BRONCOS

Three observations from the Broncos debacle against the Rams

Dec 26, 2022, 7:46 AM | Updated: 7:47 am

The Denver Broncos were one of six teams playing on Christmas Day. They traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Rams Sunday, and things got off track quickly. The Rams scored 17 points in the first quarter, and they scored four straight touchdowns for the first time in head coach Sean McVay’s tenure.

The Rams were able to beat the Broncos with ease, and they ended up scoring on most every offensive drive they had (they kneeled to run out the clock at the end of the game). Los Angeles did not punt, and they were able to score with their defense in addition to big days from a few offensive players. It’s an alarming score when you see 51-14 on the board. This loss was not only bad, but it was humiliating for everyone in Denver on Christmas.
Broncos head coach (for now) Nathaniel Hackett knows his team is tired of losing.

“I think that they’re upset for all the losing, we all are. Every one of us is, it’s unacceptable. That’s not what we’re about. That’s not what we want to do. We went in with this mindset that we were going to be able to win this game, but in the end we weren’t ready. We didn’t do the things that we were looking to do. And in that case, it wasn’t good enough. Those guys know that. They know it’s all of us,” Hackett said.

Here are my three biggest observations from the loss to the Rams.

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Hero Ball Doesn’t Work

Russell Wilson was careless with the football on Sunday. He threw three interceptions, and generally looked like he was trying to score a touchdown with every throw. Rather than take what the defense gives him, and methodically move the ball down the field, Wilson instead tried to force too many passes and the Rams defense made him pay.

Too many times, Wilson would avoid running for the first down even though the path was wide open. Sure, he’d do a good job of extending the play but when it was obvious, he could go for the first down on the ground, Wilson tried to throw instead – usually into coverage – and the Rams defense made him look silly for those decisions.

Not only did Wilson ignore the rushing lanes in front of him, but he also continued to miss wide open guys as he looks to play hero ball. A video emerged from this game with WR Courtland Sutton open near the sidelines, and Wilson did not see him. After working hard to get open, Sutton seemed frustrated that Wilson missed seeing him even though they were on the same side of the field and Sutton was the closest receiver to him. Wilson is not running the offense, but instead trying to freelance with disastrous results.

Nathaniel Hackett was somewhat careful when talking about Wilson’s performance after the game.

“We have to play smart football. In the end, we want to be aggressive, but we can’t be overly aggressive. He might have pressed a little bit. I got to look at the tape and get a better feel for it. But in those situations, we got to be smart with it, whether we’re checking it down, whether we’re moving on in our progression, whatever it might be. But we just have to do a better job coaching everything for him,” Hackett said.

***

Tyler Hig-Beast

The Broncos have struggled to cover tight ends for years. They haven’t had an inside linebacker to cover the weapons at tight end since the days of ILB Danny Trevathan. I’ve praised the performance of ILB Josey Jewell at times this year, and he’s been better in coverage than I thought he could be. However, on Sunday against the Rams, the Broncos had no answer for TE Tyler Higbee.

While the Broncos could not stuff the run, more on that in a bit, they had to deal with Higbee setting records on the field against them. Higbee caught nine passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Those touchdown catches made Higbee the no.1 tight end in Rams’ history in terms of scores. He made things look easy against the Broncos, no matter who was covering him – and the Broncos did try a couple of different formulas but to no avail.

Higbee is a super-sized wide receiver, and he’s got toughness to work in the middle of the field. There’s no doubt he’s got the speed to create separation against linebackers tasked with covering him, but the Broncos also tried to use a cornerback (sometimes rookie Damarri Mathis) against Higbee. Nothing worked, and the Rams kept going back to the well – which is just smart football.

Hackett did not know a game like this was coming.

“No, not at all. When you go out there and you look at it, with those two drives, we get the three points and then we got the two quick turnovers, that’s a daunting task to get back into that. And they kept continually fighting, but we got to be able to stop it. We went in there saying we were going to not turn the ball over and stop the run. And those are two things, the team game and both those things we couldn’t achieve in this,” Hackett said.

***

Cam the Ram

To lead the way for the Rams, RB Cam Akers was nearly unstoppable in Week 16. In my “3 Keys to Beat the Rams” piece last week, one of my highlights was the rushing style of Akers. For the Broncos to give themselves the best chance to win, they needed to stop Akers first and foremost.

That didn’t happen.

Instead of making the Rams one dimensional on offense by stuffing the run, Akers was able to run all over the Broncos defense. Akers had nearly 150 all-purpose yards, with most of the damage being done on the ground. He toted the rock 23 times for 118 yards and a whopping three touchdowns against the Broncos. That number is the highest of this season, and the second most of Akers’ career. This was his first 100-yard game of the season, and Akers’ performance opened the rest of the offense.

Hackett couldn’t provide much as far as insight goes when it comes to why the Rams had so much success offensively on Sunday.

“(I have) to look at the tape on that. They definitely did a good job running the ball and that’s something that we knew that they were going to commit to. (Rams RB Cam Akers) Number three’s a very good football player. He continually shows that we knew we had to stop him and we did it. It’s that simple to start with coaching and then the execution out on the field,” Hackett said.

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