Broncos Country hasn’t had a whole lot to cheer about so far this season as our team sits at 3-6 going into a bye week, and likely yet another season of missing the playoffs.
However, there have been a few bright spots along the way, mainly coming in the form of young players stepping up their game. Jeff Heuerman’s performance against the Houston Texans last week certainly fits that bill.
Heuerman, also known as ‘the other Jeff’, went off for 10 catches on 11 targets for 83 yards and a touchdown, with the majority of his yards coming after the catch as he showcased excellent open field elusiveness.
This was one of the best performances by a Denver tight end since Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas set the league on fire in 2013 - 2014, and has been a key missing piece of this Broncos offense.
What was even more encouraging, was not only Heuerman individually stepping up his game, but the coaching staff’s clear plan to get him more involved with Demaryius Thomas no longer in Denver.
Heuerman was moved all around in nearly every alignment imaginable on Sunday.
He was split out wide as a Z-receiver on a key 3rd down pass play to clear out the zone for Courtland Sutton.
Here, he starts out wide and is motioned into the slot underneath Sanders’ tight split.
He even came out of the backfield on this 3rd and short catch and run.
He also found success from a traditional tight end alignment off of play action.
Here, Denver fakes outside zone right and everyone goes that direction, except for Keenum and Heuerman.
He gets a chip on JJ Watt on his way out to further sell the run.
Now he’s wide open with plenty of room to run.
Keenum hits him a little low and late, but Heuerman is able to bounce off tacklers for a nice gain.
This is the kind of thing we saw multiple times on Sunday and was a great move by the coaching staff. This not only got Keenum in his comfort zone and got Heuerman involved, but also helped combat the Texans fierce pass rush.
Another thing I really liked was Denver’s coaching staff taking advantage of matchups. This is something the Vikings did will Kyle Rudolph quite often last year with good success.
The Texans played a lot of man coverage, and would shadow Heuerman with a linebacker. So Denver split him out wide and let him work 1-on-1 against the 250 lb Bernardrick McKinney on the outside.
Keenum does a nice job identifying the matchup pre-snap and throws with great anticipation here before Heuerman even breaks off his route.
Great back shoulder throw from Keenum, and nice catch here by the tight end.
Saved the best for last.
The Texans are in a cover-2 at the goal line, and Denver is going to run to both Sanders and Sutton to the left to widen the safety and nickel corner, isolating the MLB, McKinney again.
You can see the safety drift to Sanders in the slot, and the nickel corner is focused on the QB.
Keenum once again throws with great anticipation and puts it in the perfect spot, away from the linebacker.
Heuerman hang in there for an incredible catch, and Denver gets the score.
I wrote last week how Denver’s passing game had been failing in the red zone and on 3rd downs this year. This week, they converted 100% of their red zone trips, and converted some key 3rd downs propelled by Heuerman and Keenum’s connection, plus great scheming to correctly utilize him.
Look for more of this as the season progresses, and the offense continues to try new things and find it’s rhythm.