Denver’s loss last night on Monday Night Football was heartbreaking for any Broncos fan. Entering Monday’s game, Kansas City was easily seen as the hottest, best team in the AFC and Denver matched up well with them for the most post. If it weren’t for a few critical errors, the Broncos might have found themselves at 3-1 and atop the AFC West.
They didn’t however, and it’s time to take a look why.
Last night, Courtland Sutton had his breakout game. The rookie feasted on a weak Chiefs secondary, leading all Broncos wide receivers with 51 yards on three receptions. Sutton made his best play by winning a 50/50 ball deep down the sideline. If he’s able to maintain this level of play consistently, Demaryius Thomas could see his snap counts and targets reduced.
Sutton wasn’t the only rookie to have his breakout game in primetime last night. Royce Freeman jumped off the screen with 67 yards on a mere eight carries, and a wildly impressive touchdown run.
You're not stopping this @rolls_royce21.
📺: ESPN pic.twitter.com/KSIDetCGRd
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2018
The Broncos’ secondary of Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons saw the greatest stock increase after Monday’s primetime showing. Denver’s defense held the most explosive passing attack in the league to 13 points through three quarters. In the first three games of the season, the Chiefs averaged 33.66 points through the first three quarters.
Denver’s secondary was also the first unit to stop Mahomes from throwing multiple touchdown passes. On the first seven drives of the game, the young quarterback out of Texas Tech was 15-for-29 for just 151 yards on Kansas City’s first seven drives before going 13-for-16 for 153 and a score on the final two.
Left tackle Garret Bolles played poorly last week against Baltimore, and once again, he looked like the worst member of the Broncos’ offensive line. He had the difficult task of having to block Justin Houston – but that doesn’t excuse how lost Bolles looked.
During one sequence, Houston flew through Bolles like he was a turnstile, leading to a sack. Then on the very next play, Bolles drew a holding call after tackling his assignment in an act of frustration. Bolles has to correct these mental errors if he wants to be the Broncos’ left tackle of the future.
The Broncos’ coaching staff – head coach Vance Joseph, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Joe Woods – made their fair share of mental errors. For example, on the Chiefs’ game-winning drive, the Broncos were faced with a 2nd-and-30, where Mahomes easily found Demarcus Robinson for 23 yards. After the game, players were reportedly upset about the lack of a blitz on the play, and deservedly so. The coaches also dialed up a hook-and-ladder play on fourth down, even though it seemed likely that had time to line up, spike it, and run another play. Unless Denver makes a surprise playoff run, it’s likely that there will be turnover in this department following the season.
Case Keenum had another ugly game for the Broncos. Keenum completed 63.6% of his balls for 245 yards and an interception. He threw another pass that easily could’ve been intercepted by Kendall Fuller, but was dropped instead. But in the most egregious error, Keenum missed a wide-open Demaryius Thomas on a would-be game winning touchdown down the right sideline. Denver invested in Keenum with the belief that he could replicate his 2017 success with Minnesota. With every passing game, it’s becoming more and more apparent that that won’t be the case.
Monday night gave Broncos fans a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the future, but just as many to be worried about this season. The team is full of so much young talent; talent the franchise can build around for the next decade. But how far can this team go with a weak coaching staff and poor quarterback play?