Analysis: Broncos offense struggled, but defense wasn’t much better in loss to Baltimore

The final insult for the Broncos on a maddening Sunday afternoon that started with so much optimism came in the final minute of a 23-7 seemed-more-lopsided-than-it-was loss to Baltimore.

As the fans dressed in orange and blue filed out to fight traffic, Ravens fans remained and serenaded their players, each other and the Broncos with their traditional “Seven Nations Army” hype song.

Yep, in their stadium, the Broncos had to listen to another team’s chant, a sucker punch to end a gut-punch type of day when they lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a first-half concussion, failed to create a turnover, surrendered five sacks, allowed 405 yards, went 3 of 14 on third down and punted 10 times.

That 3-0 start? Semi-forgotten.

That optimism about the offense? Semi-doubted.

And that confidence in the NFL’s top defense? Semi-erased.

The Ravens came to town and showed the Broncos how perennial playoff teams do it.

“Extremely disappointing,” safety Justin Simmons said. “We knew how important this was, especially to be at home and play a team like Baltimore. We knew what the stakes were.”

The stakes, in the scheme of a 17-game season, were minor. The Broncos are still 3-1 and could be tied for the AFC West lead if Las Vegas loses Monday night at the Los Angeles Chargers. The Raiders (3-0) and Arizona (4-0) are the league’s only unbeaten teams.

But the stakes should be ramped up this week.

Coach Vic Fangio’s first two seasons fell apart with four- and three-game losing streaks to start the season. Minutes after losing to the Ravens, he was already laying the groundwork for next Sunday’s trip to Pittsburgh and avoiding a snowball-effect streak.

“We’re on to the next game,” Fangio said. “We can’t have a hangover from this game. We (need to) get our focus back starting (Monday).”

Who their starting quarterback is may not be decided until Friday as Bridgewater goes through the concussion protocol. Drew Lock entered after halftime and was 12-of-21 passing for 113 yards.

What should be concerning, though, when Fangio surveys the wreckage, is how his usually-reliable defense made too many mistakes and didn’t create any takeaways.

The Broncos entered allowing per-game averages of 59.3 rushing yards, 162.3 passing yards and 8.7 points.

Baltimore ran up 102 yards rushing, 304 yards passing and five scoring drives (two touchdowns and three field goals).

Sure, quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t run wild (28 yards), but he made up for that by completing 22 of 37 passes.

“They basically had their way,” Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller said.

But not initially.

As tough as it came to comprehend in garbage time, the Broncos took a 7-0 lead (tight end Noah Fant three-yard touchdown catch) 42 seconds into the second quarter and were within two possessions until the final 1:51.

It only seemed like the Ravens had a 30-point lead.

The momentum created by Broncos running back Javonte Williams’ 31-yard rumble and Fant’s touchdown was fleeting. Like less-than-three-minutes-of-game-time fleeting.

The Ravens answered the Broncos’ touchdown with a 49-yard thunderbolt — Jackson’s bomb that receiver Marquise Brown dove to catch in the end zone.

Jackson had 3.63 seconds to throw and Brown got open when Simmons flipped his hips outside, putting him out of position as Brown ran the deep post.

“More technique than blown coverage,” Fangio said. “We weren’t deep enough back there. It shouldn’t happen, but give them credit. (Throwing deep) is what they do and they beat us on it.”

It was the longest play allowed by the Broncos’ defense this year.

“Miscommunication with (safety) Kareem (Jackson),” Simmons said. “I expected some help, but that’s why I’m talking about communication every week. And (if) there’s a few communication mishaps within the secondary like that, plays like that will happen.”

The Ravens had plenty of those chunk plays. Jackson had completions of 49, 32, 32, 24, 20 and 17 yards.

“The guys in the (secondary), we had to step up and make more plays than we did,” Simmons said. “You can be good on 80% of the plays and it only takes the one or two (others) that really are game-changers.”

In turn, the defense couldn’t produce the play that turned the game. They had three sacks, but didn’t force a fumble. They had five pass break-ups, but no interceptions.

“I always talk about the biggest emphasis is takeaways and being able to set up our offense on a short field against a good defense,” Simmons said.

Now we’ll begin to find out what this Broncos team is really made of. In Weeks 1-3 they showed they could handle struggling teams. Now we’ll see if they can get right on the road against a desperate Steelers team.

“We have to respond,” Miller said. “We have to rack (the wins) up. We’ve got a tough Pittsburgh team in Pittsburgh, we need that (game).”

Broncos’ offensive struggles

After three solid, if unspectacular performances by the Broncos offense to begin the season, everything ground to a halt Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens at Empower Field. The ball-control style that produced the NFL’s best average time of possession (36:16) never materialized in the 23-7 loss. The result: 10 punts, a trio of three-and-outs and only two possessions longer than six plays. A look at the damage:

DriveQuarterTimePlays-Net yards1st downsResult
11st3:026-172Punt
21st1:304-201Punt
31st2:345-191Punt
42nd2:075-573TD
52nd1:453-(-3)0Punt
62nd3:105-292Punt
72nd0:313-(-5)0Punt
83rd*4:448-222Punt
93rd*2:375-131Punt
104th*1:043-50Punt
114th*2:014-01Punt
124th*1:488-702INT

* Drew Lock at quarterback

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