A game of flinches

Bron­cos not mak­ing the plays they need to close out wins

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

It is sec­ond-and-goal at the Ten­nessee Titans’ 16yard line with just un­der five min­utes left in the fourth quar­ter. Trevor Siemian is in the shot­gun. The Bron­cos’ quar­ter­back quickly scans the line, then drops back and shifts left to evade pres­sure com­ing from his right side. His eyes lock and his arm fires, send­ing a mis­sile to­ward Ben­nie Fowler’s chest for what could be the game-win­ning score at Ten­nessee.

If only. The ball bounced off Fowler’s face mask as he spun around and face­planted in the end zone. The Bron­cos would set­tle for a field goal, cut­ting Ten­nessee’s lead to 13-10 on Sun­day. Then they lost a fum­ble on their next and fi­nal pos­ses­sion and dropped to 8-5.

“We had four or five plays to make, a cou­ple on (Siemian’s) be­half and a cou­ple on the re­ceiver’s be­half, that would have closed the foot­ball game,” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak said Mon­day. “Those are the plays we have to go make.”

Fowler’s drop not only quashed the Bron­cos’ best chance at turn­ing their fourth-quar­ter rally into a vic­tory but also seemed to cap­ture the style of the of­fense of late: start slowly, then rally

but fail to fin­ish.

It has be­come the Bron­cos’ way for rea­sons not even Ku­biak can ex­plain. Den­ver’s run game died long ago and, no mat­ter the per­son­nel changes, has yet to be re­sus­ci­tated. The pass­ing game, now the most re­li­able part of the of­fense, has af­forded the quar­ter­back lit­tle pro­tec­tion. And the of­fense as a whole has been con­sis­tently in­con­sis­tent, rid­dled with mis­takes.

The Bron­cos’ of­fen­sive woes are laid bare in the num­bers: They’ve pro­duced a league-low 23 points in the first quar­ter but a league-high 143 points in the fourth.

The lag­ging run game that has frus­trated Ku­biak for much of the sea­son has av­er­aged only 2.9 yards per carry in the past six games, down from 4.1 through seven games.

Sun­day, the Bron­cos ran the ball only nine times for 18 yards, tied for the third-fewest in Bron­cos history.

Siemian, as a first-year starter, is a con­ve­nient tar­get to blame, but his play has proved he’s not the prob­lem. In the last five games, he has av­er­aged 303.8 yards pass­ing, the sec­ond­most of any quar­ter­back in that span be­hind Washington’s Kirk Cousins — while get­ting sacked at the fifth-high­est rate (7.8 per­cent of pass plays) be­hind the Bron­cos’ line.

The Bron­cos failed to muster much of any of­fense in the first half Sun­day against the Titans, and, as both as a cause and ef­fect, ran only 24 of­fen­sive plays. They punted four times, recorded only 12 yards rush­ing, went 0for-5 on third downs and had only five first downs. But in the sec­ond half, when they all but scrapped their run­ning game, they ral­lied be­hind Siemian, who fin­ished with 334 yards pass­ing, a touch­down and zero in­ter­cep­tions for a 93.1 passer rat­ing.

“If you look at Trevor’s num­bers, ob­vi­ously they’re big num­bers — re­ally big num­bers,” Ku­biak said. “If you don’t stay on the field and you’re not get­ting snaps, those num­bers aren’t go­ing to come.”

Which cre­ates an ob­vi­ous ques­tion for the Bron­cos with three crit­i­cal games re­main­ing: Do they stick with a run game that is in­ex­pli­ca­bly in­ef­fi­cient, or do they pass more, as Den­ver did in the sec­ond half Sun­day, and ac­cept more risk of the quar­ter­back get­ting hurt?

“Right now we have to be able to run the ball and pro­tect,” said tight end A.J. Derby. “We have to make plays for him.” For Ku­biak, the ques­tion is much sim­pler. “It’s not about the plays. It’s about ex­e­cu­tion, it’s about de­tails, it’s about some of those things,” he said. “Then you have to ask your­self why. Why is the de­tail not there early in the game?”

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

The Bron­cos’ Ben­nie Fowler can’t se­cure what would have been a touch­down re­cep­tion in the fourth quar­ter Sun­day.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian had a strong fourth quar­ter Sun­day, but not good enough to win.

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