When Vance Joseph takes a seat on the Broncos‘ flight home Thursday night, he’ll be warm, but no longer uncomfortably hot. His team’s bludgeoning of the Cardinals is exactly what he needed to cool off what was the hottest seat in football.
On Thursday night, the Broncos went into Arizona, jumped out to a 14-0 lead in less than seven minutes, which grew into a 28-3 lead in less than 16 minutes, and coasted to a dominant 45-10 blowout that halted their losing streak at four games, improved their record to 3-4, and dropped the Cardinals to 1-6. In a game between two teams trending in the wrong direction and two coaches under intense scrutiny, it was the Broncos who emerged with a feel-good win, Joseph who acquired some valuable job security, the Cardinals who got hit with yet another blow in a season full of lowlights, and Steve Wilks who is suddenly on notice.
In the first quarter alone, the Broncos’ defense pick-sixed Rosen twice. On the Cardinals’ first series, Broncos linebacker Todd Davis snagged a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and took it back the distance to give his team a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.
Near the end of the first quarter, the Broncos’ defense scored again. This time it was All Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. baiting Rosen into an ill-advised throw on third down, catching his errant pass and returning it 53 yards for another defensive touchdown.
This one pushed the Broncos’ lead to 21-3.
At that point, with still more than 75 percent of the game to go, the result was already decided. The Broncos won the game in less than a quarter.
The humiliation continued into the second quarter. With 14:40 to play in the first half, the Broncos stretched their lead to 25 points with a 64-yard touchdown bomb via Case Keenum and Sanders. There wasn’t an Arizona defender in the same zip code as Sanders.
28-3 leads have an unfortunate history, but the Cardinals aren’t the Patriots. They’re the anti-Patriots.
The game was over. At halftime, the Broncos were winning 35-3 and out-gaining the Cardinals by 155 yards even though the play distribution was nearly even (33 to 31 in favor of Denver). In the second half, the blowout continued. It’s really not worth recapping.
But we will give Miller credit for living up to his promise with two strip-sacks of Rosen.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 19, 2018
— NFL (@NFL) October 19, 2018
The Broncos have been a mess — a mess that general manager John Elway is more at fault for than Joseph — but a win of this magnitude on national television should buy them some time. Joseph won’t be hearing rumors regarding his dismissal for the next 10 days. Elway won’t be calling his defense soft during their mini bye. Keenum won’t be afraid of getting benched for Chad Kelly in Week 8. Miller can rest easy knowing we’ve all been reminded of his greatness.
But let’s not make this game into something more than it is. What it is, is a sign of progress. It’s not a sign that the Broncos are on the verge of embarking upon an unlikely playoff run. Maybe they will, but beating a putrid team that fields a Middle Age offense led by a rookie quarterback isn’t evidence of an ascent. Still, it’s important to beat bad teams, and the Broncos certainly did that on Thursday night. At 3-4, they’re not entirely dead yet.
The Cardinals on the other hand … they’re dead.
Cardinals are a Category 5 disaster
The Cardinal aren’t who we thought they were. They might be even worse than we thought.
They began the game by calling for a Johnson run up the middle into an eight-man box, which predictably picked up no yards. Before second down, they burned a timeout. On second down, after the timeout, Rosen’s pass got tipped at the line of scrimmage and landed in the arms of Davis, who returned his first career interception for a touchdown. On the extra point that gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game, the Cardinals lined up offside.
They didn’t show signs of life at any point. Rosen got pick-sixed twice in the first quarter. Johnson failed to get going against a team that had allowed back-to-back 200-yard rushers. Larry Fitzgerald is spending the final days of his career stuck on what might be the worst team in football.
Yes, the Cardinals might just be the frontrunners to wind up with the first-overall pick in next year’s draft. Their only win of the season came against the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers. Their offensive coaching staff can’t figure out how to use one of the sport’s most versatile playmakers. Their defense is solid at best, but as Thursday night demonstrated, they’re not always at their best. The offense can’t convert a third down.
Seriously, they can’t convert a third down. They entered the game with a third-down conversion rate of 21.9 percent — by far the lowest rate in the league. In the first half, they failed to convert all seven of their third downs. At that point, they were 14 of 71 on third down. They would go on to convert four of their seven third downs in the second half, which means they’re now 18 of 78 on third down this season. Hooray.
Losing the way the Cardinals did at home against an opponent that had to travel in the middle of the week shouldn’t happen. It almost never does. But it happened to the Cardinals.
It’s only been seven games, but Steve Wilks is already sitting on a very hot seat. Why should the Cardinals stick with Wilks? As the Rams and Eagles have proven, teams with young quarterbacks need to go all in while their quarterbacks are still playing under their rookie contracts. There’s no time to waste.
The Cardinals need to hire an offensive-minded coach who can get the most out of Rosen. In the meantime, they might benefit from a change at offensive coordinator, but the problem then becomes: who should they promote to replace Mike McCoy? It’s not like firing McCoy will magically fix the problem.
If they do dismiss McCoy, they might turn the offense over to former NFL quarterback and current quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich.
The truth is, there probably aren’t any good solutions this year. This appears to be a lost season for the Cardinals.
To make matters worse, it’s difficult to judge Rosen in a situation this dire.
Rosen bad in bad situation
Rosen finished 21 of 39 for 194 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, two lost fumbles, and a 44.2 passer rating. He was sacked six times.
But again, it’s difficult to evaluate him when he’s stuck in a bad offense with one great player around him who’s being misused. He got hit a ton. The scheme isn’t helping him. He also didn’t help himself with interceptable pass after interceptable pass.
Some positives are evident: He’s willing to throw downfield into tight windows and he hung in there during an otherwise disastrous game. But he also could’ve been picked off a couple more times — including a dropped interception in the end zone just before he threw his first touchdown of the game to Fitzgerald.
Rosen was bad. But it’s difficult to imagine any rookie quarterback faring well in that offense in Arizona. Unfortunately, we might not get a fair evaluation of Rosen until the Cardinals put an actual NFL offense around him.
Furthermore, as the hits piled up and Rosen left the field for the final time with an injury after already getting banged up at earlier points in the game, it became entirely fair to question if Rosen should’ve been out there on the field in that kind of a game.
Ah, so Rosen gets his ankle rolled up dropping back to get hit for the 100th time tonight with 2 minutes left in a blowout. Did Wilks just leave after the third quarter? Can he make a good decision?
— Frank Schwab (@YahooSchwab) October 19, 2018
Possibly getting Rosen seriously injured in a 45-10 game should get someone fired from this disaster.
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) October 19, 2018
Breathe easy, Arizona. Rosen said after the game that he’s fine.
They ruined David Johnson
What the Cardinals are doing to Johnson is borderline criminal.
They’ve turned the league’s most versatile playmaker into just another running back who carries the ball up the middle into eight-man fronts. That’s what they did in the six games prior to Thursday night. That’s how they began their seventh game of the season. And that’s how they tried to come back from the dead.
I blended all of David Johnson’s #NextGenStats run charts together. The VAST majority of his runs are between the tackles. Absolutely baffling play calling for a RB with speed. For comparison, I added Melvin Gordon’s carry chart from WK6 #Cardinalspic.twitter.com/SwYtw4dZnc
— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) October 18, 2018
Meanwhile Arizona opens the game with a run into an 8 man box for no gain pic.twitter.com/jtqWSe78yx
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) October 19, 2018
Running into a NINE MAN BOX down 21-3 this is incredible pic.twitter.com/NIYyDQ3tM5
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) October 19, 2018
Johnson’s ugly start to the season has been somewhat adorned by six touchdowns from scrimmage. Those touchdowns aside, it’s been brutal for Johnson, who is slogging his way behind a bad offensive line as the Cardinals insist on using him like a 1970s back.
It’s mind-boggling that the Cardinals aren’t using him the same way Bruce Arians did.
That’s on the coaching staff. They’re not putting their best player in a position to succeed. Johnson was targeted only three times against the Broncos. He caught all three targets for 31 yards.
His usage is unacceptable.
Fun night for Sanders
Sanders, who threw a touchdown and caught one for himself, had himself a fun Thursday night.
Broncos’ @ESanders_10 is now the 1st WR in team history (9th player overall) w/pass TD, rush TD and receiving TD.
— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) October 19, 2018
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 19, 2018
Keenum does enough to keep job
Four days after Broncos fans cheered on backup quarterback Chad Kelly, Keenum solidified his hold on the starting job with a solid outing.
He finished 14 of 21 for 161 yards, one touchdown, one pick, and an 85.6 passer rating. This was one of those games where Keenum really wasn’t asked to do much. It was a blowout in the first quarter. Keenum didn’t have to do anything except manage the game.
Still, during the second half, Keenum threw his league-leading ninth interception of the season.
The turnovers remain a concern, but there’s no way the Broncos will bench Keenum for a former seventh-round pick after a win of this magnitude. The win buys Keenum another week and maybe even two barring a meltdown in Week 8.
The Broncos can run
Against a bad run defense, the Broncos’ running back duo experienced a successful outing. Together, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 127 yards on 17 carries (7.5 yards per attempt). It was Lindsay who led the way with 90 yards on 14 carries. Both players reached the end zone.
— NFL (@NFL) October 19, 2018
— NFL (@NFL) October 19, 2018
If the Broncos are going to make a surprise run at a playoff spot, they’ll need their two-headed running game to maintain that sort of production given the inconsistent quarterback play they’re working with on a weekly basis.
Hamilton, Stewart, Sanders, Freeman exit early
Late in the game, the Broncos ruled out Sanders and Freeman with ankle injuries. Hopefully, those injuries aren’t serious and the Broncos were just exercising caution in an absolute blowout of a game.
Earlier on — when it was still a game — Broncos lost rookie receiver and punt returner DaeSean Hamilton to a knee injury and safety Darian Stewart to a neck injury. Neither players are household names, but they’re important contributors on a team that isn’t the deepest.
Hamilton, who joined the Broncos as a fourth-round pick, entered the game with three catches for 44 yards and three returns for 31 yards. Stewart, meanwhile, has started all seven games so far this season, recording an interception, a sack, and 20 solo tackles prior to Thursday night. Before going down, he recorded one tackle.
The Broncos do at least get 10 days off until their next game, which would give those players enough time to recover if those injuries aren’t serious.
Both teams are staring at one likely loss, one winneable contest, and a bye over the next three weeks.
The Broncos get 10 days to prepare for a trip to Kansas City, where they’ll meet the 5-1 Chiefs in a game that probably won’t be all that close. After, they’ll host the Texans and then they’ll enjoy their bye week. As for the Cardinals, they’ll host the very beatable 49ers before their Week 9 bye. On the other side of the bye, they’ll be forced to take their own trip to Kansas City.
Catch up on the game with our live blog below.
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