If Denver gets its way on the injury front, Sterns might not start another game this season. Justin Simmons may well return to action after missing four games with a quad injury next week when the Broncos face the Chargers on Monday Night Football. That would be a boost to the defense, but Sterns has filled in admirably. He picked off Matt Ryan twice on Thursday night, both times in the middle of the field. He would have had another against San Francisco had D.J. Jones not knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Sterns has a good feel for reading quarterbacks’ eyes and, if nothing else, provides quality depth behind Simmons and Kareem Jackson going forward.
The OLB trio
A strong Thursday night all around from Bradley Chubb, Baron Browning and, notably, rookie Nik Bonitto. The Colts have offensive line issues, without a doubt, but this was a disruptive start to the period during which Denver must play without injured Randy Gregory. Chubb finished with seven tackles (one for loss), 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble and was a force the entire game. Browning recorded 1.5 sacks and a pair of TFLs. Bonitto didn’t crack the stat book beyond an assisted tackle, but hit quarterback Matt Ryan and showed signs of progress in a season-high 29 snaps.
The inside linebacker played solid in Josey Jewell’s absence the first two games of the season and provided a steadying presence again Thursday night after Jewell left the game with a knee injury. Denver picked up Singleton on a one-year deal this offseason and he has more than paid dividends so far between the work inside and on special teams. He finished with a team-best nine tackles (two for loss) against the Colts.
Some of the early season criticism of WIlson felt overblown and he played his best game of the season at Las Vegas in Week 4, indicating perhaps the worm had started to turn as the quarterback and his new offense started to find some traction. Thursday night, though, was rough. The first interception simply cannot happen – Wilson said as much after the game. A first-year head coach put the ball in his quarterback’s hands on third-and-4 and given the impending two-minute warning, the only outcome that does anything but likely fortify Denver’s win is an interception. A throw into the 15th row might have saved Indianapolis 15 seconds, but a chip shot field goal still extends the lead to six. Instead, a disastrous result set in motion the sequence of events that led to a Colts win in overtime. Wilson knows it. He’s got to play better than this going forward.
The veteran guard has been asked to play the whole way since Quinn Meinerz injured his hamstring early in the season opener against Seattle. Thursday night, he struggled with the athletic interior defensive linemen Indianapolis threw at him. Deforest Buckner sacked Wilson twice off the right side in the third quarter. The first led to a fumble that Wilson was fortunate to recover, and the second scuttled a red zone trip that ended in Brandon McManus’ field goal attempt being blocked by Grover Stewart, who pushed in between long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer and Glasgow. With injuries on the offensive line mounting, can Meinerz get back to being game ready by next week?
The tight ends
This group collectively had chances to make plays that they’re going to want back. Andrew Beck had a touchdown on his hands that got knocked away. Eric Saubert dropped a potential first down early in the game and Eric Tomlinson couldn’t handle a throw up the seam. The group isn’t overly talented to begin with, but they each fit a role and have made plays in the opening weeks of the season. Like just about everybody on offense, one more play Thursday night might have led to a different outcome.
Confidence that a turnaround is coming
Put simply, each passing week has served as evidence that Denver is not a playoff team. They followed back-to-back wins against Houston and San Francisco with back-to-back losses against Las Vegas and Indianapolis. They’ve scored six touchdowns in five games and are averaging 15 points per game. Not only that, but they’ve lost key offensive pieces in Javonte Williams and Garett Bolles and will have to deal with much more explosive offenses over the rest of the season than they’ve seen so far. It is certainly not impossible that this team gets going, relies on its strong defense and makes some noise. That just feels like a less likely outcome today than it did two weeks ago.