Three Up, Three Down: Running game, coaching disappoints as young Broncos emerge

Nov 4, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman (82) celebrates with running back Devontae Booker (23) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) after a touchdown in the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos’ 19-17 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday was a painful one for the club, but one that may eventually become pivotal.

The story of the game will certainly be head coach Vance Joseph‘s poor clock management and field goal decisions at the end of each half, and rightfully so, but kicker Brandon McManus shouldn’t be let entirely off the hook.

A 62-yard field goal is a long shot, to say the least, but McManus hooked it so far right that ball might not have been good from 40. The moment it left his foot, everyone watching at home went ‘that’s a miss’. The same could be said for his 51-yard game-winning attempt.

After the game, McManus said, “Both kicks were terrible kicks by me; I didn’t even give them a chance. Like I said, it’s tough on these guys to fight so hard and just to have two terrible kicks – and not even give myself a chance to make them.”

The Broncos have too many holes already to start worrying about how reliable their kicker is.

Three Up

Where has this Jeff Heuerman been?

I can’t imagine I was the only one thinking that as the fourth-year tight end out of Ohio State went off against a depleted Houston secondary. Heuerman not only led the team in receiving, but did so with ease.

His ten receptions stood head and shoulders above all other Broncos, almost twice as many as the next best player. Heuerman’s 83 yards were also more than any other Bronco by a wide margin, and he even led the team in receiving TDs with one.

Heuerman’s flash of potential came in impressive fashion, too. Despite leading the Broncos in all the aforementioned categories, he played fewer snaps than Sanders, Sutton and even wide receiver Tim Patrick – yet he still managed two clutch conversions on Denver’s last drive.

No, Denver wasn’t able to capitalize, but they wouldn’t have even been in a position to win that game had it not been for Heuerman’s big plays on third and fourth down.

Heuerman wasn’t the only downtrodden Bronco to see his stock rise, as left tackle Garret Bolles had a bounce-back game as well. Bolles has been the subject of much criticism from Broncos fans and deservedly so, but on Sunday, he was rock-solid.

Tasked with the near-impossible job of having to block Texans stud J.J. Watt, Bolles didn’t allow a sack. Watt was eventually able to get to Keenum, but it came on an interior rush, when Bolles wasn’t responsible for him. Bolles also managed to dodge some of the penalties that have marred his young career.

To continue the trend of poor performing Broncos increasing their stock against the Texans, the final stock up goes to the Broncos’ entire run defense.

That defense bottomed out after they allowed a 200-yard rusher in back-to-back games against the Jets and Rams. Since then, Denver’s run defense has appeared reinvigorated. The unit gave up just 69 and 49 rushing yards to the Cardinals and Chiefs, respectively, and continued that trend on Sunday against Houston.

Although Deshaun Watson was able to scramble a few times for a combined 38 yards, Denver’s strong front seven was able to shut down Houston’s running backs. Starting running back Lamar Miller was held to 21 yards on 12 attempts; a measly 1.8 yards per carry.

Miller’s partner-in-crime, Alfred Blue, didn’t favor much better. Blue was held under 40 yards on 15 carries, averaging a paltry but slightly better 2.6 YPC.

Three Down

Unfortunately for the Broncos, their running game was shut down by the Texans’ stingy run defense. Missing running back Royce Freeman due to injury, the weight fell on the shoulders of backfield mate Phillip Lindsay – and for the first time all season, Lindsay wasn’t up for the task.

Lindsay totaled just 60 yards on the ground, his second-lowest total in a full game this season, but this time, the blame isn’t shared with the coaching staff for not giving him the ball enough. Lindsay’s 17 attempts were among his heavier workloads on the season, earning a poor 3.5 YPC. Take away his 22-yard long and it gets even worse as you’re left with 38 yards on 16 carries. Even Alfred Blue did better than that.

However, some of Lindsay’s struggles can be blamed on an interior offensive line plagued by injury. Matt Paradis was carted off the field with a fractured fibula in the closing minutes of the first half. Paradis has started at center every game for the Broncos since 2014.

According to Pro Football Focus, Paradis has been Denver’s best offensive lineman and the best center in the league. The fact that he won’t return is terrible news for the Broncos, as their second-most reliable lineman, guard Ronald Leary, is also out for the remainder of the season.

As devastating as the loss of Paradis was, the stock that plummeted the most in value has to be Vance Joseph‘s. His decision to attempt a 62-yard field goal – with 22 seconds left in the first half, and while the Texans still had two time outs – was mind-boggling.

Equally as bad was how conservative Joseph got at the end of the game. The moment the Broncos got within the outskirts of McManus’ range, all sense of urgency left the Broncos’ side of the field. The Broncos had plenty of time to make the kick easier for McManus.

Some of the blame does fall on Bill Musgrave‘s conservative play-calling, but at the end of the day, the head coach is responsible for time management – and there’s no way to sugar-coat it; by his own admission, Joseph did a poor job on Sunday.

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