KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Denver Broncos named Jerry Rosburg as their interim coach, he promised he would try to make the most of the final two weeks of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
In the end, he didn’t get a win Sunday — the Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) hung on for a 27-24 victory — but Rosburg kept his word about some things he had promised, even if he had only a few days to do them.
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Muscling up on offense
Rosburg declined to say this past week who would be the offensive playcaller, but Sunday he had quarterback coach Klint Kubiak on the sideline with quarterback Russell Wilson, and offensive coordinator Justin Outten up in the box calling plays.
“I wanted Klint on the sideline with Russell Wilson; that is a relationship, a quarterback’s coach and a quarterback,” Rosburg said. “It’s different, it’s not anything that’s bad, it’s different, they see the game differently, [so] I wanted Klint with Russell, and I didn’t want the plays called from the sideline.”
One of the most noticeable differences was the Broncos were far more inclined to use two tight ends and two-back looks instead of the three-wide-receiver sets they had struggled with this season. The Broncos came into Sunday as the lowest-scoring team in the NFL. But using a different approach, Wilson was far more willing to get the ball in the short and intermediate areas.
Even with rookie tight end Greg Dulcich on injured reserve, three different tight ends and two different running backs caught passes as the Broncos controlled the tempo for much of the day and held on to the ball for 33:06 to keep it out of Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes’ hands.
“I thought it was a good way of getting us first downs, to control the ball, control the clock and play with our defense, play with our special teams and give us an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter,” Rosburg said.
In the first half, the Broncos used multiple tight ends or multiple running backs on all but five snaps. And on a third-quarter touchdown drive that gave them a 17-13 lead, they didn’t use a three-wide-receiver set at all. Albert Okwuegbunam also played in his first game since Week 5 — Rosburg called him “a big, talented guy who needs to play” — and after two early drops, Okwuegbunam had three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Put Wilson on the move
Outten and Kubiak put Wilson on the move plenty, with rollouts in the passing game to go with a few designed runs.
“It brings a lot to the offense,” wide receiver Jerry Jeudy said. ” … When you have a quarterback who can do that like he can, it brings a lot to the offense; [the defense] have to respect that.”
Wilson rushed for 27 yards on his four carries, with two of those being touchdown runs. Wilson, after putting the ball in harm’s way plenty this season while trying to push the ball downfield, was far more diligent about hitting the open receiver.
The Broncos used running backs Latavius Murray and Chase Edmonds together in the backfield and also lined up in an empty set at least once with two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back out wide. All told, the Broncos scored 23 points for just the fourth time this season, and their 21 first downs tied their second-highest total in any game this season.
“I know what I’m capable of with my legs, my arm,” Wilson said. “… I thought Justin Outten did a great job stepping up, called a great game.”
Calm things down on special teams
The Broncos have spent much of the season at, or near, the bottom of the league’s rankings in almost every significant special teams metric.
Rosburg fired special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes when he was promoted into the interim position. And this past week he promised to be heavily involved in the special teams’ game plan.
One afternoon does not indicate a trend. But the Broncos did not have a penalty on special teams, they blocked a field goal, Kendall Hinton averaged 12.3 yards per punt return, and the Chiefs did not have a punt return longer than 7 yards.
Despite not closing the deal in Kansas City, Rosburg promised a Week 18 finale in pursuit of a win over the Los Angeles Chargers that “these guys deserve.”
“There’s a number of guys in that room that unequivocally bought in and sold out with the vision that I had of how we play,” Rosburg said. ” … I made a commitment to the men in that room to be a better coach this week; I’ve got one week.”