They did it!
Imagine the Denver Broncos actually winning a game in 2019...it happened. I swear by everything good and right that I saw it happen.
It has been far too long since I’ve gotten to write up one of these with some semblance of joy. Let’s dig in.
I’m a big fan of Vic Fangio as a coach of this team. He’s putting his system in place which isn’t an easy thing to do (especially when the core of the team he inherited had only ever really played in a 1-gap system with largely man coverage on the back end).
In all the bad games we’ve watched so far, I’ve been so frustrated watching the defense because the call was sound. The plays could have worked...but one or two guys aren’t playing their technique at a high enough level or finishing the play by wrapping up. It is maddening to watch as a fan and I can imagine it is even more so for a coach trying to get this cruise line tanker of losing football on an ocean of suck to turn the hell around and get back to calm waters.
This week you have to give Fangio a tip of the hat for the job he did getting them back to playing decent football. I’m going to talk about his personnel changes later that made the biggest impact. But Fangio really did a great job putting this team into good calls the whole game even after losing a starting corner and another linebacker.
The first big personnel move made was benching Adam Gotsis for Mike Purcell. It was just what our front seven needed...an anchor at NT with the size to hold his ground paired with moving Shelby Harris back to the DE position where he absolutely thrives and can make more impactful plays week in and week out.
Purcell isn’t going to get his name called a lot. He’s likely not going to make the splashy sack or bat down a bunch of passes. But make no mistake he’s doing great work up front and holding the middle down so the rest of the line can get those splashy plays made. I loved watching this guy in the preseason. He has the goods to be a very good NFL player and it is so awesome to see him get a shot.
The other big move on defense was getting Alexander Johnson on the field in place of Josey Jewell. I’ve not been shy in my reviews about how laterally challenged Jewell is on the football field. Hopefully after seeing Johnson play this week, Broncos Country can get an idea of what I was talking about. Lateral quickness is what makes good linebackers look great in today’s NFL game. All of them can drop into zone coverage, but the ones that change the game have the quickness moving horizontal to the line of scrimmage to break on plays to their left or right. This is what we loved about Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall (before he signed his big contract), and in 2018 Todd Davis.
With the secondary, let me start by saying a big “Thank you Lord!” for De’Vante Bausby’s neck injury not being as serious as it looked. From the reports we’ve gotten so far, he has movement in all of his extremities and is going to recover. I look forward to seeing him back in the orange and blue whenever he’s deemed healthy enough to play.
The guy that absolutely killed it from the secondary was none other than Kareem Jackson. He was absolutely game changing in how he played the game from the safety position. I know the team is light on corners right now, but if the Broncos want to do anything that looks like winning, they have to figure out how to keep Jackson back at safety. His ability to diagnose and break on a play is probably second to none on the team (he’s a damned sight better than Chris Harris Jr. at it if we’re being real which we are).
Speaking of Chris, the guy had another decent stat line, but his off coverage with 5 yard cushions are getting old already. I’m not saying he’s mailing it in because he knows he’s not going to be back next year, but the guy sure as hell isn’t playing his best football by a long shot right now and I am seeing it every week. He’s benefiting from the weak roster behind him at corner as QBs have far easier targets to throw to this year. All I’m saying is that if Aqib Talib were still a Bronco, CHJ would be getting picked on.
While we’re on the subject of corners who suck, someone needs to tell Isaac Yiadom that holding onto his guy’s shoulder is not a legit NFL strategy for pass coverage. You have got to be kidding me with this nonsense dude. You are a better player than this nonsense...I saw it last year and I saw it in the preseason. Get your head clear and get back to executing your technique or you won’t be long for this league.
It was an okay day again for the Broncos offense. They have a very strong running game that as a team posted 6 ypc which is phenomenal. But they are absolutely still a work in progress. The passing game looks so good when they use it, but they have trouble with the tackles stopping the pass rush. The run game gets predictable especially in the 2nd half which causes way too many drives to stall. There still isn’t an impact from the tight end position in any meaningful way. And finally, Joe Flacco has to have at least two awful throws every game that cost us at least one turnover.
Okay, I’m laying it on a little thick...but that’s because I can see the potential in this offense. There is no quarterback who lacks the ability to make the intermediate and long throws stopping this team any more. We have a very talented group of guys at the skill positions and I honestly think they are capable of 30 points per game.
We’ll just have to be patient though...until Ja’Wuan James returns, the pass rush is going to be scary for Joe Flacco. Hopefully this run, run, pass offense can keep winning us games until we can get him back and open up the play book.
Play Calling Tendencies
One of the biggest things that has been driving me nuts is the Broncos’ 1st down play calling. It is part of what made me call for a more aggressive offense before last week’s game and something I’m going to keep harping on it because this offense has the potential to do a lot more.
It is pretty easy for all of us armchair QBs to sit back and knock the play calling. I’ve actually had many times over the past few years where I was making an assumption about the play calling (like Siemian being given plays with only short routes on 3rd down) that just wasn’t true when I went back and looked at the coach’s film.
But this time, I checked the play calling and feel pretty confident in pointing out a pretty strong tendency that is holding this offense back. Take a look at the 1st down plays from this game:
First Down Plays
|DEN 25||(15:00) J.Flacco pass deep right to J.Heuerman to LAC 49 for 26 yards (R.Jenkins).||1|
|LAC 49||(14:27) P.Lindsay left guard to LAC 28 for 21 yards (R.Teamer).||1|
|LAC 28||(13:44) (Shotgun) P.Lindsay left end pushed ob at LAC 16 for 12 yards (R.Jenkins).||1|
|LAC 16||(13:10) (Shotgun) J.Flacco pass short left to R.Freeman to LAC 10 for 6 yards (R.Teamer, T.Davi||1|
|LAC 5||(11:44) R.Freeman up the middle to LAC 4 for 1 yard (J.Bosa).||1|
|DEN 19||(7:15) R.Freeman right end to DEN 20 for 1 yard (J.Jones)||1|
|DEN 32||(5:48) P.Lindsay right end to DEN 30 for -2 yards (U.Nwosu).||1|
|LAC 42||(2:20) D.Spencer left end to LAC 33 for 9 yards (D.Tranquill)||1|
|LAC 20||(1:15) P.Lindsay up the middle to LAC 17 for 3 yards (J.Jones; R.Teamer).||1|
|DEN 38||(8:44) R.Freeman up the middle to DEN 44 for 6 yards (D.Perryman; D.Tranquill)||1|
|LAC 45||(7:21) R.Freeman right guard to LAC 36 for 9 yards (R.Teamer).||1|
|LAC 27||(6:33) P.Lindsay up the middle to LAC 22 for 5 yards (U.Nwosu).||1|
|DEN 35||(13:15) P.Lindsay up the middle to LAC 49 for 16 yards (R.Jenkins).||1|
|LAC 49||(12:36) (Shotgun) P.Lindsay right end ran ob at LAC 49 for no gain (T.Davis).||1|
|DEN 9||(8:07) R.Freeman up the middle to DEN 12 for 3 yards (D.Perryman)||1|
|DEN 4||(4:19) P.Lindsay up the middle to DEN 5 for 1 yard (B.Mebane).||1|
|DEN 20||(2:07) J.Flacco pass incomplete short right to C.Sutton (M.Davis) [J.Bosa].||1|
|DEN 25||(:31) P.Lindsay right end to DEN 22 for -3 yards (J.Bosa).||1|
|DEN 37||(13:41) R.Freeman right end to DEN 40 for 3 yards (D.Perryman).||1|
|50||(12:33) R.Freeman up the middle to LAC 47 for 3 yards (K.White; I.Rochell).||1|
|LAC 36||(11:26) J.Flacco pass short left to R.Freeman to LAC 24 for 12 yards (T.Davis; R.Teamer)||1|
|LAC 41||(10:58) (Shotgun) P.Lindsay up the middle to LAC 35 for 6 yards (D.Tranquill).||1|
|DEN 25||(6:47) P.Lindsay right tackle to DEN 26 for 1 yard (J.Jones).||1|
|DEN 31||(3:20) P.Lindsay up the middle to LAC 37 for 32 yards (U.Nwosu).||1|
|LAC 37||(2:32) R.Freeman up the middle to LAC 35 for 2 yards (J.Jones; T.Davis).||1|
That run to pass ratio makes everything about this offense completely predictable. I’m not necessarily saying we should flip the ratio, but getting it closer to something like 70 / 30 or 60 / 40 might help create even more plays that keep us ahead of schedule.
The biggest positive to take away from this game overall was the play of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. They were both killing it on the field and really gives the Broncos the kind of two pronged attack at offense that makes a predictable run game work. Just when teams adjust to the quickness and speed of Lindsay, Freeman brings the power and surprises them and vice versa. Don’t underestimate the value of their different skill sets and how much stress that puts on a defense.
Can we just say that the Special Teams unit was a hot mess in this game? I can, because they looked like one of the poorest coached units in the NFL on Sunday.
Diontae Spencer needs to get his head screwed on straight as a returner. He’s putting the team at way too high of risk as he keeps fielding the ball inside the 10.
Fred Brown also had such a derpy play where Colby Wadman kicked the perfect punt to the 1 yard line, but he didn’t field the ball and it turned into a touchback.
Let’s add a miss by Brandon McManus to the list along with a kickoff return for a TD...and a partridge in a pear tree.
Yes, I know they blocked a field goal. Sure McManus nailed the game winning FG. But those couple of nice plays are completely overwritten by the garbage execution of the special teams unit. It is one of the big areas that the Broncos need to work on, as better teams will capitalize from those ST mistakes and turn them into points.
I’m always critical of this team even when they win. But let me say, I’m damned proud of this Denver Bronco team for that win. That’s how you should play football. The chips didn’t all fall our way. The team should have been put away but had a chance at the end.
Nevertheless the team never lost focus. They kept grinding and didn’t give up until the game was over. There’s still some bite in this team. I’m not ready to crown them with a winning record or even 8-8 yet, but I will say that they have the look of a team that is going to surprise some teams on their schedule later this year.