MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — As the sun ducked in and out of the clouds late Sunday morning in South Florida, a significant slice of NFL history was having a little conversation inside Hard Rock Stadium.
John Elway stood next to Dan Marino, and anyone with any kind of picture-taking device who happened to be roaming the seats took advantage of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks close enough to fit into the same frame.
And then the Denver Broncos proceeded to show how far they are away from anything resembling even competent on offense in a 35-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Wrap your head around that for a moment, as the Dolphins snapped a five-game losing streak against the Broncos in the same season the New York Giants snapped a five-game losing streak against the Broncos and folks will now ask whether or not the 3-9 Broncos are actually better than anyone in the league.
So, take your pick with these Broncos, either they wreck the quarterbacks they have, or they don’t pick the right guys. Either one is hard to fix, either one is Elway’s elephant-in-the-room problem, and that is where the Broncos are at the moment.
Yes, the special teams are a mess — they’ve now had two punts blocked in the last four games and fumbled a punt into the end zone for a safety Sunday. The Broncos are penalized far too much, and they don’t respond to adversity on all fronts given they are now 0-6 in games they’ve trailed after the first quarter, 0-8 in games they’ve trailed at halftime. But it’s all going to come back to the quarterback this offseason, as the Broncos have fallen so fast, so hard, after their Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season.
The Super Bowl win did slightly camouflage issues in the offensive line the Broncos are still trying to repair. The Broncos have tried to use draft picks, they’ve tried to use free agency and just before the start of this regular season, they traded one former draft pick in tackle Ty Sambrailo and released another former draft pick in tackle Michael Schofield.
Both of their big-ticket signings in free agency missed Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins as guard Ron Leary missed the game with a back injury and tackle Menelik Watson is on injured reserve. And the Broncos had three holding penalties on offensive linemen in the first half alone.
There’s your foundation, and what’s been built on it is now one broken quarterback after another. Benched once already this season, Trevor Siemian threw three more interceptions Sunday — his 11th, 12th and 13th in eight games — and simply looked unraveled after the second one as he missed open receivers when there was still time to rebound.
Paxton Lynch has struggled to respond to mistakes, both in practices and in his limited work in games, and Brock Osweiler was a player Elway needed in “football rehab’’ even when Osweiler was signed just before the regular season opened. Now that position, the offensive line and the playbook look like some kind of horror show, rotating players behind center while running a fractured scheme in a string of eight mind-numbing losses.
Some personnel executives in the league believe Siemian has a future in the right hands, but after being the grittiest option through the 2016 season and most of this one, his confidence is clearly mangled as the interceptions pile up. Lynch is a former first-round pick whose confidence is also clearly compromised as he’s been sacked 10 times in his last seven or so quarters of regular season football. He’s also been injured in the past two games he’s played in — a shoulder injury in the preseason against Green Bay to go with the ankle injury last week against the Raiders.
Once again Sunday, despite some early success in the run game, the Broncos played snap after snap of three-wide receiver personnel groupings and watched the mistakes pile up. On their first possession of the game, they were in three-wide on six of seven snaps and closed it out with an interception.
Their second possession ended with a safety — a bad snap from their own 5-yard line out of a three-wide, two-back look. On the offense’s only scoring drive of the game they went 67 yards with at least two backs or two tight ends in the formation on each play of the drive before Demaryius Thomas dropped a Siemian pass — out of three-wide — on third down that could have been thrown better.
Bottom line is until the Broncos block better, decide what they want to be on offense and find some quarterbacks ready to fight through the bad parts, hard work won’t matter much and they’ll keep doing the rinse-and-repeat on ugly loss after ugly loss.