As the Denver Broncos were trounced 30-13 in the Mile High City on Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles, one had to wonder whether or not the team missed Pat Shurmur.
It sure seemed that way.
The Broncos were red-hot on offense last week, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 30-16. It was the first time this year, with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, the team scored 30 points. The extremely balanced attack (190 rushing yards, 217 passing) scored in all four quarters and they seemed to finally hit their stride under Shurmur.
Then, the Broncos offensive coordinator contracted COVID-19 and was sidelined for today’s game. That left Mike Shula as the team’s interim offensive coordinator and play caller on Sunday versus the Eagles.
And, while all the inconsistencies and inefficiencies of the offense couldn’t be blamed on the play-calling alone, the Broncos offense was night-and-day worse than last week.
Last week with Shurmur, the Broncos went 8-15 on 3rd downs. This week, they went a terrible 1-11 (1-13 when including 4th downs). Last week the team controlled the clock for 41 minutes and ran for 190 yards, this week it was a mere 25 minutes of clock and 96 rushing yards.
The orange and blue also had four 3-and-outs this week. And the most egregious error was Melvin Gordon’s fumble to end the third quarter, which was returned 82 yards for the nail-in-the-coffin touchdown.
Simply, the Broncos offense was awful on Sunday, and regressed to their same-old selves we’ve seen for most of the Vic Fangio Era.
That was disheartening for three reasons.
First and foremost, there was hope the offense finally found a way under Shurmur last week in the whooping of the Cowboys in “Big D.” Bridgewater was on fire, but he wasn’t asked to do too much as the thunder and thunder combo of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams carried the offense on their broad shoulders.
Secondly, the offensive regression was troubling because Philly’s defense wasn’t that great, and they were coming into the game 3-5. Simply, it was a game the Broncos needed to win if they wanted to make the playoffs, even if that would have still been a long shot with a win.
And finally, the offensive struggles don’t just hurt this week, but they will drag into the future. Why? The Broncos are off next week with their bye.
Then, Denver has two crucial divisional games in a row, hosting the Los Angeles Chargers (5-4) and the Kansas City Chiefs (5-4, currently playing the Raiders).
On one hand, Shurmur’s offense has been more efficient and effective than it was in 2020 with Drew Lock. Denver’s enjoying more points per drive and longer drives this year as well as Bridgewater’s better individual statistics than Lock’s last season.
On the other hand, the Broncos haven’t attacked down field enough at times with Bridgewater (specifically, this Sunday), and the results have been lackluster scoring.
In two weeks from tonight, when the Broncos get back onto the field, they’ll have Shurmur back. And that seemingly will be a move in the right direction.
However, Shurmur’s return alone won’t be enough. He needs to start mixing things up, and his Broncos offense must make opponents start guessing.
Denver’s offense, even on its best days, has no imagination, no trickeration and it’s easy to defend. Yes, we are 10 games into the season, but with two weeks to prepare, is it too much to ask Shurmur to install some new plays?
The Broncos are barely getting by, with three backup offensive linemen being forced to play as of late; maybe Shurmur could throw in a tight end screen or a running back screen here and there?
Or an end-around? Or a halfback pass?
What do the Broncos have to lose at this point?
After starting the season 3-0, Denver has battled to get to the bye week at 5-5. Ironically, with the sometimes unbeatable Chiefs in the division, the Broncos are still in the thick of it all.
But, those who watch these Broncos know they are on the precipice of disaster. These Broncos are closer to the team who was embarrassed by the Eagles than the one who surprised the Cowboys a week ago.
A win today would have meant a three-game winning streak. Instead, Denver will be searching for much-needed answers for the next two weeks.