Holding calls are frustrating. They often eliminate big plays, they slow down the pace of the game, and they knock the offense out of rhythm.
For the Denver Broncos, though, the holding calls are getting ridiculous, and it’s more than frustrating, it’s a serious problem.
In the past two games, the Broncos have been called for holding repeatedly. C.J. Anderson scored an incredible touchdown that could have been the turning point against the Chargers. Wait, no. Flag on the field. It all came back, and then the Broncos proceeded to lose. Against the Texans, there was a deep pass to Demaryius Thomas that was also erased by a hold. Not as crucial, but still stats taken off the board.
If you want to see the Anderson play again, you can watch it here. It’s…painful. But it’s the right call. The hold spins Kyle Emanuel completely around as he’s in what would have been a good pass rush. There’s no telling whether or not Trevor Siemian would have gotten the pass off if Emanuel hadn’t been held – he would have, but that’s pretty hard to prove – but the call is correct. It’s not a tic-tack call where a jersey barely moves. It’s a guy getting grabbed and spun around.
The calls mattered less against the Texans because the team won, but don’t overlook them on those grounds. It’s still been pretty ugly. You can’t even blame the referees since we’ve seen this both home and away.
Plus, those two plays above are just a pair of examples. Multiple times, holding calls have derailed drives. The offense could barely find any rhythm in the first quarter against the Texans. They looked a lot better in the second. Why? Because they weren’t getting flagged and they could settle in and just run the game plan.
They’re not necessarily making the big plays right now. When they can gain four, five or six yards per play, they can march efficiently. When a holding call sets them back and makes it second and long, the wheels fall off.
That’s almost more important than the lost chunk plays. In a close game, every little call matters. The last time they played the New England Patriots, they won by two. If they’re in a two-point game again this year, having a few drives and first downs stripped away by penalties can add up. They could be down two instead of up two with ease.
The Broncos always play close football. That’s what you do when you invest all of your money in defense. You keep the score close and count on the defense to make sure you’re up at the end. You’re not coming into any game, no matter who you play, expecting to win by 40.
I mean, remember the Browns game last year? This is a future Super Bowl champ playing the lowly Browns, a team that gets blown out regularly. And they only won by three points, in overtime. They beat the Browns and the Patriots by very similar scores, even though those two are polar opposites because that’s just what this brand of football calls for.
And that’s why the penalties are so crucial. As Jeff Legwold pointed out:
“In a five-quarter span — from the start of the opening quarter of the loss in San Diego through the first quarter in Monday night’s win over the Houston Texans — the Broncos had eight holding penalties, including four on left tackle Russell Okung. Only six teams have been flagged for holding more than the Broncos through seven weeks this season.”
The Broncos have said the right things. Okung has talked about making too many mistakes. Head coach Gary Kubiak has said they’ve done well to overcome the penalties (he’s only half right).
But it’s about more than talk going forward. This team doesn’t have the offensive firepower to let promising drives and touchdowns be taken off the board. They need to make sure that the play on the field, and not the yellow flags, dictates the outcome of every game.