The Denver Broncos faced the Pittsburgh Steelers on a windy day at Mile High. Like they have all season long, they found a way to win against the toughest of opposition and advanced to the AFC Championship game.
I sure do love playoff football. You find out a lot about the character of a team in any playoff game. I feel like this is about the 11th playoff game we've won this year honestly, and every one of them makes me respect the effort and heart of our team all the more.
There's so much that can be done better with our offense. Someone needs to teach our skill players how to catch the ball. Seven drops is way too many. It may be the story of our season, but why haven't we seen improvement with it? It is absolutely frustrating to no end.
I also feel like the offense keeps trying to be the "Kubiak" offense come hell or high water. We're running Hillman on an inside zone regardless of the outcomes of the past five attempts. Why? Why can't our offense adjust to what the defense is doing and exploit weaknesses instead?
Peyton Manning did what many of us have asked him to do all season long: manage the offense and take care of the ball. He had one pass where it looked like he was forcing it that almost cost us a pick in the 4th, but otherwise looked very solid. Manning finished the game with a pedestrian 222 yards passing on 21 completions with 0 TDs and 0 INTs.
I seriously shake my head when I read so much negative junk about Manning post-game from Broncos Country. The dude did exactly what we wanted him to do all year long. Why aren't we happy with that? We're in the business of winning football games, not seeing whose QB can throw the most TD passes, people.
I know another Hall of Fame QB who had games like that in his last couple of seasons with the Broncos. All I'm saying is that that kind of QB can win championships on a good team.
Pittsburgh has a pretty decent front seven. I think our guys did a pretty solid job up front in pass protection and a mediocre job in run blocking. Evan Mathis was a stud honestly. A lot of the good holes we had to run through were from him clearing out some poor fool.
Of even greater note, I didn't notice one bad play from Michael Schofield. The dude was in on 100 percent of the offensive snaps and wasn't some huge liability. Maybe there is some truth to him possibly dealing with a nagging injury and the week off helping him. We'll find out for sure next week as you know Bill Belichick will try to exploit his weaknesses.
Look, I love that Ronnie Hillman has had some very good runs for us this year and even in this game. He trucked some poor fools on a couple of runs, and I loved every second of it. At some point though, you have to realize that he is who he is and that running him in short yardage and on inside plays is not playing to his strengths. The majority of his runs need to be outside zone plays in this system, sometimes on pitches instead of inside zone stuff where he's going to draw contact due to our lackluster run blocking.
I thought C.J. Anderson again looked like a more consistent and complete back in this system. He runs with power, elusiveness, and gets up the field in a friggin hurry. Why he isn't getting most of the snaps just baffles me to no end. The kid is a very good talent at RB. He's not injured. Let him carry that rock!
Just to drive home the comparison:
- C.J. Anderson 15 for 72 yards with 4.8 ypc and 1 TD
- Ronnie Hillman 15 for 38 yards with 2.4 ypc and 0 TDs
Drops, drops and more drops. I can't remember a game where a whole unit had trouble with drops in one game. Want to know why Manning's passing stats looked weak? Just take a look at the drops. I stopped counting at 6. The lack of focus for our skill players for catching the ball is honestly repulsive to see happening so frequently.
One thing I really loved seeing was Bennie Fowler dropping two passes, but Manning kept going to him and he made a couple of really nice catches and runs.
Also, was that Cody Latimer that I saw Manning throw not one, but two passes to?!?
Virgil Green looks like a real friggin' good pass catching option to me. I have no idea why we don't use him more out in routes.
Finally, while I'm excited to see young guys getting chances, I really think we should be seeing less of Caldwell, Latimer, and Norwood in the playoffs. We should be throwing the ball to our best options, not third-string backup players.
In all the talk of Manning and the playoffs, it kind of feels like the defense is yet again not getting enough credit. They held the No. 3 offense in the NFL (with the caveat that it was missing two of its most talented players) to only 16 points. It was a pretty impressive feat and is the reason that I like our chances to move on to Super Bowl 50 next week.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware showed up in the playoffs. Both were affecting plays with hurries and pressure. The rotation of OLBs we have on this team continues to impress me even though the younger two guys didn't really flash on the field.
Derek Wolfe is making a pretty good case for being the better defensive end out of our two starters with his play this season. I know a lot of people like how Malik shows up in the passing game (and he does...he's a better penetrator than Wolfe is), but Wolfe's stats are completely comparable and he's a better run defender.
My wife pointed out to me that the whole defense for a while in the game was Danny Trevathan cleaning up, and I agree with her. He had to make a lot of tackles where gap discipline broke down, and he was flying in from everywhere to make sure to get the ball carrier on the ground. I'd prefer our guys to not have to play pursuit, but having that kind of athleticism is a huge benefit to the team.
You have to love seeing a veteran player like Antonio Smith making a big sack in a post-season game. He also had a QB hit and a TFL as well and was playing like he was fighting for a ring. That kind of attitude rubs off on the other players and it is a reason you bring in stop-gap veteran players in on a team like this.
I keep saying Darian Stewart is the key to this defense, and it showed in this game. There weren't open passes deep this game that tore our defense to shreds, and a big reason for that was having a great talent back at free safety who kept the top on the defense while making sure to be in position to have an impact.
T.J. Ward was also impactful in this game with some nice blitzes and a great TFL.
Many people moan about Josh Bush being on the field, but we have to have a third safety in rotation and in some of our dime packages. The good thing here is that it was as a rotational guy and he didn't see a ton of snaps. His one pass defense was solid play, and I still think he has potential to be a good safety, he just needs some seasoning (which every game is providing for him, and we have no other options at safety this year).
The star of the game in the secondary to be sure was Aqib Talib. The dude was phenomenal in pass coverage and single-handedly stopped two TD passes with textbook man coverage.
I saw more good than bad from Bradley Roby in this game, but his zone coverage needs a ton of work. He left his guy to help underneath twice on plays where he needed to stay put for another second in his responsibility from what I saw. If we can get him in man coverage against NE, he'll be fine. If Brady sees him in zone, he's going to cost us some yards for sure.
Chris Harris, Jr. is too injured to play and it makes me very sad to say it. Hopefully the defense can find a way to scheme against NE without needing three stud corners in this one. I'd love to see CHJ get a couple weeks to rest in preparation for the dance if we can afford it. The sad thing is that even a 60 percent CHJ is pretty darn good and a useful tool against NE's short passing game.
Can we get some love for Kayvon Webster up in this place!? That dude was the spirit of David Bruton Jr. out on the field, which is a huge compliment. He was playing his heart out and made a ton of plays in special teams.
Brandon McManus was my game ball for this game, and I don't even think it is debatable. The cross winds at Mile High were big time and he nailed everything he was asked to kick. Not only did he hit five field goals, but they were in harsh kicking conditions, and they were on the playoff stage. That's got to build confidence in the young kicker and will be a boon to his hopefully long career here in Denver.
Also, did you notice Britton Colquitt had a pretty darn great punting game!? Its like we were in the twilight zone. As the game wore on I kept looking for the typical bad kick we see from him every game, but it never showed up. His punting did a great service to the team in pinning back a very dangerous offense.
I figured heading into this game that we'd at least see some fair officiating, but alas that was not to be so. The refs were absolutely terrible in this game and were so obviously trying to help Pittsburgh that it make me puke in my mouth a little bit.
- So many holds not called (2 on Miller, 2 on Wolfe, 1 on Jackson that I noted)
- Phantom PI on T.J. Ward
- Phantom holding on Schofield (he actually just pushed his guy that turned himself around, which is legal)
- Muffed kick forward progress or safety
- Roethlisberger backward pass ruled down by contact (!?)
- Onside kick ball didn't travel 10 yards
- Onside kick a Pittsburgh player made contact first
First off, I didn't think I could think less of Ben Roethlisberger, but I actually do. The dude not only belongs in jail off the field, but he's a lying piece of crap on it. Brian Billick aced it with his comment about Ben being a drama queen. That dude's shoulder may have been bruised, but I'd bet money there was no ligament damage.
More importantly though, the Denver Broncos showed the NFL that they are for real. I hope everyone keeps bagging on them and talking about how lackluster they are. They only won the AFC West, beat great competition all year, won tons of close games, and have moved on to the AFC Championship game.
This team has the goods, ladies and gentlemen. Let the haters hate. We're on to New England.