By Rich Kurtzman
Ouch. Denver was dominated on the football field Sunday afternoon by the St. Louis Rams’ brutal physicality and more competent play all-around.
The Broncos’ offense was off to start the game, and when they went for an early fourth down and failed, St. Louis capitalized by scoring a 63-yard touchdown with Kenny Britt on the next play. It was a massive momentum shift in the Rams’ favor, one they’d ride for the rest of the contest. After mostly completely ineffective play, the offense got it going when Peyton Manning connected with Emmanuel Sanders for a 43-yard score, which brought the game to 13-7 before half.
Denver could never score again, though, and when Sanders was injured by safety Rodney McLeod on a deep pass play – knocking the smallish receiver out of the game with a concussion – it was another shift of momentum in the Rams’ favor. While the Broncos couldn’t score once in the second half, St. Louis put three more field goals on the board to win 22-7.
Offense – F
Where was the Broncos’ vaunted offense? Sure, multiple players – Sanders, Montee Ball (groin) and Julius Thomas (ankle) – went out injured, but this offense has enough playmakers to even sustain all those injuries. Manning wasn’t himself and there were far too many dropped passes by important receivers to compete with the Rams, who gained confidence at every turn. Denver completely abandoned the run game, gaining a season-low 28 yards on the ground, which also allowed St. Louis to drop into coverage every play. When they did, they intercepted Manning twice; both came when he tried to force passes into covered players. Overall, it was a pitiful performance.
Defense – C-
The defense was so-so at best on Sunday. Coming into the game, they were the No. 1 rushing defense in the league, but then they allowed Tre Mason to go off for 113 yards, the most for a single back against the Broncos all season. St. Louis controlled the line of scrimmage all game long, somewhat inexplicably. They both bullied the Denver front and disallowed pressure on formerly backup quarterback Shaun Hill, who managed a very good game. While the defense held for five field goals, they allowed the Rams to hold onto the ball and milk the clock for nearly 36 minutes, which left Manning little time to try and mount a comeback.
Special teams – D
What’s special about this unit? Nothing, really. Greg Zeurlein only allowed two kick returns, booting the ball deep into the end zone nearly every time, and Andre Caldwell gained a mere 12 yards per return. Brandon McManus made his one extra point. Also, there was a false start on one of Britton Colquitt’s five punts. And on two of his punts, they were quite short. One even landed outside the 20 yard line, which is terribly done.
Coaching – D
While John Fox was a bit more gutsy than most weeks, going for it multiple times on fourth downs, the coaching was still quite bad. Abandoning the run game by Adam Gase is a silly strategy, as it takes away the element of surprise. Poor balance makes the opponent’s job easy, which was getting after Manning by the front and dropping back into coverage for defensive backs; it all worked. On defense, Jack Del Rio should have sent more pressure when he saw the linemen alone weren’t getting to Hill, as they had a chance to rattle him.
With the second loss in three weeks, the Broncos are a bit reeling now. They sit at 7-3, tied with Kansas City and only one game ahead of the 6-4 San Diego Chargers in the AFC West.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.