After the 27-11 loss to the Washington Redskins, a team almost as flawed as the Broncos in many ways, the Broncos left FedEx Field with real confirmation that they’re kidding themselves if they think a new quarterback will fix all their problems.
Set to face Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins — a potential free-agency prize if Washington lets him into the open market — much of the discussion this season has been about the Broncos’ travails at the position and whether a veteran such as Cousins, or a high-prized rookie, is what they need.
There is no question, even as president of football operations/general manager John Elway started his early draft work this past week by attending Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen’s bowl game in Boise, that the team’s quarterback plan will dominate the offseason work. But Sunday’s loss offered proof the Broncos (5-10) can’t stop there.
They need to decide what they want to be on offense. As they have at times this season, they essentially pulled the chute on what this team does best Sunday after finding trouble. A game they had dominated by pounding the ball in the run game in the opening quarter got away from them when they let a couple second-quarter turnovers change their approach.
The Broncos went from 12 carries in a first quarter in which they controlled the tempo — they outgained Washington 86 yards to 14 and held the ball for 10 minutes and 58 seconds — to far less enthusiasm about running the ball after an interception and a fumble by Brock Osweiler.
By the end of the third quarter they had added only 12 carries to their first-quarter total and had fallen behind by 10 points. That’s happened over and over again in a season where they’re 5-0 when they run the ball more than they throw it and 0-10 when the scale tips the other way.
That transitions rather smoothly to the Broncos’ difficulties in pass protection. Right tackle Donald Stephenson had a particularly difficult day Sunday, especially when Ryan Kerrigan was across from him.
A new quarterback won’t do much good if the Broncos can’t give the guy a cleaner pocket when they do want to throw. Consider: Osweiler’s fumble and interception in the second quarter were each byproducts of breakdowns up front.
Rookie left tackle Garett Bolles will need to make a big jump in both play as well as on-field maturity next season. The Broncos need far more depth and need to decide if Menelik Watson, currently on injured reserve, is the plan at right tackle (he’s never started more than 12 games in any of his five seasons).
And the notion that the defense is just fine was left in the vapor trail of a wide-open Josh Doctson on a 48-yard, walk-in-the-park touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter. Whether it’s plan, personnel or not enough teaching moments, the Broncos might have had more high-profile breakdowns in coverage this season than in the previous two years combined.
Cousins came into Sunday’s game as one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league (38), and the Broncos still couldn’t get Von Miller free enough to make a difference.
When all was said and done, the Broncos’ season was summed up perfectly by a play just before halftime. Down 10-3, but having put themselves in position for a field goal in the final seconds of the first half, Osweiler threw a short pass to rookie wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie to get kicker Brandon McManus a little closer.
McKenzie caught the ball near the Redskins sideline and could have stopped the clock by simply running out of bounds to set up McManus. Instead, McKenzie took the ball and cut inside toward the middle of the field. The clock ran out, leaving the Broncos to run down the tunnel empty-handed.
That’s how they’ll leave this season after next weekend’s finale.