So the first quarter of the season is in the books. This to me is the first point of the season where there are some kind of takeaways about what a team is and is not. 4 games is a small sample size to be fair, but nevertheless, it is enough football over 16 quarters of play to be able to form some solid opinions about a football team.
I’m going to give you some take aways I’ve had from our season so far and hopefully give some decent perspective on this year’s Denver Bronco team.
I’d like to start with the coaches
I don’t think any assessment of this Bronco team can be serious if it doesn’t first talk about the coaches. The Broncos have a whole new staff aside from a slight few members of the coaching staff...new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new special teams coordinator, and new defensive coordinator.
I’ll start by saying I’m quite pleased so far with the job this young coaching staff has done (I say young meaning fresh and new...this group is in their first year together). We’ve had to put in a completely new offense and have been tinkering quite a bit with the defense. The head coach is a rookie. Let’s not forget what a disadvantage that is for a team wanting to make the playoffs...the lack of continuity leads to unfamiliarity in many regards and can be an obstacle to overcome.
That being said, we’re seeing a team that has definitely grown on the offensive side of the ball in both talent and execution compared to last season. Some of this can be attributed to the “new” offense. Teams don’t have film on what we’re doing although this next quarter that won’t be nearly as big of a factor as it was through the first 4 games of the season.
The defense is finding a new identity under Joe Woods as well. He’s got the team using a more dynamic set of packages and has definitely been creative in his defensive play calling.
This next four games are going to be very telling for the coordinators of the Broncos. Like I said about the offense, teams are now able to watch a good amount of film on what our team is doing and how we adjust is going to be a very big component of whether or not we come away in the second quarter of the season looking as good as we have in the first four games.
Now let’s talk defense
While many in the MSM like to talk about how much Denver “plays man straight up” I’d like to call bull on that. The defense has been tinkering QUITE a bit with zone coverage packages. It has been talked about a little here and there, but I don’t think enough focus is being put on this aspect of the Broncos. Many mistakes that are happening leading to big plays on defense are coming from missed assignments or bad reads by our defenders.
I don’t think this is because Denver is trying to change who they are as a defense so much as they are trying to evolve into something that is harder for opposing teams to pin down. We’ve got some very important starters who are very young and Woods and Vance Joseph need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. Having 2nd year players Justin Simmons, Will Parks, and Adam Gotsis all being key starters for the defense means they are getting a lot of on the job training.
The run defense for this Broncos unit is absolutely mind-bogglingly amazing. Big shout out to Domato Peko and Adam Gotsis who to me are THE key reasons for the vast improvement over last year. I’m not saying that at the exclusion of any of the others in the front 7 at all. All of them are playing the run as close to perfect as I’ve seen since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. I can just see game to game our line winning up front and what the big uglies up front do is what makes the whole scheme work.
The other key part of the defense that I’m calling a huge plus is the play of our starting corners. Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib are still the two best corners in the game to my eyes even if teams are having more success in the air than we saw last year (which has nothing to do with the outside corners from what I’ve seen).
What’s not good
Our inside linebackers (mainly Brandon Marshall as Todd Davis oftentimes is only on the field for obvious running situations and personnel packages) and two young safeties (Simmons and Parks) have gotten picked on to some success so far from what I’ve seen. While the two safeties were outstanding in game 4, I’m not sure what Denver is going to do to solidify their inability to consistently shut down running backs and tight ends matched up with our interior pass defense.
Marshall’s pass coverage being something that I’ve noticed as being less than good is rather odd honestly. In the past, he’s been one of the best coverage linebackers the team has had. I’m not sure if his issues have to do with changes in scheme (I find this unlikely...he’s a sharp cat) or something else. But this is a key area that Denver can improve on especially with a big game against Kansas City coming up.
The other big area of concern for me has to be the Broncos’ interior pass rush. They don’t get good push up the middle much of the time and it is probably a larger contributor to our pass defense taking a step back than anything else. Keep an eye on it...we get great pressure from the edges, but oftentimes the middle of the pocket isn’t causing much disruption. In the rock-paper-scissors nature of the NFL, we’ve picked up a big huge rock to improve our run game, but have lost the edge on our scissors if you will.
What to look for
- Getting Shane Ray back isn’t something that I think is going to heavily impact who starts across from Von Miller. I’m holding to my stance that Shaquil Barrett is a better overall player than Ray. That being said, Ray being back means we can get back to more of a Nascar package with our front being Ray - Barrett - Wolfe - Miller. This WILL create that interior pressure we’re looking for on obvious passing situations.
- Improvement needs to happen in the middle intermediate areas of the field in pass coverage. This likely needs to come from adjustments in scheme as Denver doesn’t have any personnel that seem up to the level of their starters by a long shot.
- I’ve seen a lot of creativity from Woods. I expect this next quarter to see some more blitz packages that bring corners in off the edge in greater frequency than we’ve seen so far (we’ve brought secondary players, but mostly it has been the safeties)
About that offense…
Man were we flying high in Weeks 1 and 2. I was absolutely blown away with how good our offense looked. Then Weeks 3 and 4 came along. The offenses has already stagnated to in a big way to what I am seeing and it is a bit of a concern obviously.
Overall though, I’m seeing a offense that is definitely more unpredictable than last season and that alone is a huge improvement. Our run game has definitely improved and is more consistently being used. Our pass game is also more dynamic and it looks like McCoy has made it a point to target everywhere on the field so teams can’t just load up short and outside anymore to defend our passing game like they did last season.
The run blocking of the line needs some love. No, it isn’t the most potent run blocking game in the NFL...but let’s be real here. Last year this team’s line was the dregs at the bottom of the barrel as far as effective run blocking. We’re at least giving our backs a chance this year with many many times where I see our line winning the trench battle and getting 1.5 - 2 yards of push up front. All of the guys up front are doing at least an average job with standouts Matt Paradis and Ron Leary looking like pro bowlers.
WE HAVE TIGHT ENDS IN THE PASSING GAME!!! I’m not joking. This wasn’t a thing in 2016. Seeing A.J. Derby, Virgil Green, and Jeff Heuerman getting targets brings a tear to my eye. Not only are they getting targets, but they are making big impactful plays in the middle of the field which is huge in the NFL.
Here’s where stuff gets ugly. As good as the run blocking of the line is, their pass blocking is a friggin dumpster fire. And yes, this isn’t the NBR if I don’t name names. Max Garcia and Menelik Watson both suck donkey at this aspect of their jobs. Many people see the edge rushers giving Watson fits and call that out, but I’d honestly say the consistency of fail that I see from our left guard position is worse.
Watson doesn’t have the quick feet you want from a tackle in today’s NFL at the right tackle position. Pass rushers are going outside and inside on him with lateral moves that he’s just not quick enough to stay in front of. The good thing is that from time to time we’re seeing a decent block from him. It isn’t always bad, but I’d definitely say it happens with a frequency that is a good bit higher than what we want to see.
Garcia on the other hand very consistently loses too much ground when he does get a good block on a guy. But guys get him off centered and are by him with a frequency that is honestly dreadful. I still scratch my head week to week at the weakness we have at left guard and wonder how it is that Allen Barbre and Connor McGovern haven’t supplanted Garcia yet.
The other thing I’m adding to the “bad” category is the lack passes to our running backs or crossing routes designed to get beat the coverage schemes teams are using to beat our downfield passing game. We see a lot of man coverage mugging of Demaryius Thomas with coverage shells over the top (cover 2 and cover 3) where defenses are keeping the intermediate timing routes well covered. More running back routes leaking out after a chip behind routes that clear out defenders are there to be had, but our scheme seems to be focused on routes that push vertically more often than not.
One other piece I’d like to point out is our running success is largely a mirage. Yes, we’ve gotten some big runs here and there. But we’re still seeing a lot of less than successful runs from our starter. C.J. Anderson doesn’t do a lot of consistent production as a starter. He’s strangely looking more bust than boom on the vast majority of his runs. I think there’s a real opportunity for the team to improve in rushing the ball...and yes I say that with us rating in the top 5 NFL rushing teams as it stands.
What to look for
- Growth from Watson is necessary moving forward. We don’t have the personnel in the wings to replace all of the problems on the line and this guy is getting paid. He needs to improve as right now he’s getting shown up by a rookie across the way in a big way.
- Allen Barbre can take over at LG any time now. If not him, McGovern should get a shot. I mean this in all sincerity. Every year there is a guy that starts that shouldn’t. This year it is Garcia. I’ve been asking him to prove me wrong for over a year and I am seeing no signs of real improvement.
- Mike McCoy is a offensive plus as a coach. I think he will have time over the bye to add some new wrinkles to the offense including more middle crossing routes and designed passes for our RBs. If he can get that working, it will open up the downfield targets more.
- We’re going to see more Devonte Booker soon. We’ll hopefully see more Jamaal Charles carries too. As good as the Broncos rushing attack looks on paper, it has a lot of room for improvement.
Q & A
In this week’s NBR, I got some questions from SRMA68 that are definitely worth talking about:
Q: How much of Trevor’s "running backwards or into edge rushers" is on him and how much is it he the pocket in front of him dissolving like smoke?
A: Honestly it is both. The line has big problems that are very obvious at left guard and right tackle. This is a weakness that teams are exploiting and it is causing havoc in the Broncos’ passing game.
That being said, if you watch film on Trevor Siemian for pressures and especially sacks, you will see that many of the times he’s picking a bad direction. I know we’ve seen some of our awesome staff do film study and point this out more than once. It is an area he can improve on, but it requires work on his part. To be fair to the guy, he’s young and we have a new coaching staff. It isn’t something he can solve overnight, but hopefully McCoy and Musgrave are coaching him up in this area and it can improve as the season wears on. We have a far better chance of Siemian getting better at pocket awareness and command than we do of our line holding their ground at our problem areas in my opinion.
Q: The other question is why are we not passing to the backs out of the backfield more? Are they covered? I know we are avoiding the checkdown Trevor narrative that way but to me that narrative is only valid when the deep throw is what the defense is giving us and to my eye they generally are giving us the backs and TEs and covering the deep ball.
A: My guess is that the fundamentals of the offense are being worked on first. Yes, McCoy can design some neat stuff to get RBs involved, but it has been very important to walk before we run, so to speak. I will say that check down routes are in play and sometimes being used. We have a young QB though that still doesn’t progress quickly through reads. Good check down routes work when you’ve hit your two primary reads and then quickly get the ball to the guy in space.
Wrapping it up
I’m not going to spend a ton of time on the Special Teams other than to say that I believe in Isaiah McKenzie. That kid has speed and you can’t coach speed. He’s going to make a difference this year help us win some games in a noticeable way.
On the flip side, Brandon McManus needs to get his head unscrewed. He’s going to lose us some games if he doesn’t get back to being Mr. Consistent like we’ve seen from him in the past.
Hit up the comments below and let the community know what are your big takeaways from this quarter season. Are we on track? What’s the biggest strength of the team? What is the biggest weakness?
Which player has been the most impactful through 4 games?
This poll is closed
Damata Peko, Sr.