Broncos must learn to ride the hot hand, hand off more to Royce Freeman

Royce Freeman drags a defender into the end zone. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.
Royce Freeman drags a defender into the end zone. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.

Coaching mistakes are sometimes difficult to quantify.

And sometimes, they’re much easier to see.

When the Denver Broncos committed 13 penalties in Week 3, it was clear to see they lacked leadership from their head coach and the rest of the staff, resulting in that loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Then, on Monday night, those mistakes were again fairly easy to see, and they became even clearer after the game was said and done.

Royce Freeman was dominant in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs, racking up 47 yards and a brilliant, determined touchdown before halftime. He started the game off with an 18-yard run, setting the tone for the rivalry contest. And then, with the Broncos trailing 10-3, Freeman took the ball to the right on a crucial 3rd and 1, used some patience before utilizing persistence, running through would-be tacklers and dragging one into the end zone because he wouldn’t be denied.

That touchdown not only tied the game, it swung the momentum into Denver’s favor and they rode that to the 13-10 lead at the break.

After halftime, though, Freeman had a mere three carries for 20 yards. Why, after a first half in which the bruising, rookie running back ran for a sensational 9.4 yards per carry, would the coaching staff go away from him basically all together?

Sure, Phillip Lindsay has run well all season long and is also deserving of carries. Lindsay racked up a team-high 69 yards, but on 12 carries, still a not-so-shabby 5.8 YPC. But, when the Broncos needed to utilize Freeman’s huge, 229-pound frame and run the clock out, they instead ran once with Lindsay — for no gain — and then threw incomplete twice to punt the ball back to the Chiefs.

With 6:27 to go, the Broncos needed three timeouts to defeat the then 3-0 Chiefs and tie up their rival for first place in the division. Denver led by a mere three at that point in the game, making running the clock out even more crucial.

What they should have done there is hand it off at least twice to Freeman, who couldn’t be stopped by Kansas City all night. Instead, he wasn’t even on the field.

And that’s the second mistake by the coaching staff; Freeman was on the field for only 16 snaps, and saw a mere eight carries while Devontae Booker — a relative no-show — was on the field for 20 snaps.

Freeman’s grades by Pro Football Focus bare out his dominance in the run game. His 85.5 grade overall was boosted by his 85.0 run grade, which was easily the best on the team. Booker, on the other hand, was graded out as a 52.1 overall. Simply, Booker has been “average” while Freeman on Monday night was “high quality” according to PFF, which is one rung below “elite.”

Without a doubt, Freeman needed to see the field more than Booker in the Broncos loss to Kansas City. And while Lindsay has performed well this year, with the game on the line and needing the tough yards to run the clock, Freeman should’ve been in to carry the load, at 229 pounds.

Those are two gave coaching errors. We’ve seen since the preseason that Vance Joseph was slow to chance from Booker as the starting running back to Freeman — eventually getting there just in time for Week 1 — and yet, Booker is still getting more snaps than Freeman. The second error was not putting Freeman in with 6:27 to play, and not handing the ball off to him on that series at least twice.

The first error is on Joseph, and the second is on offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

If the Broncos want to win this week, at the 1-3 New York Jets, they need to not only play Freeman more, but hand it off to him more as well. Especially if they have a late lead.

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