Welcome to Baltimore week, the first opponent on the Broncos schedule where I worry I’ll alienate fans by not assuring you Denver will find a way to come away with a victory.
Hold onto your horses, Broncos Country. I’m not saying that Harbaugh’s gang will give Joseph his first L of the 2018 season. Rather, I’m saying that this is the first game against an opponent that looks unlikely to finish the year with a top-10 pick in the NFL draft come April. It’s a test. Let’s take a look at what the Broncos need to do to pass it.
The Raider Roundup- Carr’s Crazy Day
Derek Carr completed 90% of his passes Sunday, didn’t throw a pick, and Von Miller only brought him down once (thanks Todd Davis). While a huge chunk of the 32 throws were check downs, 16 of the passes were enough for first downs. I looked back over every one of them to try to figure out how Denver stayed in the game long enough for Keenum to make some Mile High Magic.
- 2nd and 4: 23 yard completion to Jordy Nelson
- 1st and 5: 13 yard completion to Seth Roberts
Plays like this are essentially running plays where the receiver wins off initial positioning. Gruden did a masterful job of utilizing trips formations to give Carr easy options against the Broncos pass rush.
- 1st and 10: Amari Cooper for 14 yards.
Roby is playing off man coverage and gets beaten on a deep out.
- 2nd & 3: Kevin Smith for 5 yards.
- 1st and 9: Bryant for 16 yards.
Adam Jones plays 10 yards off of Martavis Bryant and gives up an easy completion when Carr dumps a smoke screen. Jones is blocked out and Justin Simmons comes up to make the tackle.
- 2nd and 7: Cook wide open for 20 yards.
I know this won’t please a lot of Iowa fans, but Josey Jewell and Darian Stewart got schooled by Gruden here.
TWO MINUTE WARNING
- 2nd and 5: Cook for 20 yards. Again.
Cook is about as open as it gets in the NFL.
- 2nd and 4: Lynch for 7 yards.
Broncos do a good job of covering the trips to the left of the defense but Marshall falls back so deep that Lynch gets an easy dump off in front of him.
- 2nd and 1: Cook for 5 yards.
After the first half where Denver showed significant issues against trips formations and Cook, it made sense for Woods to adjust. He did so here by assigning Simmons onto the Raiders tight end. Anticipating just that, Gruden combines the two to get an easy first. Motion tells Carr it’s man coverage and moving Cook back across the formation after the snap forces Simmons into an impossible chase situation.
- 1st and 10: 30 yard completion to Cooper
Much like the play to Cook, Gruden goes back to the first quarter in order to attack Woods and the Broncos defense here.
This time the Broncos only keep four in coverage, sending the house to get to Carr.
Unfortunately, they can’t get there before Carr finds Cooper.
- 2nd and 9: 20 yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts
The #NoFlyZone is dead. Joe Woods is getting out coached. Badly. pic.twitter.com/5enYZfMAn7— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 16, 2018
- 1st and 20: Amari Cooper for 20 yards.
Tramaine Brock has no business defending Cooper.
- 3rd and 2: Amari Cooper for 13 yards.
Bradley Roby misses a jam on Cooper’s slant pattern. Kolton Miller gets beaten inside, but Carr simply gets rid of the ball too quickly for it to matter here. Even more notable though? It is the first Raiders 3rd down conversion of the entire game. Oakland is 0 for 5 up til this point.
- 3rd and 2: Cooper for 4 yards.
Chris Harris is forced to fight over the pick by Cook to stick to Cooper. Easy completion against man coverage.
- 2nd and 9: Seth Roberts for 10 yards.
The question may rile up some Josey Jewell fans because Tramaine Brock is the defender assigned to Roberts in man coverage on this play. He’s playing off coverage and Roberts cuts underneath him between the corner and backer. Jewell, meanwhile is responsible for Marshawn Lynch, who stays in to block on the play. Does Marshall recognize a pattern coming right at him? Perhaps, perhaps not. We’ll never know because Woods felt more comfortable with the rookie here than the struggling vet.
The play turns into the last meaningful first down Oakland gained on Denver. Looking back through these a couple times really illuminated the issues facing “The No Fly Zone” going forward.
First and foremost Adam Jones and Tramaine Brock will have bad days, and while it seems obvious to say it, Elway clearly chose to weaken the secondary when he traded Aqib Talib to the Rams over the offseason.
The other clear issue facing the Broncos is the coverage calls. The fact that Gruden knew how to attack the secondary isn’t necessarily that concerning as he has always been a decent offensive mind, even if his ego and the Mack trade will cost Oakland games. No, the issue is that Denver no longer has the talent in the back 7 to win on sheer talent. Even a year ago Cover 1 didn’t mean a pick play gets a first down while this year it probably will. It is crucial that Vance Joseph and Woods finds a way to mix up the scheme to keep QBs off rhythm so the Orange Rush can get home.
Enter Joe Fluke-O
The Bengals come out with simple Cover 1 here, send five with a backer and obliterate the Ravens pass protection. Even if Woods fails to out-coach Marty Mornhinweg, the Broncos pass rushers should find their way to Joe Flacco.
Both Shaquil Barrett and Bradley Chubb have had underrated starts to this season. There’s little reason that won’t continue Sunday. It sounds like the Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be playing hurt after missing 12 snaps at the end of the Bengals game. If he can’t go, James Hurst will slide to left tackle and Orlando Brown J.R. comes in on the right side. Von Miller would feast on the rookie.
No matter the tackles, look for the Ravens to attempt to negate the pass rush in a similar fashion as Oakland. Their game plan is likely to be death by a thousand cuts.
What about the offense?
Case Keenum is the engine that drives the Bronco offense and it is critical he finds a way to avoid costly turnovers. Easier said than done as the Ravens will mix Cover 1 with 3 and even 6 in order to confound opposing quarterbacks. Last year it helped Eric Weddle finish second in the league in picks.
One of the best ways for the Broncos to ensure victory is to go with what got them to 2-0. That is, ride the rookie running backs as far as the kids can take them. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s unlikely Mosley plays without pain. When he sat the Ravens defense found themselves susceptible to cutback runs against Joe Mixon.
The big concern here is the health of Jared Veldheer, who has entered the NFL’s concussion protocol. At 6’8 321 his loss would be huge, even without considering the talent drop-off. Keep an eye on the practice reports this week.
There are really 3 keys to a Broncos victory in Baltimore.
1. Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman need to see the cutback lanes.
2. Keenum needs to keep his mistakes to a minimum. This defense uses a variety of coverages so the potential is there for a very bad day, even with Jimmy Smith out.
3. The pass rush has to get home.
What do you think Broncos Country? Let me know in the comments.