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Will a Patchwork Fly Zone Crash the Broncos Playoff Hopes?

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Can Bradley Roby, Justin Simmons and the rookies step up?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
It’s now or never for Roby in Broncos orange.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In case you somehow missed the news, at the time of my writing this, the Broncos are looking at going into the 49ers having survived a costly battle of attrition with the Bengals Sunday. Lost to injury during the game were Josey Jewell, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. The first two both look like they’re eyeing this weekend for their return but Harris’ injury was far more significant.

Injury Updates: Joseph updates status of Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe and Josey Jewell

”Chris Harris [has] a break in his lower leg,” Joseph said. “Chris is one of our leaders. He’s one of our better players. When you lose those guys, obviously you don’t gain anything. You lose something. But ... we won’t flinch now.”

It’s one thing to say what needs to be said after such a demoralizing injury, it’s hard to expect Joseph to say anything else really. Another thing altogether is finding a way to minimize the absence of a Hall of Fame slot corner in the era of 11 personnel. Fortunately for the Broncos, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan utilizes more 2-receiver 2-back sets than anyone and the 49ers are a shell of what fans expected them to be going into the season. Last I checked on Nick Mullens there was a question if he’d be benched for C.J. Beathard. If Shanny finds a way to steal a victory with George Kittle and a pack of bubble gum next week, Vance Joseph deserves his walking papers.

Going forward, things get uglier quick. As bad as the Browns win loss record looks from afar, this is a very different Cleveland team with Baker Mayfield at the helm. There’s hope that Tramaine Brock is in line to return shortly until he does 3rd round rookie Isaac Yiadom will man the 2nd corner spot. Former Cardinals cornerback Jamar Taylor is expected to sign with Denver this week after Arizona released him in November. He played for Vance Joseph back when the Broncos head coach was the Miami Dolphin’s defensive coordinator, but it’s fair to ask how much he can contribute coming off the street this week.

If for some reason he doesn’t sign, or even if he does Harris’ absence means Joe Woods and the Fly Zone will likely consist of a heavy dose of big nickel packages with Justin Simmons moving down into the slot. Mile High Report’s own Jeffrey Essary took a look at when Simmons played the position during Aqib Talib’s absence last season.

Tale of the Tape: What does a ‘Talib-less’ secondary look like? - Mile High Report

So how did he fare? Pretty darn good, actually. Aside from one play he’d love to have back (which we’ll look at), he allowed two catches for 16 yards, and had himself an interception returned for a touchdown.

If Simmons does become the de facto slot corner, Su’a Cravens will see an increase in playing time at a more traditional safety position than the dimebacker spot Joseph and Woods had in mind for him when he was brought to Denver last spring.

That’s a lot of moving parts, but the NFL is a next man up league. As I said last week there would come a time down the last stretch of this playoff chase where Joseph would have to prove himself a worthy head coach. It’s gut check time.

One thing that’s helping the Broncos going forward? The other teams that will likely compete for the wildcard spots have much tougher schedules over the remaining month than Denver does. There is even a road to the 6th seed that would allow for them to drop a game somewhere along the way, though it would make things really really tight.

NFL Playoff Picture: Denver Broncos need AFC North to stumble - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos sort of need to win out to have a good shot at making the playoffs, plus they’ll need a few games to their way.

Broncos Links

Next-Day Notebook: Chris Harris won’t go on IR, eyes Week 17 return

Joseph said he is hopeful Brock can return against the 49ers to bolster the secondary.

Phillip Lindsay becomes eighth Denver Broncos rookie to top 1,000 yards - Mile High Report

Lindsay is averaging over 6 yards a carry and should be a Pro Bowler this year. Go vote. Now. Don’t pass Go, wait to collect your $200 until after you voted.

The Denver Broncos are finding ways to win again - Mile High Report

In a game that started with a whimper, the Broncos found a way to win.

Denver Broncos 11 winners, 3 losers in 24-10 win over Bengals - Mile High Report

Phillip Lindsay continues to remain “Philthy,” and the Broncos win their third-straight game to keep the playoff dream alive.

Denver Broncos: 5 things learned in 24-10 win over Cincinnati Bengals. - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos secured their third consecutive victory this afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are five things we learned from today’s game.

NFL Week 13 Grades: Browns get a ‘D’ as Mayfield melts down, Packers get an ‘F’ as McCarthy gets fired - CBSSports.com

Broncos: B Although Case Keenum couldn’t take advantage of playing against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Philip Lindsay definitely didn’t squander the opportunity. The Broncos running back carried Denver’s offense with 152 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. The Broncos defense also did a good job of terrorizing Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was making his first career start. Denver racked up four sacks, including 1.5 by Von Miller and Shelby Harris.

Kelly’s 2019 Mock Draft 3.0 - Page 2 of 3 - The Draft Network

19. Denver Broncos PICK: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa Jeff Heuerman is a mediocre tight end who offers little in the pass game, so Denver will likely look to upgrade that spot this offseason. Fant is a dynamic, athletic freak at the position. He provides rare natural pass-catching ability in his large frame, making him an enticing piece to pair with 2018 second-round wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Fant would provide a presence in the intermediate and up the seam for quarterback Case Keenum.

49er Links

49ers news: Matt Breida OUT for Week 14, Kyle Shanahan expects Marquise Goodwin to be back - Niners Nation

The 49ers will be dipping down into the depth chart.

Your move, Raiders: 49ers jump to lead in race for top draft pick - San Francisco 49ers Blog- ESPN

”We’re just beat up,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You think about the guys we have out there, we lose our No. 1 receiver, No. 2 receiver, No. 1 quarterback, No. 2 quarterback, No. 1 running back, the thing, it just ends up adding up. You lose your starting safety, you lose your backup safety, you lose person after person, you lose two of your Will linebackers and then [Malcolm Smith is] kind of beat up. It’s just guys beat up, but guys are fighting hard and giving us the best chance.”

A look around the AFC West

NFL botched Kareem Hunt assault investigation - Why it wasn’t interested in the truth

When it comes to the NFL and violence against women, the question clearly isn’t, “What did they know and when did they know it?” It’s more like, “What did they want to know and when did they decide they had no choice but to know more?”

Kareem Hunt Was A Suspect In A Nightclub Assault In January

The unnamed accuser told police that when he approached the group, Atkinson punched him in the shoulder, and though the victim tried to fight back, he was overrun and kicked to the point of unconsciousness by three men, one of whom he identified as Hunt.

Kareem Hunt being investigated by NFL for second incident in Ohio, allegedly punched man - CBSSports.com

In the early morning hours of June 3, Hunt got into an verbal altercation with another guest that allegedly ended with Hunt punching the man in the face. Since the man wasn’t seriously injured and since he chose not to press any charges, the incident basically went unnoticed during the NFL offseason.

Patrick Mahomes reaction to Kareem Hunt video: ‘We don’t do those things’

”I saw the stuff that happened,’’ Mahomes said after Sunday’s 40-33 win over the Raiders. “We don’t do those things.’’

Report: Former Denver Broncos RB C.J. Anderson likely to fill in for Kareem Hunt in Kansas City - Mile High Report

Say it ain’t so!

Former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson could sign with the Chiefs - Arrowhead Pride

The Chiefs are apparently planning to meet with two veteran running backs on Monday

Kansas City Chiefs “expected” to re-sign Charcandrick West - Arrowhead Pride

On Sunday, reports said the Chiefs would kick the tires on West and former Bronco C.J. Anderson on Monday.

Kansas City Chiefs beat Oakland Raiders 40-33: five hot takes - Arrowhead Pride

Only twice this season — in Week 1 and Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers — did they pass on a smaller percentage of their plays. And the Chiefs gained more yards on the ground — 174 — than any game this season except against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Raiders week 13 report card vs Chiefs: Running backs cough it up three times - Silver And Black Pride

If there is a silver lining to the way things have gone recently it’s that despite losing week after week the Raiders are playing hard and competing.

Raiders vs. Chiefs: 4 Winners, 4 Losers - Silver And Black Pride

There was a lot that went wrong today, but this looks like a team giving their all, especially their best players.

Derek Carr moves up Raiders record books in loss to Chiefs - Silver And Black Pride

Gannon finished with 17,585 passing yards with the Raiders. Carr’s 285 yards Sunday night against the Chiefs, gives him 17,802 yards for his Raiders career. Carr is now second in club history to only Hall of Famer Ken Stabler, who holds the record with 19,078.

Raiders lose timeout after Jon Gruden throws challenge flag inside of two minutes | NFL | Sporting News

You’d think a $100 Million coach would know the rules.

Chargers in the spotlight with Sunday Night Football win vs. Steelers | SI.com

In two weeks the Chargers get another primetime game for the nation, this time against Kansas City in a game that could shake up the entire AFC playoff seeding.

The rest of the AFC Contenders

Rivers, Chargers Exploit Steelers’ Rigidity: ‘They Stick With What They Do’ - Steelers Depot

“They really like to match everything and zone everything up. If Keenan is number three, he’s going to get matched up with a linebacker and they just kind of match everything up. They’re dogging backers. They’re all over the place blitzing guys, but not bringing a lot of guys so there are still people out there in zones”, he said.

Pittsburgh Steelers suffer historic loss to Los Angeles Chargers - Pittsburgh Steelers Blog- ESPN

”We had this game in our hands, and it fell a whole different way,” linebacker Bud Dupree said.

AFC Playoff Picture: Steelers’ loss has little impact on the standings - Behind the Steel Curtain

As for Pittsburgh, their remaining schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Patriots and Saints, along with the Raiders and Bengals all await the Steelers in the coming weeks as the regular season winds down.

6 takeaways from the Steelers disappointing loss to the Chargers - Behind the Steel Curtain

The Steelers picked the worst possible time of year to have a meltdown.

Steelers RB James Conner suffers lower leg contusion - NFL.com

Conner has suffered multiple MCL injuries in the past and spent time in concussion protocol a few weeks ago, but had not been seriously bit by the injury bug this season until Sunday evening.

The Ravens Went Down to Georgia — A Kyle Barber rendition - Baltimore Beatdown

The Ravens went down to Georgia, They were looking for a game to steal They were in a bind, the Colts a game behind they’re trying to make a highlight reel....

5 Takeaways from the Ravens’ 26-16 win over the Falcons - Baltimore Beatdown

For the first time since Week 13 of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Ravens are on a three-game winning streak.

Ravens vs. Falcons final: MVP, stock-up & stock-down - Baltimore Beatdown

It was yet another exciting Baltimore Ravens game here as Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III and Sam Koch passed and ran this game into a victory.

Colts News: Andrew Luck shut out for the first time since high school - Stampede Blue

Failed fourth-down calls cost Indianapolis three chances to put points on the scoreboard in 6-0 loss to Jaguars

Colts vs Jaguars: Week 13 winners and losers - Stampede Blue

This was Frank Reich’s worst game as a head coach. As the primary offensive play caller, Reich was unable to make the necessary adjustments to deal with Jacksonville’s excellent coverage, and seemed to struggle to dial up plays to get his receivers open.

Houston Texans chances at the Super Bowl | SI.com

If this is the Deshaun Watson the Texans have moving forward, they’re a full-fledged Super Bowl contender.

Taking a look at the rest of the league

Mark Sanchez adds to his legacy with a Butt Recovery Fumble - SBNation.com

In his first game action since 2016, Mark Sanchez had another incident with a fumble and his butt.

Eagles stay in contention with win over Redskins - NFL.com

The Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) kept their playoff hopes alive with a 28-13 victory over the injury-riddled Washington Redskins (6-6) to close out Week 13.

What we learned from Sunday’s Week 13 games - NFL.com

The Jacksonville Jaguars ended their seven-game skid and shutdown the Indianapolis Colts’ five-game winning streak in one day. Here’s what else we learned from Sunday’s Week 13 games.

NFL coaching hot seat: John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles | SI.com

Mike McCarthy was relieved of his head coaching position in Green Bay. Will any other coaches join him and Hue Jackson as mid-season firings this year?

NFL Week 13 2018 overreactions - Why not Aaron Donald of Rams for MVP?

Will Josh McDaniels will be the next coach of the Packers?

Green Bay’s next head coach must be Aaron Rodgers’ advocate–and offensive savior | Touchdown Wire

As I’ve said and written many times before, McCarthy’s Achilles heel as a head coach and an offensive play-designer was his rigid inflexibility and inability to design passing concepts that would regularly beat even the most rudimentary of defenses

Answering the biggest questions on the Packers firing of Mike McCarthy - 2018 NFL

The only game they’ve won over a team’s primary starting quarterback came when they beat Josh Allen and the Bills at Lambeau in Week 4.

Next Packers coach must make it work with Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers Blog- ESPN

Coaching an elite quarterback with high-level intelligence like Rodgers isn’t easy, and any candidate for this job might be wise to ask McCarthy what that’s like.

Mike McCarthy era ends in Green Bay during thirteenth season - NFL.com

For one thing, the timing may benefit McCarthy, whose record (125-76-2 in the regular season, 18-10 in nine playoff appearances) and reputation may well land him another NFL head coaching opportunity within the next five weeks. Creating the vacancy also allows the Packers to mount an open search for McCarthy’s successor over the next month. And make no mistake: This job -- primarily because of Rodgers -- will be highly, highly desirable among prospective candidates, especially those who regard themselves as creative offensive minds.

11 potential Packers head-coaching candidates to replace Mike McCarthy | NFL | Sporting News

The Packers’ next hire is critical, because it will define the back end of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career with the franchise. McCarthy re-energized Brett Favre when he arrived as coach. The next coach will have the same mission with a different QB, and the presence of Rodgers will make this job one of the most desirable openings in the NFL.

Potential candidate to replace Mike McCarthy: Josh McDaniels

McDaniels still fashions himself as being on a track to taking over an NFL team. Some NFL assistants clearly believe a Green Bay and Josh McDaniels marriage is something that has a legitimate shot.

Packers new coach won’t guarantee Rodgers, Green Bay instant success

Then there’s the new coach and his offensive system. Suppose the new guy doesn’t want to give Rodgers all the freedom to change plays and tell his receivers to run routes differently than McCarthy did. Those are all legitimate possibilities.

How great would it be if McDaniels got hired to coach Green Bay only to turn around and trade Aaron Rodgers in a 3-man deal for Brian Hoyer and a ham sandwich?

Fixing The Packers: 2019 Offseason Plan - The Draft Network

Head coach Mike McCarthy is gone, the Packers playoff hopes are dashed and they appear headed for a top ten draft pick. How can Green Bay be fixed?

Rivera declines to discuss reports about his future - NFL.com

”I think we have a lot of talent on this team, and honestly, I look at last year and I look at this year and I think we’re a more talented bunch this year, but I think we were more disciplined last year,” Kalil said, via the Charlotte Observer. “I just don’t think we’re a very disciplined football team, especially in critical situations.

Detroit Lions LT Taylor Decker trying to recover ball from first career TD

”That’s my first-ever touchdown,” Decker said after the game. “Been playing football since first grade, always been an O-lineman. So for my first touchdown to come as a left tackle in the NFL is pretty damn cool. “And I think I threw a duck into the stands. So whatever fan has that ball, I’d like it back.”

Despite valiant effort, Bears fall to lowly Giants without Trubisky - Chicago Bears Blog- ESPN

But in the bigger picture, the Bears committed way too many costly and uncharacteristic mistakes to escape with a victory. When’s the last time you remember the Bears defense busting not one, but two coverages on touchdown passes?

Adam Thielen of Minnesota Vikings on heated exchange with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick -- ‘Just lost my emotions’

Field mics picked up the Vikings receiver yelling “that’s bullcrap” in the direction of the Patriots’ bench after Belichick pulled the challenge flag out of his sock and threw it onto the field. During the exchange, Belichick appeared to tell Thielen to “shut the f--- up.” An official then escorted Thielen back to the Vikings’ huddle.

Jets’ Todd Bowles calls out players for ‘dumb mistakes’ in loss to Titans

”I don’t know how many [penalties] we had, but it felt like we had one every play,” he said. “It cost us, and it’s disgusting.”

Arthur Blank: I haven’t lost faith in Quinn, Dimitroff - NFL.com

”We’re sitting here at 4-8,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, via via Jeff Schultz of The Athletic. “When there was chatter that we were Super Bowl contenders, and then this ... it’s difficult to go through. It’s tough on everybody. We have a lot of injuries. That’s not an excuse, but ... it’s reality. They’re fighting the best that they can.”

Tyron Smith says he expects to play this week – ProFootballTalk

Smith has missed the last two games with a stinger, and said he hadn’t gone to get a second opinion. Getting him back will help stabilize things up front. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has been sacked a league-high 45 times this year, as the Cowboys have been without Smith in the short term and center Travis Frederick all season after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome earlier this year.

Mahomes, Prescott, Wilson and now Jackson are not just ‘dual-threat’ QBs

From the beginning of the season, five black quarterbacks have started in the NFL: anyone who’s paid attention knows there should be six.