3 Up 3 Down: Denver’s defense disappoints late again

Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) runs away from Denver Broncos linebacker Todd Davis (51) during the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Oct 27, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) runs away from Denver Broncos linebacker Todd Davis (51) during the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time this season the Denver Broncos relied on their lockdown defense for a stop when they needed one most, and for the third time this season, their defense let them down.

By no means did the Broncos offense hold up their end of the bargain in the 15-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but at the end of the day, they handed a lead to their defense with time running out in the fourth, and their defense blew it.

Let’s take a look at some of the few bright spots for the Broncos, as well as a few of the negatives.

3 Up

Noah Fant

After a drop-filled game on primetime against the Kansas City Chiefs, Noah Fant had a nice bounceback game, and possibly his best game of the season, against the Colts.

You could tell the drops were a point of emphasis for Fant during the long week. The rookie hauled in all of his first four targets, however, due to a poorly-placed pass from Joe Flacco, the final reception came out of bounds.

The Iowa rookie finished the game with five receptions — tied as the team-leader — for 26 yards. His one hiccup came on a ticky-tack offensive pass interference call that went against Fant, though that had less to do with him and more to do with the design of the play and the referee

Hopefully, this is a sign he’s finally turning the corner.

Royce Freeman

The beauty of having a running back tandem as talented as the Royce Freeman — Phillip Lindsay backfield in Denver, is that when one starts slow, the other can carry the load.

When Lindsay started the day by picking up just 13 yards on his first six carries, Freeman carried the load by rushing for more than 30 yards and recording Denver’s lone touchdown of the game in the first half.

Even though Lindsay finished the day with more attempts and more yards, for most of the first half and through other stretches of the game, Freeman looked like the better back. That’s no slight to the former Buffalo either, rather just a compliment to the former Oregon Duck.

Pass Rush

Surprisingly, the Broncos defense has been incredible this season in spite of their pass rush rather than because of it.

Pro Football Focus ranks the Broncos as the third-best defense overall, the league’s best run defense, the third-best coverage unit but the 21st ranked pass rush.

That pass rush finally came to play on Sunday, sacking Jacoby Brissett four times — including a Derek Wolfe strip-sack late in the game — and harassing him constantly.

Those numbers are made more impressive by the fact the Colts had only allowed seven sacks through their first six games of the season.

If the Broncos’ pass rush can play at this level consistently, the defense will be even more stout down the stretch.

3 Down

Ja’Wuan James

The Broncos’ signing of Ja’Wuan James was already made questionable when the tackle went down in the first quarter of the Broncos’ Week 1 game and remained out until this week.

That signing only looks worse now, after we went down with another knee injury in the first half of his first game back.

James is costing the Broncos $8 million in cap space this season, yet has played fewer than 30 snaps for the team. If he were to not suit up for the Broncos again this season, that’s nearly $300,000 a snap.

Run Defense

Since allowing Leonard Fournette and the Jacksonville Jaguars to rush for over 200 yards in Week 4, the Denver run defense has shutdown all rivals and has easily been the best bunch in the league.

Marlon Mack and the Colts put a dent in that streak this week, picking up 127 yards on the ground. That’s the most the Broncos defense has allowed since the Jaguars game by nearly 50 yards.

Most painfully though, was the 36 yards they allowed to Brissett on the ground. On several occasions, the Broncos’ pass rush had him within inches of a sack, only for him to slip away and scamper for a first down.

DaeSean Hamilton

All season long, the Broncos and their fans have been waiting for DaeSean Hamilton to make an impact, and despite the trade of Emmanuel Sanders, they’ll have to keep on waiting.

Against the Colts, Hamilton was a complete non-factor, coming away with goose eggs across his stat line outside of his one target.

There were several other factors in the Broncos trading of Sanders, but a large part of it was their faith in the young receivers on the roster. It’s early but so far that faith, at least in Hamilton’s case, appears to be misplaced.