Penalties may have killed the Broncos on Sunday, but a complete lack of leadership is the reason why the team committed those fouls.
When Denver’s loss was completed in Baltimore, there were 13 penalties, including a 12-men in the huddle call with the Broncos at the Ravens six-yard line, for 120 yards.
Simply, the Denver Broncos lack leadership and their bevy of penalties most easily express that.
The most egregious penalty was that 12-men in the huddle call. How does that even happen, with 3:40 to play, from the Ravens’ six-yard line and the Broncos needing two touchdowns? A lack of leadership is how.
The other massive penalty for the Broncos came on the field goal block and touchdown, calling that score back due to a block in the back call. Denver’s offense couldn’t move the ball down and into the end zone, having to punt, therefore meaning that penalty was a seven-point difference for Denver.
Then, the personal foul that ejected Phillip Lindsay from the game for throwing three punches — he said he was punching the ball — was yet another penalty showing a lack of leadership. And Ronald Leary was given a personal foul for unnecessary roughness as well.
The other nine penalties were multiple holding calls on Garett Bolles and Connor McGovern and other minor calls, though they each hurt the Broncos in their own way, minor or not.
That lack of leadership continued in other ways, outside of penalties, on Sunday.
With Denver ahead 14-10, Vance Joseph decided to challenge the ruling on a catch, which was a terrible decision. On a first and 10, Michael Crabtree caught an eight-yard pass and Joseph decided to challenge it, and lost. The Ravens ended up driving down and scoring a touchdown to take the 17-14 lead anyway, but it was a bad call for multiple reasons.
First, there’s no reason to challenge a play of that little importance. It was first down, and a catch for a mere eight yards, early in the game. And that’s the second reason; it wasn’t worth risking Denver’s timeout with 10:34 left in the first half. Because of failing on the challenge, meaning he shouldn’t have challenged in the first place, Denver also had only one more challenge for the rest of the game.
Near the end of the half, after a terrible, 35-yard punt by Marquette King, Baltimore was set up with a short field and all three of their timeouts; like well-coached teams do. And before sending it back to the Ravens, Joseph blew the Broncos second and third timeouts of the half, in effect helping Baltimore by stopping the clock.
Then, after the break, Joseph called the Broncos first timeout mid-way through the third quarter. Baltimore caught a pass near the goal line and it looked like Nick Boyle may have been stopped at the three-yard line instead of the one. After calling the timeout, Joseph decided to challenge the play, thinking he could do so and not be charged another timeout if it was wrongly challenged. Instead, he was disallowed the challenge because spot of ball plays can only be challenged at the goal line or the line to gain, it was explained.
Again, that was a foolhardy use of the team’s second and last challenge of the day, and it could have left the Broncos with only one timeout remaining with a quarter and a half left to play. While trailing.
There have been many reasons to question the leadership of Vance Joseph, but remember, all the listed examples above came from this one, single game. In Joseph’s second season as head coach.
What other mistakes has he made? Playing Isaiah McKenzie for too long in 2017, leading to six fumbles. He failed to make Royce Freeman the starting running back until the start of this season, starting Devontae Booker all throughout preseason when Freeman was clearly the better back. He played Shane Ray more in place of Shaquil Barrett in the first game of this year, although Barrett is the better player. Joseph regularly doesn’t know when to call timeouts and when to save them, nor when to challenge calls or not.
Joseph has looked like he’s been in over his head the entire time he’s been the Broncos head coach, now 19 total games. And until Denver makes a coaching change, this lack of leadership will continue to rear its ugly head; sometimes in more obvious ways than others.