Key Decision #1: (DEN trailing 10-0/4th & 2 IND33/ 4:02 Q2)
- Even though DEN Head Coach Vance Joseph had the superior personnel coming into the game, the road team on a Thursday night game generally is at a disadvantage. The Colts jumped out to a fairly quick 10-0 lead, and in this situation, Joseph had 3 choices:
- Pooch punt and play defense, but IND has a possession to take a 3 score lead (but hopefully on a long field) or
- Attempt a 50 yard FG (indoors, this would play less than 50, but a miss gives IND a short field) or
- Go for the 4th down.
- Joseph went for the 4th down, and even though he was playing with his backup QB Brock Osweiler at this point, we agreed with this move; the other 2 choices also didn’t feel right to us.
- The Broncos converted on a nice completion by Osweiler and went on to score a TD to close to 10-7.
Key Decision #2: (DEN trails 13-7/ 1st & 10 DEN21/ 9:06 Q3)
- Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano came into this game with the substantially lesser quality personnel – after all, his QB just joined the team as the season started, he had 2 rookie corners starting this game, and his starting middle linebacker got hurt during the game. And up to this point in the 3rd quarter, Pagano had managed the game as well as he could – a 6 point lead at this juncture was a good performance.
- On this possession, Broncos Head Coach Vance Joseph’s offense made a key in-game adjustment: the Broncos finally went after the Colts’ rookie corners aggressively. They jumped into a no-huddle flea flicker play that was good for 18 yards, picked up a key defensive holding penalty on 4th & 2 from the Colts’ 47, and finished it off with a 22 yard TD pass to WR Cody Latimer.
- DEN took its first lead of the game at 14-13.
Key Decision #3: (IND trails 14-13/ 1st & 10 IND 25/ 4:16 Q3)
- IND now trails for the first time in the game, but it’s only by a point, and there’s still a nearly 20 minutes left in the game. Up to this point, Pagano has managed the game very well, given the circumstances.
- In order to stay close, the Colts’ play calling has been very good; they had stayed committed to running the ball in order to give QB Brissett as many 3rd and shorts as possible. But instead of staying committed, we feel the Colts panicked in response to losing the lead. For the first time in the game, the called 3 straight pass plays on this possession, which resulted in 3 straight incompletions. In addition to losing the lead, the Colts compounded the situation by going 3 and out, and abandoning the running game on a key series.
- We felt that the more prudent strategic decision here was to stay committed to running the ball – the Colts had been effective up to that point, particularly since DEN has lost some key DL personnel to injury. If the Colts could have kept running the ball and burning clock, we felt that if they could have escaped to the 4th quarter with only a one point deficit, it could have been either team’s game.
Key Decision #4: (DEN leads 14-13/1st & 10 DEN32/ 3:54 Q3)
- DEN did a terrific job with their running game all night, and that helped soften the Colts’ defense. When you’re playing with your backup QB, you’re setting him up for more success with that formula.
- The key play calling decision that proved successful for the Broncos was to allow Osweiler to take an aggressive down the field shot, and on a 2nd & 8 at the DEN 46, Osweiler did just that and connected with TE Jeff Heuermann for a 54 yard TD. DEN took a commanding 22-13 lead at this point after a successful 2pt PAT.
- We get that a lot of teams try to incorporate zone read concepts into their offense as a different form of play action, but sometimes they just get too cute for their own good. In this game, DEN QB Trevor Siemian actually had a nice opening possession going. He’d moved the Broncos from their 25 to a 1st & 10 at the Colts 46. Then the Broncos called a zone read play, RB CJ Anderson only gained a yard, which left a 2nd & 9 for Siemian…who then promptly threw a pick. We understand that Siemian and Osweiler are fairly mobile, but generally speaking, opposing defenses aren’t going to honor them. Secondly, they’re not sturdily built players, and putting them in harm’s way doesn’t seem prudent (Siemian would later be injured in the game).
- On DEN’s 2nd possession, the Broncos moved into position for a 35 yard FG attempt. Somehow, the Broncos took a delay of game penalty. The Broncos were pushed back 5 yards, and they promptly missed the kick. Clock management isn’t just about time outs, but also about play clock management, and this is the type of thing that simply shouldn’t happen. Playing on the road on a short week requires every ounce of focus over what you can control, and this is something that a head coach must control.
- Up 10-0, IND’s defense had the Broncos on a 3rd & 8 at the Colts’ 18. The Broncos went 4 wide, and QB Osweiler ran in for a TD from18 yards out. We can understand a 5 yard gain, maybe even 10, but the defensive play call here simply was deficient on a key 3rddown. Again, Pagano is playing with many new faces on his defense, so mistakes are going to happen, but Osweiler running in from that far out is preventable even with new faces.
- Both teams burned time outs in Q1 – it’s not something we like to see, especially early in the quarter (Colts at 8:07 for example).
- Broncos Head Coach Vance Joseph going for a 2pt PAT at 2:37 in Q3 is a decision that is not justifiable in our view; we hope he learns from this, even though the attempt was successful (it barely survived a review). The Broncos had just scored a TD on 2 consecutive possessions – very key and positive momentum when you’re the road team on Thursday night – and the lead was increased to 20-13, pending a kick to make it 21-13. Joseph, however, chose the 2pt PAT attempt. First, every 2pt PAT try is a low percentage play – so Joseph was making it more likely the Colts would trail only by 7. Second, if Joseph just kicks the PAT to make it 21-13 (and a kick in a dome is lot less risky than outdoors), an 8 point lead acts as a score and a half lead. The Colts would not only have to score a TD, but they’d have to execute on a low percentage 2 point try in order to tie the Broncos. Third, and most importantly, at 2:37 in Q3, there is so much game left that it is not necessary for the Broncos to unnecessarily chase points at this point. Joseph is learning on the job and we hold out hope he will improve his game management skills similar to the other rookie head coaches in his class, but we haven’t seen it yet.
- The Broncos used to be known for a being an excellent boot-action team. In this game, we saw perhaps only 2 attempts, and this on a night when RB CJ Anderson was having a highly productive game.
- Finally, in the most bizarre sequence of the evening, DEN led 22-13 at 14:53 in Q4, with the ball 1st and 10 on its own 16. The Broncos moved to their 38, where they faced a 2nd & 4 – a favorable down & distance on a drive to score and effectively close out the game. On this down, they committed a false start. Now it’s 2nd & 9 from their 33 – and the Broncos commit a facemask penalty, while on offense. The ball is now moved all the way back to the DEN 18 and it’s 2nd & 24. On 2nd & 24, the Broncos commit their 3rdconsecutive penalty – illegal procedure again, to make it 2nd & 29 on their own 13. Remember, this is happening on a key, “close out the game” type of series, on a Thursday night road game. On 3rd & 21, the Broncos run the ball, clearly planning to punt, when the Colts commit a facemask penalty, giving the Broncos an automatic first down. We are sure Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was beside himself. The Broncos then moved all the way down for a 40 yard FG and the winning 25-13 score.