The Broncos entered Week 8 riding high of a 35-point beatdown of the floundering Cardinals. One week later, head coach Vance Joseph appears to be on the hot seat again, following Sunday’s 30-23 loss at Kansas City.
In a game that was marred by penalties and poor execution in crucial moments, the Broncos coaching staff failed to properly prepare the team for one of its biggest games of the season. If there is a bright spot for the Broncos faithful, it is that unlike the coaching staff, some of the players were able to improve their stock.
Innovation is often the product of necessity, and after going into the game down a man in the backfield, Devontae Booker proved that he can be much more than just a pass protector.
With Royce Freeman sidelined with an ankle injury, the Broncos turned to Booker to help rookie sensation Phillip Lindsay shoulder the rushing duties Sunday. Booker responded to the increase in touches by recording a season-high 78 yards on nine carries. The third-year running back out of Utah added 23 receiving yards on four receptions as well.
With 101 total yards from scrimmage in the game, Sunday’s loss to Kansas City marked the first time that Booker went over the century mark since his rookie season in 2016.
While Booker improved his stock on the ground, Denver’s young pass catchers made an impression in the aerial attack. Specifically, Courtland Sutton, Matt LaCosse and Tim Patrick shined in the game.
Sutton continues to look better with each week, which is one of the major reasons that the team is reportedly fielding offers for Demaryius Thomas. The rookie wide receiver caught three balls for a career-high 78 yards and also added a touchdown as he led the Broncos in receiving for the first time in his young career.
Sutton was not the only young wide out that made an impact though. Patrick recorded his first career touchdown, a 24-yard pass from Case Keenum. And LaCosse also had a solid outing while filling in for the injured Jake Butt. LaCosse finished four catches for 29 yards, both of which are career-best totals.
Finally, on the defensive side, free safety Justin Simmons had another strong outing against the Chiefs. In his second full season as the team’s starter, Simmons has been one of the few positives on Denver’s defense in 2018. After intercepting Mahomes on Sunday. Simmons currently leads the team with interceptions (2) and is second on the team in total tackles (49).
After recording six sacks in the victory over the Cardinals the week before, Denver’s vaunted pass rushers struggled to contain Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. The Broncos were able to reach Mahomes twice in the game, but the second-year pro was able to consistently use his mobility to escape the pocket and make plays downfield.
The duo of Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, which combined for 8.5 sacks over the previous two weeks, finished with only one against the Chiefs. Considering Denver has heavily invested in its pass rush, the Broncos need its defensive stars to find a way to make more plays in big games.
While Denver’s pass rush struggled to reach Mahomes, Kansas City had no problems getting into the Broncos’ backfield. The Chiefs racked up five sacks on Keenum, forcing two fumbles and recovering one in the process.
Kansas City’s pressure was constant and it greatly impacted Keenum’s ability to sit in the pocket and read the defense. As a result, Keenum made multiple poor decisions in the game, including a fourth quarter interception.
Denver’s offensive line has looked better this year, especially when it comes to running the football, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Denver’s starting five has consistently struggled in pass protection situations in 2018 and it has played a large role in all of the team’s losses so far.
The other common theme in losses this season has been poor play from the special teams units.
In Sunday’s loss, Brandon McManus missed his first field goal of the season, a 55-yard attempt in the first quarter. The rare miss from the veteran kicker set up the Chiefs with excellent field position, and KC quickly responded with its first touchdown drive of the game. Punter Colby Wadman did not look much better either. If the Broncos are going to turn around the season, special teams play must improve.