BRONCOS

For the Denver Broncos, this is ‘rock bottom’

Sep 24, 2023, 5:46 PM | Updated: Sep 25, 2023, 5:20 pm

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This has to be rock bottom for the Denver Broncos, right?

Heaven help the team and its fans if it’s not.

“I mean, we’ve reached rock bottom,” defensive end Zach Allen said. “So, the only way is up.”

The Broncos allowed more points Sunday than any NFL team had surrendered since Nov. 27, 1966. Some 12,682 NFL games had been played since then until Sunday. Never since then had another team experienced a 70-point deluge at its expense — until now.

In this 70-20 thrashing, the Denver Broncos did not have a functional defense.

Vance Joseph’s unit was, for most of the day, 11 traffic cones. It became obvious just three plays into the game, when Miami’s Tyreek Hill had an acreage to himself after a coverage bust. That led to a 54-yard catch-and-run that put the Dolphins in front to stay.

As bad as that was, somehow it got worse.

With rare exceptions, the Broncos absorbed a massacre up front. Miami’s offensive line fired off the snap, easily reached the second level and turned paper cuts into deep wounds, with former Saints tackle — and Sean Payton draft pick — Terron Armstead often delivering the final thump to an overpowered defensive back or linebacker.

The Broncos had injuries, yes. But Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns, Baron Browning and K’Waun Williams wouldn’t have been enough to prevent the defeat — or a large number on the scoreboard for Miami.

Perhaps it might not have been 70. Perhaps you might not have been talking about the most shambolic defensive performance in over 12,000 NFL games.

“Every once in a while in this league you get your butt whupped,” Sean Payton said, “but this was more than that.”

Far more.

THE SCOPE OF THE DEFEAT FOR THE DENVER BRONCOS

It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill thrashing.

The word “embarrassing” arose from Payton and others, and it was apt.

“Their offense was on cue. Nothing different than what we expected on film,” cornerback Pat Surtain II said. “Obviously, they was on a roll in all phases of the game — running the ball, passing the ball. They played a great game, but defensively, that’s not who we are. And we know that.

“The plan was the plan. We just didn’t execute it.”

OK, 70 points is a historical outlier. Even for a bad defense. The Broncos might not allow that many points in a game again during the lifetimes of anyone who reads this article.

But here’s the thing — what if the Broncos defense truly is this?

Not to the degree of surrendering the dreaded double 7 — 70 points and 700-plus yards. But to the level of simply being among the worst defenses in football — or, at minimum, the worst Denver defense since the 4-12 face-plant of 2010?

Because the thing is, it wasn’t just about a single, sultry South Florida Sunday.

SO … WHAT NOW?

Joseph finds himself on a seat as sizzling as the Broncos sideline itself under the crushing South Florida conditions. Because the thing is, this was three consecutive shreddings for his defense.

The only thing that saved his unit from conceding a huge number in Week 1 was the lack of possessions — just five non-kneeldown series for the Raiders.

But 3.4 points per non-kneeldown series was an abysmal number. Consider this: Miami had 12 non-kneeldown possessions Sunday. That Week 1 PPP rate would have translated to 41 points on the board. A week later, Washington had 3.2 points per series.

What happened Sunday was an abomination — a 5.8 PPP average.

But any number above 3 is cause for alarm. It means 30 points on the board in a game with normal pace. Such games used to be rare for the Broncos. But in the Broncos’ last six games, here’s what their defense has conceded:

  • Dec. 25 at Rams: 44 points
  • Jan. 1 at Chiefs: 27 points
  • Jan. 8 vs. Chargers: 28 points
  • Sept. 10 vs. Raiders: 17 points
  • Sept. 17 vs. Commanders: 35 points
  • Sept. 24 at Dolphins: 70 points

Even taking Sunday as the outlier, the Broncos have a defense being mauled time and again. And last year’s season-ending performances also show that the problem is more than just the coordinator, but the overall personnel.

In fact, the only saving grace for Denver’s defense since the trade of Bradley Chubb is a pair of games against teams with backup quarterbacks for at last a majority of the game (Arizona and Baltimore last year) and facing a punchless Titans team that faded badly not long after battling back for a comeback win in the first post-Chubb game.

Trading Chubb eventually helped net Payton. And over time, one expects Payton’s methodologies and ideas to bear fruit.

There were promising moments — almost all offensively — in the first two games. Even in the Miami Massacre, Payton’s offense had some effective bursts before losing the plot late in the second quarter.

But it may be time to evaluate the overall picture of the defense — and, yes, the roster. To discern which players can grow and become a part of the solution long-term, and which ones could yield more by being traded or de-emphasized. And to take a clear-eyed look at just where the talent level resides, particularly on a defense that began backsliding last year and has yet to arrest that trend.

Yes, it’s one game.

But for the defense, it’s the extreme manifestation of a trend that shows little sign of abating.

Yes, it’s “rock bottom.” But the Broncos didn’t get there in a flash. It’s been building for a while.

***

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For the Denver Broncos, this is ‘rock bottom’