ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A ground attack launched by the New York Jets, as part of a strategy to protect their young quarterback, embarrassed the Broncos on Sunday . It cost Denver its third straight game, but, worse, it left the players angry, frustrated and wondering if the team can restore its confidence.
In a cloudy afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the Jets pulled a loose thread on the Broncos, and the game unraveled. Will the season follow suit?
Fans want change. Many are calling for the firing of defensive coordinator Joe Woods, if not coach Vance Joseph. Joseph said now is not the time for dramatic change -- he was asked about altering the defensive coaching personnel after the game -- and pointed the finger at himself. He remains accountable, but without better results, it rings hollow.
My Denver7 takeaways after the Broncos' 11th loss in their last 12 road games:
1) Fissures showing
Defensive end Derek Wolfe told me he believes he and his teammates can "absolutely" fix the flaws. However, his frustration boiled over Sunday.
"It's the same (bleep) every week. I am tired of talking about the same (bleep) for two years straight," said defensive end Derek Wolfe, who netted his first career interception. "Something's gotta change. Absolutely we can regroup. We tried. We had great energy at practice -- great energy coming out to the game, and we started hot. Something much deeper is happening here. I can't even understand it."
I covered too many losing teams to count after 15 years on the baseball beat. A losing culture becomes embedded. And what I heard in the locker room Sunday suggested the coaches are facing a critical week to keep the players' trust.
2) Scheme issues
There's no defending Woods at this point. He must improve to continue calling the plays. I recognize fully he knows football. He's a film rat. However, he has not shown the consistent ability to make adjustments on game day. The Jets blistered the Broncos for 323 yards on the ground, marking the fifth most Denver has ever allowed. The Broncos could not set the edge even as it became obvious the Jets were determined to bounce plays outside. The game was like so many last season -- players underperforming (Bradley Roby), players miscast (outside linebackers in coverage) and players not communicating leading to blown assignments and missed tackles (36 through five games, per Pro Football Focus).
3) Offensive identity issues
The Broncos are a running team -- and they threw 51 times on Sunday. Let's make it clear: they are a running team. They rank fourth in the league with 137.7 yards per game on the ground and first in yards per carry (5.57). Coordinator Bill Musgrave admitted last week it was time to "take the training wheels off" Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. Which makes Sunday even more baffling. The Broncos ran 13 times for 64 yards in the first half. They ran the ball four times in the second half. Four times, leading to a season-low 17 attempts. And they ran only twice in the third quarter when the game was still within reach. This team needs to run 25-to-30 times a game, period. It must become the Broncos' identity.
4) Pocket protectors
I asked Joseph about abandoning the run in the second half. He explained that the Jets began loading the box, making adjustments. This is true. And this is where Case Keenum, if not the offensive line, has failed. He's been unable to make opponents pay with play-action chunk plays. The Jets sacked him four times, once through a terrific twist scheme to free a defender, once because Keenum held the ball too long, and twice as right guard Connor McGovern struggled.
5) Left with no choice?
Garett Bolles suffered an ankle injury, costing him 12 snaps to Elijah Wilkinson. Bolles continues to battle maddening inconsistency in his second season. It's fair to wonder if he's hurting if the Broncos are better off with a healthy Wilkinson to allow Bolles time to regroup. Also when Jared Veldheer returns from a knee injury it could provide more options.
6) On second (half) thought
The Broncos need to lead at halftime to win. Why? They remain one of the NFL's least productive second half teams. They have scored 46 second half points, sixth worst. The offense averages 20.0 points per game, a scant nudge from last season's 18.1. They rank 27th in scoring, same as a year ago.
7) Time running out
It's not early anymore. Nobody wants to talk about last season, but it has surfaced again with this three-game losing streak. Because of the eight-game skid a year ago, fans no longer give Joseph and this group the benefit of the doubt. That's a tough place to be with the Los Angeles Rams arriving in town running on nitromethane with the game's best offensive playcaller Sean McVay.