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10 things we learned from Broncos 23-27 loss to Vikings

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Painful ending, but there were some really great performances mixed in by several key Denver Broncos players.

Denver Broncos v Minnesota Vikings
Tim Patrick was huge today.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

As I write this, the 1-99 narrative is getting thrown around because CBS decided a 5-year cutoff was a good way to sell the amazing comeback Minnesota had over the Broncos. Blowing a 20 point lead sucks. There’s not really a way to sugarcoat that. I’m mad about how things went at the end and freely admit it.

One of the biggest reasons the loss sucks is how it’s going to overshadow so many of the great performances by young players today. If Brandon McManus makes a kick and follows it up with a point blank make to ice the game? Vic Fangio’s on a roll and the local media is praising him for upsetting one of the more well rounded Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.

Such is life in the NFL, but let’s not forget these things we learned:

1. Will Parks played through pain.

The Broncos’ secondary depth has been tested in recent weeks as De’Vante Bausby and Bryce Callahan hit IR and Issac Yiadom hit the bench. Today one defensive back returned to action, as Will Parks wore a cast in order to contribute for the stretch run.

Someone probably needs to tell Brandon how you don’t need your hand if you use your head.

2. Noah Fant continues his ascent.

On the Broncos’ opening drive two of the biggest plays ran through the 2019 first round pick. The first was nice pass off motion to Fant on a corner route.

The second didn’t work out. It was a 3rd and 4 that Fant got stopped on. The Broncos did manage to get points out of the opening drive, and you could criticize the 250 lb tight end for not getting vertical sooner, but I liked the willingness to go to him in a big situation early with a creative play call.

In the second quarter the Broncos dialed up a nice play action look to get Fant open down the seam. The HB Base play with Risner pulling to lead right is one of the staple run designs Scangarello has used to get Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to the edge this season, so it only made sense to call on a play action concept off it on 1st down.

One thing that continued today that wasn’t so good? Noah Fant was asked to pass block an elite edge rusher. Someone tell Rich Scangarello to send this protection call straight into the sun, or press the local media to at least explain his rationale for them.

3. The Vikings’ interior line had a ton of issues.

On the Vikings first drive of the game, Mike Purcell took an awkward hit and left the game. There was some concern as it left Shelby Harris back at the nose tackle spot with Adam Gotsis coming in at defensive end: the same defensive line alignment the Jacksonville Jaguars gashed back in week 4.

Early on, the Minnesota didn’t capitalize.

Purcell returned to action after missing a few plays, and made a nice tackle behind the line of scrimmage. At halftime Dalvin Cook had four carries for nine yards. Kirk Cousins’ looked even worse, averaging 4.83 yards per attempt and still taking five sacks. One each by Von and Dre’Mont Jones, and three(!) by Shelby Harris, who also forced a huge fumble.

Harris’ first sack came on what looked like a bad slide from the guard, who failed to get over to pick up his assignment. Still, a major kudos to Shelby for forcing the ball out.

His second sack came in part because the coverage kept Cousins from getting rid of the ball. It was straight up effort and leg drive by the veteran tackle, and you just love to see it.

In the second half Vic Fangio went after Minnesota’s interior line. Alexander Johnson got sent on a blitz and created a conflict for the right guard. Dre’Mont Jones managed to bring Cousins’ down by the shoestrings.

4. Von in coverage?! *Insert rage*

One of the lamer narratives with Von Miller having a low sack total is how Vic Fangio is misusing him and dropping him into coverage too often. This ignores how Miller continues to rank among the league’s best in terms of pressures and also how seldomly he’s dropped since Bradley Chubb got hurt.

I mentioned in my things to watch how Fangio would probably go to those looks more today in an effort to confuse Kirk Cousins. Facing third and medium, the Godfather dialed it and his Hall of Fame edge rusher delivered.

If dropping the only legitimate edge rusher into coverage enrages you, Miller also found his way to sack the 50th different quarterback of his NFL career today. What can’t Von do?

5. Courtland Sutton is a complete superstar.

This is hardly something we just learned, but golly he’s good.

It’s kind of a shame the powers that be don’t add penalty yardage to receivers’ stat totals. Regardless, Sutton was such an issue for Xavier Rhodes he got the Broncos’ to the doorstep in two shot plays.

Little did anyone know, Sutton’s best was yet to come. Scangarello brought out a new wrinkle off the Wild Phil series that was instrumental in helping Lindsay seal the win over the Browns. Today the call led to a reverse to Coutland Sutton, who showed off an arm as he delivered the ball to the recently returned Tim Patrick.

6. Two unsung contributors get their first 2019 touchdowns

As the Broncos’ fourth tight end, Troy Fumagalli is only getting time lately because of the injury to Jeff Heuerman. He entered today’s contest with two catches in his NFL career, so of course it’s only fitting that he made his third memorable.

Andy Janovich has made his way into the endzone before, but something tells me his second touchdown is far more memorable. Facing third and goal with a chance to go up three scores, Rich Scangarello trusted his fullback and the Cornhusker fought his way to six.

Unfortunately, Janovich probably won’t be scoring any more touchdowns this year. Late in the second he caught a pass and landed awkwardly on his arm. It looked a lot like Danny Trevathan’s injury earlier this year, so you may want to skip the following video.

7. Vikings’ halftime adjustment: Attack the young corners.

Minnesota started the second half with the ball and after a 4th and inches sneak by Kirk Cousins, found a ton of success by throwing at Davontae Harris. Coming into today I had two big concerns about the young corner: he had only a small handful of snaps against anyone close to Stefon Diggs’ caliber, and he had a habit of making a mental gaffe or two.

On the Vikings’ second drive of the third, Denver’s D gets to third down before a blatant interference by Duke Dawson gives Kirk Cousins a first. It’s been lost in Callahan’s injury and Davontae Harris’ play, but the Broncos’ slot corner has been pretty inconsistent since finding his way into the lineup.

8. Tim Patrick chips in as a WR2.

Outside of the huge catch from Courtland Sutton, Patrick had a bit of an up and down day. He had a dropped pass and left the game briefly in the first half because of a hit. Fortunately, it wasn’t so serious that he couldn’t return to chip in this key play to help the Broncos’ keep a cushion on the scoreboard.

It’s very early, but it sure looks like he’s going to slide in as the second receiver option for Brandon Allen and/or Drew Lock. He showed off many of the same traits that had me excited back in training camp, using his freaky combination of length, frame, and straight line speed to provide his quarterback a reliable target. Let’s hope he can keep it up.

9. Stefon Diggs’ long bomb steals the momentum

Following the Dalvin Cook touchdown the Broncos’ proceeded to miss a 3rd and 1 with yet another end around to Fant and had to punt. The defense got Minnesota to their own third down, but they dialed up what Denver should have: a play action bomb to their superstar receiver.

I’ll need the All-22 to really dissect the play, but the Broncos were in MOFC and what looked like a Cover 3 shell. The Vikings drew Kareem Jackson away from the middle to leave Chris Harris isolated. He turned to cover his deep third and so he opened to the sideline. Diggs ran into his blind spot and that’s all she wrote.

10. Refs seal 3-7.

So let me say this isn’t necessarily about the Jumbotron overturn. If the refs are determined to get calls right, that’s certainly a good thing. Heck if it were up to me every call could be reviewable, because the zebras are so dang bad.

This is about the fact that Andrew Beck got called for a hold on one of the more obvious acting jobs I’ve seen in the last three years. Then the Broncos had to challenge pass interference on Troy Fumagalli which was clearly obvious, and of course the NFL doesn’t overturn it because in 2019 the refs don’t overturn DPI.

Even with the blind zebras, Brandon Allen, Tim Patrick and some gutsy play calls got the Broncos on the door step with 10 seconds left. Once there, the refs swallowed their whistles completely. If you believed the Buccaneers got away with DPI last week but don’t think Minnesota interred, you probably wear purple and gold.

Final Thoughts

If you didn’t read my Vikings’ preview, this may look unfamiliar.

Perspective is important.

This game is going to leave a bad taste in my mouth all week. The whole arbitrary 1-99 thing is going to be a big national selling point to try and pump up the Vikings as they continue on their chase towards the Super Bowl. Kirk Cousins’ sturggles will be forgotten because he was “clutch” and came through.

One thing that gives me a little solace is how the Broncos fought close with one of the best teams on their schedule against a roster that had strengths to expose every single weakness. Even better, the young core players flashed tons of promise and losing today only helps the draft position to add much needed talent, especially if Cleveland somehow continues to win minus Myles Garrett.

Don’t confuse this for eternal optimism or me turning into a Tank Commander. I want the Broncos to win every single game. I just think it’s important to keep some perspective. I expected a far uglier outcome and the fight Denver showed today should only help a young locker room.

Those who impressed

As per usual, I tend to leave off the Broncos’ offensive and defensive linemen until I get a chance to study the game. Exceptions made are because they popped off the broadcast footage.

1. Courtland Sutton - So dang awesome.

2. Tim Patrick - Lebron James has a running mate.

3. Shelby Harris - Career day baby!

4. Alexander Johnson - Quietly stellar.

5. Royce Freeman - Tough play and great field awareness.

6. Noah Fant - Throw him the ball, don’t ask him to block All Pro Edges Rich!

7. Andy Janovich - Get well soon.

8. Phillip Lindsay - He tends to impress everygame, but his pass blocking today was solid.

9. Brandon Allen - Probably not the long term answer, but he did his part today.

10. Will Parks - Gritty play on ___ teams. Would like him to find his way back to slot duties.

11. Von Miller - Already saw some chirping about his “quiet” second half. People never learn.