Dear Broncos, where was this offense back in Week 1? In Week 4?
Why did this aggressive, big-shot-taking, creative offense take until Week 8 — with the Broncos at 2-6 — to come to life?
Two weeks ago, before Denver’s bye week, Brandon Allen was inserted into the lineup and finally, the offense started to be more aggressive.
Allen tossed a ball up into the end zone to Courtland Sutton, who hauled it in. Later in that game, Allen found Fant over the middle for a key first down which set up Phillip Lindsay’s 30-yard touchdown run. Those were a solid start and Denver built on those plays in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
On the first play of this week’s game, Allen went deep to Courtland Sutton but overthrew him. But, two plays later, Allen tossed one up deep to Noah Fant, who hauled it in for a 31-yard gain. Later in that explosive first quarter, Allen went deep again to Sutton and this time completed an incredible 48-yard pass in traffic. That set up the Broncos’ first touchdown of the day and a 10-0 lead.
This was an exciting, previously unseen offense in which Rich Scangarello decided to go deep often. He even had Sutton — the superstar-in-the-making receiver — throw a pass deep to Fant. The Broncos also went for it on one fourth down, allowing Sutton to take it on an end-around for a crucial first down.
In that first half, the Broncos were keeping the 7-3 Vikings guessing, keeping the home team on their heels as Denver’s offense was more unpredictable than we’ve seen all year.
Of course, the conservative approach — which we have seen weekly — was still there. On Denver’s second touchdown drive, multiple runs near the goal line almost meant a field goal. Then, when the Broncos forced a turnover deep in Minnesota territory, short passes turned into a field goal near the end of the first half.
Still, Denver went into halftime leading 20-0. They also put up 217 yards of offense with 12 first downs before the break.
Football is unquestionably a game of momentum. The offense got going on those huge, creative plays and the defense rode the momentum by sacking Kirk Cousins, tackling Dalvin Cook for short gains and even forcing Cousins to fumble.
However, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello went back to his conservative approach in the second half.
With the Broncos now leading 23-13, Denver needed a mere one yard to convert on third down, with 10:56 to play. Instead of pounding the ball into the middle of the line, Scangarello called a pitch to Fant, who was far too slow to get the edge, giving the ball back to the Vikings who had just scored a touchdown on their previous drive.
And what did the Vikings do? They were the aggressors, as Cousins went deep to Stephon Diggs for a 54-yard touchdown. Just like that, Denver led by a mere 23-20.
What we saw play out this Sunday was a replay of two weeks ago, when the team finally started getting aggressive.
Against the Browns, Denver took a 17-12 lead into halftime thanks to going for shots and taking risks in the first half. But, yet again this week, all that aggression and all those big plays in the first half opened the door for a conservative attack in the second half and a diminishing lead.
Yet again, with Denver needing to be aggressive late, they went with the conservative approach, running on third and long to set up a shorter field goal which was ultimately missed. Minnesota again attacked deep in response, and again scored to take the 27-23 lead.
Down by four points and with six minutes on the clock, Denver needed to again be aggressive and go deep. Instead, they tried to dink and dunk their way down the field, which actually worked to a degree. But, it didn’t work well enough.
Denver couldn’t get the ball into the end zone and fell to 3-7 on the year while Minnesota improved to 8-3.
Broncos fans saw the difference in coaching strategies and how they play out in real time. The Vikings were getting crushed in the first half as Denver did everything right. But Minnesota didn’t panic, they just kept fighting and playing their game and ultimately clawed back to win.
Meanwhile, Denver did exactly what they needed to in the first half, going up big by throwing big passes. And then they got conservative, sat on the lead and watched it evaporate away.
It was the first time in the last five years that a team led by 20-plus points only to lose. Previous teams were 99-0 before Denver’s devastating loss.