better,” said safety Kareem Jackson, who has struggled this season. “Right now, as a defense, we are putting together half a game. We played a good second half last week and a good first half then a (bleep) second half this week. For us we have to put a complete game together.”

Added safety Justin Simmons, “I am not worried necessarily about the guys (staying together). I know it’s been tough for us. It’s been tough for the fans and for Broncos Country in general. We have the right guys in the locker room. We just haven’t done our job defensively. Point blank. Period. If we do our jobs consistently throughout the game (against New York), it’s a different result.”

As has been the case over their past six losing seasons, the Broncos get punished for mistakes, operating with little room for missteps. It had forever been because of the offensive ineptness and incompetence. The offense currently ranks 11th in points (24.2) and has offered hope at times. But there is a glaring issue. This team was built this offseason to take on a physical identity through a ground game, which motivated the signings of left guard Ben Powers, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, running back Samaje Perine, tight end Chris Manhertz and fullback Mike Burton.

However, the Broncos have thrown the ball 163 times and rushed the ball 106 times, and only 84 from running backs. Trailing at Miami and Chicago contributed to the imbalance. But so, too, Payton allowed was his reluctance to stick with the run, especially against the Jets. The Broncos gained 115 yards on 12 carries in the first half. It nosedived to 24 yards on 10 carries in the second half.

“I think about that all the time. In other words, how a game is unfolding, how you want it to unfold. We got a lot of coverage yesterday — a lot of too high looks. It’s hard to get down the field with what they were doing defensively, and yet, I would have liked for us to have been better running the ball yesterday. Part of that — a good part of that — falls on me and being more patient,” Payton said. “Going back and looking at the tape this morning, we had some good runs. Russell (Wilson) did a really good job in the first half with plays that really came outside the framework of design. It was off schedule, either keeps or throws. I think that’s something for us to be effective right now, our margin for error — we’re going to have to be more patient and better at running the football.”