The goal of every NFL team is to play complementary football.
Don’t look now, but it’s not a pipe dream for the Denver Broncos in the 2018 season. There’s still a long way to go, and the best indication of that will come next Saturday in the first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, but the fact we can even talk about it right now without being laughed at is a major step.
When one says “complementary football,” that means all three facets of the game are playing off of each other, but mainly offense and defense. The last two years in Denver, the defense has carried all of the weight. The notion of complementary football has been a great joke. Heck, even in the Super Bowl-winning season three years ago, we didn’t see complementary football.
“We’re not close yet,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said after practice on Sunday. “That’s what training camp is for and that’s what the games in preseason are for, to kind of find out your formula to win games. I think defensively, we’re built to play with a lead. We have great pass rushers, we can cover on the outside and we have great pressure packages, so that’s one part I want to strive to be — playing with a lead. We’ve got four more weeks to figure that out. We’ve got some new schemes going in on both sides of the ball, so time will tell with that.”
At the very least, the change in the Broncos offense is so glaring it burns your eyes. That starts and finishes with quarterback Case Keenum. I noted last week, the way he commands the huddle is such a drastic improvement over the last two seasons. But the other observation I made on Sunday is Keenum’s quiet confidence. The way he carries himself on the field, he does so off of it as well.
Some in the community have pointed it out, and it’s true: It seems Keenum has figured it out. Whether that results in the ultimate goal of complementary football remains to be seen. But with how crisp and sharp the offense has been this early in camp, it doesn’t hurt.
“It’s so hard to tell right now because we’re competing against those guys,” Keenum said. “Really, I think you can tell more so in the preseason games or in the games when you’re feeding off of turnovers that defense gets or trying to flip a field and then allow them to get backed up, then they give us good field position and we go score points. It’s really hard to tell right now because we’re competing against each other. We’re trying to beat each other up right now.
“You’re trying to get good at your stuff right now and then as Vance meets with us at night. And as we do situational stuff, you’re trying to know what the situation is and make the right decisions based on the situation. A lot of that, it’s still just practice and it’s still set-up situations. It’s not real live bullets flying. I think we’ll get a lot more into that in the preseason games.”
The goal is to carry over the offensive progress to the preseason and regular season. If Keenum and the rest of the guys aren’t able to do that, none of this matters. Still, the confidence and habits created now are a good foundation.
“I feel good about it,” Joseph said. “Offensively, we are better, in my opinion. We’re more efficient, I should say, having Case. Case finds completions. That keeps drives alive. I think offensive line wise, we’ve got five guys that we like as a group and those guys have played together for the whole camp so far. That’s also important. Again, we have work to do, but I’m pleased at this moment with where we are.”
More than anyone, the Broncos defense has seen the change in the offense. And they’re rightfully excited about what they see. If it also leads to complementary football making a return to the Mile High City, that excitement will explode.
“Our offense is way better than they were last year,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “With Case under center, he’s thrown great balls. He’s had great accuracy all camp. He’s improved from the OTAs, I think it’s something that (offensive coordinator) Bill Musgrave is doing with him. When I watch film, what one offense is doing is totally different than the two offense. It’s like they’re a Level 10 and everybody else is like a way level lower. I feel like Case and them are clicking right now, and I expect them to put up points.
“I don’t see anybody just shutting them down like that with our receivers that we have. Our O-line is way better. I see them putting up points, at least 30 a game. I see double on (what the Broncos averaged last season) because we have Bill Musgrave, a great offensive coordinator. We used to hate going against him. We used to call him ‘Mad Scientist’ when he was in Oakland, so they have a great offense. It fits Case well. He has great weapons. I don’t see why they can’t average 30.”