Stick a fork in the Denver Broncos. It would appear the high hopes of the first three games turned out to be fool’s gold. The Broncos are pretenders, not contenders.
The issues with this team start and end with coaching. The Broncos are ill-prepared nearly every game and continue to make mistake after mistake. Those errors put Denver into a gargantuan sinkhole of which it could not climb out in the second half on Sunday.
The Broncos made a game of it at the end with a gallant effort but ultimately fell short 27-19. At 3-2, the Broncos are likely to be on the outside looking in come the postseason because of the coaching failures in this loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a game like this, it is very easy to point out the duds because there were many players that were just plain bad on Sunday. Who were the biggest studs, though? Let's get to it.
Stud: Kareem Jackson | S
Jackson flies all over the field every game and is a sure tackler. His tenacity and aggressive style helped keep this game close enough for the last-ditch effort that the offense couldn’t close out.
Jackson had seven tackles (six solo) making him a bright spot in a secondary that was mostly abused by an ailing Ben Roethlisberger. A couple of those tackles were huge gain-saving stops.
Dud: Kyle Fuller | S
There is no other way to put this: Fuller was abysmal. He gave up a big third-down conversion on the Steelers’ opening drive followed shortly after by relinquishing a 50-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Fuller's unnecessary pass interference gave the Steelers new life and led to another touchdown.
To add more icing to this garbage cake, Fuller put zero effort into a tackle on the running back in the third quarter. What could have been a tackle for a short gain turned into a seven-yard carry.
Finally, when the Broncos had to have a stop after scoring in the fourth and closing the gap to five points, Fuller was there to allow the Steelers to get another long reception. Without a doubt, his poor play cost the team the game.
When Ronald Darby is healthy, Fuller should be put on the bench. In fact, I'd trust Michael Ojemudia more at this point (but he's on injured reserve).
Stud: Tim Patrick | WR
A player that took some time to catch on, Patrick may be the best wide receiver the Broncos have. He never drops a pass and he came through with some huge catches against the Steelers.
Patrick's fourth-down stretch kept a Broncos' drive alive in the fourth quarter and without that effort, they had zero chance for a comeback. He finished the game with seven receptions for 89 yards.
Dud: Justin Strnad | LB
There have been plenty of off-ball linebackers who possessed tremendous athleticism but failed in the NFL due to a lack of instincts. Strnad is starting to look like he is falling into this category. This isn’t the first game that he has looked lost on many plays.
Strnad's feel for the game hasn't developed this season. He is out of position and reading the wrong gaps in the run game. The Steelers ran the ball down the Broncos' throat all game and Strnad’s lack of instincts contributed to that pathetic effort.
Stud: Courtland Sutton | WR
After a slow start to the game, Sutton ended up as the star of the team. He had a huge day with seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, leading to a whopping 17.1 yards per reception. His long touchdown catch put the game within reach in the fourth quarter.
On the field where he suffered his season-ending injury last year, Sutton's performance today may very well be the catalyst to a monster season for him.
Dud: Vic Fangio | HC
This is the second game in a row that the Broncos looked ill-prepared and completely out-coached. The team consistently made mental mistakes and committed dumb penalties early and often against the Steelers. On top of this, Fangio's defense doesn’t always put the players in the position to succeed.
At least once per game, there is a major blunder. In this one, it was Von Miller being schemed to cover Steelers wideout Chase Claypool in pass defense. Not only is Miller better suited for rushing the passer, but this was also an obvious mismatch in which Fangio should have called a time-out.
Instead, it was a huge reception that put the Steelers in scoring position. If this keeps up, the Broncos are likely to move on from Fangio at the end of the season. He simply hasn't delivered as a head coach and his “death by inches” philosophy has become a sad meme in Broncos Country as the little things continue to sink Denver's ship.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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