At this point the Broncos’ loss to New York has been all but picked to death, so I don’t plan to spend a ton of time beating a dead horse. It was a disappointing loss. In the days since there’s been a huge number of opinions floating around about your favorite franchise, so instead of just going over the game, let’s address them head on.
Bench Case Keenum. Start Chad Kelly
This has been a popular opinion since Kelly shocked fans in the preseason and lit up backups and third stringers well enough for John Elway to feel comfortable with him as the primary backup. Obviously Keenum’s played a role, as he now has 5 touchdowns and 6 picks on the year.
But how disappointing has Keenum been, really?
According to Football Outsiders DYAR statistic, which measures the quarterback’s performance compared to an average (or replacement level) player, Keenum is better than 11 of the 35 players with at least 75 passes on the year. Some of them aren’t surprising, as Jimmy Garoppolo was pretty disappointing before his injury, and Josh Allen looks every bit like the mega-bust I thought he’d be.
But Keenum has outperformed Ryan Tannehill, Dak Prescott and the injured Marcus Mariota thus far as well. He outplayed Carson Wentz and Cam Newton last week once you consider opponent adjustments too. Of course it does little to mask his shortcomings when the Broncos are on a three-game losing streak, and his QBR is brutal.
So let’s say Bill Musgrave and Vance Joseph make the switch to Chad Kelly, who is six years younger than Keenum and has the kind of pedigree that makes some salivate. What happens if he’s worse? That may seem far-fetched in a vacuum, but Baker Mayfield has been so far. So has Josh Allen. (I promise I’ll stop beating up on him, Wyoming fans, at least today)
It’s no guarantee that Chad Kelly’s preseason performance translates to regular season success. Defensive coordinators ramp up coverage disguises, for one, something Kelly will have no professional experience against in live action. There will also be better players opposite him than backups and bubble guys fighting for a spot on their team’s respective rosters.
Even if Kelly does find success, he’ll soon have to adjust to defensive coordinators scheming against him specifically for the first time. This is something Broncos fans love to bring up to temper Patrick Mahomes hype, but somehow forget when it comes to their own young signal caller.
So if Kelly bombs, Musgrave and the Broncos are left in a situation similar to last year where they’re forced to juggle multiple quarterbacks. That means the rest of the locker room is caught in the middle again. It’s that or the coaching staff rides out 12 games with Kelly regardless of his performance, hell or high water.
Are you ready for that?
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say Kelly comes in and proves he has a future at the position. He may not light the world on fire but he’s a solid No. 2 going forward. That leaves Elway in a tough spot. As I alluded to last week, the Broncos can move on from Keenum after the season and save $10 million. It means they’ll be in the market for a quarterback again. What’s that look like?
Sam Bradford- With Rosen taking over in Arizona, hard to envision the Cardinals blanching at $5 million next year if it saves them almost $20 million. He’s one of the quarterback’s ranked lower than Keenum in DYAR, QBR and every other statistic that matters. Hard pass.
Ryan Tannehill- Sort of a toss up, he’s been good enough to keep and the Dolphins eat as much as they save by cutting him. If they tank it’s not unreasonable to think they move on and try to find a real solution at the position. His DYAR is lower than Keenum’s, but his QBR is better. He’s also had some decent moments over the years and has a first round pedigree.
Jameis Winston – I doubt TB pulls the extension unless the Buccaneers totally fall on their face. Let’s say they do though, should Elway chase after a guy who just served a suspension after the NFL investigated claims that he groped an Uber driver? Let’s say you think he should: he’d definitely be an upgrade over Keenum on the field.
Mike Glennon – Glorified backup. Basically Keenum before Keenum. Hard pass.
A.J. McCarron – Remember when Broncos fans wanted Denver to trade for him? Well Gruden and the Raiders actually did. He’s scheduled to make just over $3 million next year, but costs nothing to cut. Should Elway kick the tires in ‘19?
Derek Carr - this is a huge maybe, but in a recent article for ESPN Bill Barnwell speculated that the friction between Carr and Gruden has taken another turn and that anything is possible with Chucky once the season ends. By DYAR, Carr would represent a huge upgrade over Keenum, even if ESPN’s QBR system has been down on him throughout his career.
Eli Manning - Denver had success with one Manning??? But seriously this is a bad idea.
Nick Foles - The shine has come off a bit for the reigning Super Bowl MVP, but perhaps you’re of the mind that replacing one 30-year-old journeyman with another is the way to go?
All but certains
Robert Griffin III
Teddy Bridgewater - the only quarterback on this list that possibly represents a true upgrade at the position for more than perhaps a year. I’ve said time and again that Elway is unlikely at best to sign the former Viking and stand by that. Shame he didn’t gamble on Bridgewater last spring when the Jets did; he’d look pretty smart today.
As it stands, Bridgewater could possibly re-sign for cheap with the Saints to hold a clipboard and take over when Drew Brees finally hangs them up. I doubt it, but it’s possible.
Fire Joe Woods/Bill Musgrave/Vance Joseph etc.
I’m driving the disappointed bandwagon. I spent weeks studying Musgrave’s history and thought he would be a godsend for the Broncos offense, but he seemingly forgot how to call games to maximize his team’s strengths.
Woods meanwhile has failed to stay a step ahead of opposing coaches. Offensive coordinators can predict the coverage calls Denver uses and have routinely abused that time and again five weeks in.
So why shouldn’t Elway and the team move on from them or Vance Joseph yet? In the NFL firing a coach means the rest of the staff has to take on their duties. The Broncos are 5 weeks into a 17-week regular season. The move would do next to nothing for this year and likely stifle the development of young players like Courtland Sutton and Josey Jewell.
Fire John Elway
It won’t happen, even if you think he’s made some colossal mistakes in recent years.
Wrecking the Rams Perfect Season
Now that we’ve covered those, let’s move on to the Rams. How can the Broncos spring an upset?
1. Slow down the Rams play action game
Leak concept there by McVay for the TD. Third straight week he has ran that. pic.twitter.com/UL2f3hhEfn— Zach Dunn (@ZachSDunn) September 28, 2018
Leading up to Sunday’s game McVay’s LA offense used play action on almost 40 percent of its passes, which is easily the most in the NFL. On plays they fake to the back, the Rams average 11.5 yards per play. Through four weeks the Joe Woods defense was only better than Arizona and Green Bay at defending it.
Last Sunday there really wasn’t much to see if the Broncos D improved against it. The Jets aren’t a strong play action offense and didn’t really test them with it, (though they did have three completions even with Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell running wild), so it remains a question mark this weekend. For Denver to have a chance they need to slow down Goff and the passing game, no doubt about that.
That doesn’t mean the Rams won’t get their points. The Rams are the fifth team in NFL history to score 30+ points in each of their first five games. They’re a historically good offense with the most innovative play caller in the league designing their offense. They will get theirs. Much like the Broncos’ matchup with Kansas City, all Woods and Joseph can realistically hope to accomplish is slow them down enough to keep up.
Health luck could work in their favor in that regard. Both Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks left the Seahawks game with concussions. Reports suggest that McVay is optimistic both will play against the Broncos, but if they can’t go, that removes two key members of Goff’s aerial circus.
Speaking of injuries, lady luck is smiling on the Broncos offense again. Before his injury Aqib Talib was playing like a Hall of Famer, allowing all of 3.8 yards per pass in his direction on the season. His replacement Sam Shields is far more pedestrian (8.8 yards per pass) They failed to capitalize against the Jets’ banged up secondary, but Keenum needs to do so at home to beat the Rams.
2. Attack the Rams secondary with play action
Before the Seattle game, Los Angeles faced less play action than any other team in the league. It’s a little surprising because teams were averaging 8 yards a play when they attempted it. For all his faults (and there are many), Brian Schottenheimer took note because all three of the touchdowns Russell Wilson threw on Sunday came off play action fakes.
After the game there was speculation that Marcus Peters must be playing through pain because of how badly he got burned, but the truth of the matter is he’s habitually looking at the QBs eyes to read the throw. Play action designs abuse this weakness, as in the play above. Watch how he sinks his hips right before my attempt at drawing a yellow circle, Peters never had much of a chance.
3. Run the *#$%ing ball.
Vance Joseph said this when asked about the Broncos rationale for abandoning the run game against New York.
“They were playing us differently. We don’t go into the game counting runs. We actually take what they give us. If they’re playing single-high defense versus our receivers, that’s the time to throw the football.”
While this makes sense in a vacuum or Madden, the reality is Denver has an elite ground game and middling quarterback. The Broncos need to run early and often to compete. It really is that simple. Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay should have more carries than Case Keenum has pass attempts. Every week.
Outside of the vacuum, Los Angeles is also surprisingly susceptible to runs. Before their game against the Seahawks, FO ranked the Rams’ run D as 23rd in the league. They allowed almost six yards a carry off the right tackle and were pretty soft off up the middle as well.
Then Seattle ran for 190 yards and eight first downs on 32 carries as they gave LA all they could handle. Let’s hope Musgrave and Joseph paid attention.
Everyone knows about Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh and for good reason, the duo are creating more pressure than any other pair of defensive players in the league so far. What’s gone unsung though is that they’re hardly alone.
Second year linebacker Samson Ebukam has been a secret stud for Wade Phillips’ defense. While he only has one sack on the year to date, he’s had a ton of pressures and makes his presence felt in a number of ways. While the Rams run defense is soft up the middle, they’re elite off the right end. Ebukam’s a big part why.
In many ways he’s THE role player that makes Suh and Donald’s dominance possible. He’s a lesser player and still developing into a complete defender, but he’s dangerous in his own right and he makes them both better.
While Ebukam is usually aligned on the defenses’ left edge, in the play above Wade aligns the defensive front so that Donald and Ebukam both get single team blocks. That’s going to be a nightmare for any offensive line. It also means Wilson has nowhere to escape.
The 2nd year product out of Eastern Washington can be schemed around. He doesn’t posses a vast repertoire of rush moves and chip blocks effectively slow him down, it may be a necessity if neither Jared Veldheer or Garett Bolles can suit up this week. Billy Turner has had an encouraging season so far, but Ebukam could turn that around quickly.
Don’t think for a minute that “the Rams don’t have an edge rusher.”
They do, and it probably won’t be long before he’s a household name.