Broncos Country could be excused for its anger and bewilderment its team’s offensive woes which have resulted in a dismal 1-3 record over the last four games.
Analytical evidence abounds to justify how fans seem to have turned on embattled QB Drew Lock and the confused manner with which Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is running the show.
Fundamental mistakes in protecting the ball cost the Broncos in Vegas, coughing the ball up to the Raiders on five occasions, four of which were courtesy of Lock. The floundering Broncos now have the dubious distinction of leapfrogging the Dallas Cowboys as the league leader giveaways, with 21. A sad distinction.
The Broncos also rank No. 31 with a -12 turnover differential as the team has slumped to a 3-6 record on the season. Over the last four games, the Broncos have looked increasingly lost on offense — exempting Lock’s near-miraculous comeback vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8.
First-half scoring grimly tells where the Broncos stand with a combined 68-21 deficit over the four-game span. The early offensive ineptitude has led to a tendency to chase opponents in-game, which has, consequently, led to the abandonment of a running game that boasts the unique skill-sets of a pair of running backs that has three Pro Bowl nods among them.
The homegrown Phillip Lindsay has starkly been left out in the cold since he posted a career-high 23 carries on the road in New England in Week 6, breaking the 100-yard rushing mark for the sixth time in his career. In the four ensuing games since, he has barely eclipsed that single-game touch total, only carrying the ball 27 times combined.
That averages out at less than seven carries per game over that duration, which, considering Lindsay’s explosive play-making ability, has to be deemed as unacceptable by the coaches. This shunning of Lindsay in the game-plan has left fans to wonder whether Coach Shurmur might not share the opinion of Atlanta’s interim head coach Raheem Morris, who noted ahead of the team’s Week 9 matchup how vital the third-year back is to the Broncos’ offense.
“He’s kind of the heartbeat of the team,” Morris said during his November 4 conference call with Denver media. “When I say ‘Heartbeat of the team,’ I mean kind of the ‘Juice Guy.’ When he does have a carry, it’s meaningful. The way he runs the ball with passion you can feel it—oozes off (the) tape.”
After netting just four carries in Week 10’s beatdown at the hands of the Raiders, head coach Vic Fangio was asked if perhaps the reason for Lindsay’s relative icing-out of the offense might be due to health. After all, Lindsay did suffer a turf-toe injury in the season-opener which cost him the three-and-a-half games, as well as a concussion in Week 7, which led to another two quarters missed against Kansas City.
“He’s probably not 100 percent coming off the injuries he had,” Fangio said on Monday. “He tweaked it a couple weeks ago, but he’s plenty fine. I think he’s like a lot of running backs at this time of the year.”
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Fangio is referring to the toe injury flaring up on Lindsay again following the Chargers game in which he totaled 83 rushing yards (on just eight carries), sparking the Broncos’ raging comeback with a 55-yard touchdown romp in the third quarter. Perhaps that explains, in part, Lindsay’s lack of involvement but it isn’t the whole picture.
“We were trying the run yesterday,” Fangio said of the Broncos’ 37-12 loss to the Raiders. “It didn’t always work out well and then we had the two-minute drive at the end of the half, so a good bit of that is throwing. Then we start off with a couple three-and-outs in the second half and we ran it the first and second-down plays and then after that, we got behind. So, you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities in the run game when you’re behind and we weren’t getting a lot of opportunities early either because we weren’t successful with it.”
Let’s face it. Aside from Lindsay’s brace of drops vs. Atlanta, or Shurmur’s preference to rely on better pass-pro blockers on third down, it’s hard to find any constructive reasons to freeze Lindsay out of the offense as the Broncos seem to have done, whether inadvertent or not. Perhaps more broadly, it speaks to a wide-ranging lack of offensive identity that is consistently failing to utilize the more explosive aforementioned ‘Juice Guy’.
Marginalizing Lindsay has contributed to the Broncos’ offense becoming progressively predictable on a week-to-week basis as opponents are now daring the struggling Lock to beat them through the air. The Broncos’ second-year signal-caller has only completed 31.7 of his passes when throwing under pressure this season and it’s becoming abundantly clear that sticking to the current formula is not going to deliver the desired results.
Lock was also shaken up in the blowout loss in Vegas, so Shurmur may well be forced to focus on the basics of running the football should he miss some time but it would behoove him to try something other than inside/outside zone every once in a while. That could make life a tad easier for the injury-hit Broncos’ O-line, which has continually failed to keep its quarterback out of harm’s way.
Even more importantly, feeding Lindsay, and Melvin Gordon, could serve to alleviate at least some of the mounting pressure piling on Lock’s shoulders and could even have the collateral effect of rescuing his flagging career.
“That would be a great help. It would be,” Fangio said. “No doubt that a better run game would help any quarterback.”