NFL games are tales of a missed opportunity here and there. Often, a play or two can summarize the entirety of a game. The Denver Broncos‘ 23-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens was exactly that. The matchup between the two AFC playoff hopefuls is a clear indicator of how a play here and there changes the story of a game.
It’s fair to debate the Broncos’ playcalling on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called only four designed runs in the second half of a 17-7 contest. The running game had been the most effective it had been this season to that point.
Vic Fangio’s defense gave up over 300 yards passing to Lamar Jackson, only the Baltimore quarterback’s second such game of his career. Jackson had boatloads of time throw the ball as the team used delayed rush tactics to keep the electric quarterback from breaking the pocket.
Each criticism is warranted but is not the sole contributor to the Broncos’ loss Sunday. However, the defense held the potent Ravens attack to well below their average in rushing yards and points. With a team as good as the Ravens, Fangio had to take one aspect of the Ravens’ offense away and he chose the correct one.
The Broncos simply did not execute when they had the opportunities to do so. Breaking the game down, this contest was the tale of a Ravens’ team that made the most of their opportunities while Denver did not.
How Denver’s offense came up short
The Broncos’ shortcomings against the Ravens are vivid in two plays. These plays directly contrast Baltimore made in similar situations.
On the opening drive, the Broncos were moving the ball. Denver looked to have the early advantage after gaining two first downs, one rushing, and one passing.
Noah Fant comes in motion to create a twins look to the far sideline. He’s matched up on a smaller safety. Tim Patrick runs a clear-out and Fant a sail (corner route) towards the sideline. The ball is delivered high but with air to allow Fant to adjust while the defender is on his back. Bridgewater and Fant are unable to connect leading to a 3rd and 10 situation to open the game.
The incompletion puts pressure on the Broncos’ offensive line to hold up on a third and long with a team who brings a lot of pressure looks. Bridgewater has to use the quick game to avoid pressure and it reduces the route combinations available because of the down and distance.
On the very next play, Albert Okwuegbunam is on the top of the screen in man-to-man with a smaller defender. The Broncos’ tight end gets a step and is open on a go route. Bridgewater throws a good ball that just goes through the fingertips of the Okwuegbunam and the Broncos punt, losing the momentum and failing to score on their opening drive.
A score on the first possession would have changed the terms of the game, therefore calling for the Ravens to potentially adjust how they schemed the Broncos from there on out.
The Broncos offense simply failed to execute. Players, regardless of their role, took turns in not making the play when it was in front of them. Whether it was a missed assignment or physical error, the Broncos were their own worst enemy against a formidable team. Denver needed to capitalize when a good Ravens defense gave it windows of opportunity and it simply just did not.
Where the Ravens’ capitalized against the Broncos
Conversely, Lamar Jackson is able to connect with Mark Andrews on the same sideline Fant was unable to come down the grab on. Andrews comes across the entire formation with a man draped on him. Justin Simmons who broke up a pass to Andrews earlier is unable to adjust while Andrews finds the ball for a big gain.
In a tie game, the Ravens are in 2nd and 10. Jackson surveys the field and sees Marquise Brown get behind Kareem Jackson deep. Brown, who dropped three potential touchdowns last week, dives and makes a spectacular grab. Unlike Okwuegbunam, Brown is able to make the big play and essentially put the game away for the Ravens.
In the end, this contest showed that Baltimore is a team ready for the challenge. However, the Broncos were not up to the task and could not make the plays their opposition did. The difference in the game was a matter of inches.
— Ryan Greene 📷 (@RyanCBS4) October 3, 2021
A lot will be revealed about the Broncos this upcoming week against the Pittsburg Steelers. Either they will respond and show the NFL last week was a learning opportunity. Or Fangio’s team will shrivel into the 2020 Broncos team who failed to meet expectations.