After each and every Broncos game, I try to share the 11 players who most impressed me during the live viewing. One of the reasons I do this is because the scoreboard only tells part of the story. My hope is to shine some light on the developments I’m noticing that aren’t necessarily obvious.
Normally I share a lot of my observations as I review the All-22 on Twitter, but thought this would be a good week to write about it a little more at length. I mentioned right after the game, and have said it a few times this week, but the Broncos really did punch above their weight against Minnesota. So if ever there was a “good loss,” this is it.
One last thing, I’m going to try and omit the most obvious good performances unless there’s something really noteworthy about it. You don’t need me to tell you Courtland Sutton or Phillip Lindsay were really good. They were, but let’s shine a light on others.
These aren’t in any sort of real order beyond as I think of them, so let’s get started:
1. Tim Patrick
This may feel a bit like a “duh” because he was eye-popping at times, but coming down with this catch in a contested situation on 4th-and-game? Clutch.
2. Rich Scangarello
There were really people calling for his firing after the game.
Maybe because people are too caught up on results and lose sight of the process?
Look beyond that though, and it’s pretty clear he’s the best offensive coordinator the Broncos have had since Adam Gase and Peyton Manning were terrorizing defenses.
Rich Scangarello weaponizing Brandon Allen's mobility with zone reads in the red zone really adds punch to the #Broncos O.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 20, 2019
First play of the second quarter and the pivotal 4th and 1 on the last drive. pic.twitter.com/pCPfcjB0bb
As I watched the offensive tape, I looked for reasons to really ding the offensive coordinator. I wanted to get a closer look at the red zone plays in the late second quarter, and it’s hard to blame Scangarello for just three points on two trips. He did his part.
Coming out of Arkansas, one of the bigger knocks on Brandon Allen was his propensity to lock onto his primary receiver. In just his second NFL start, that weakness cropped up in a big way on the Broncos’ 3rd-and-4 following Shelby Harris’ strip sack.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time.
Following Will Parks’ awesome forced fumble on special teams, the Broncos’ offense and its young quarterback had a chance to redeem the 3rd-and-fourth miss. Instead he locked on Noah Fant on a post, telegraphing his intentions to the Vikings’ safeties and tossing an ugly interception.
By turning the ball over in the red zone, Allen took even the chance at three points off the board. Points that would become vitally important later in the game.
There are three big plays that come to my mind when discussing the second half narrative that Rich Scangarello blew it. All of them involve Noah Fant. The first is a second-and-short play action shot where the rookie tight end is asked to block Everson Griffen.
Following that, it comes down to gives. I’ll let you decide how badly the offensive coordinator erred.
It may be important to note that the play above came on 1st-and-10, the Broncos wound up getting a Brandon McManus field goal out of the drive.
The cold, hard reality is even with the issues above, the Broncos’ offense got into the high red zone on three of their four second-half drives. One of them resulted in a missed field goal, and the last drive of the game came down to zebras ignoring an obvious facemask on Tim Patrick in the end zone. He did this with a backup quarterback making his second start.
And that brings me to...
3. Brandon Allen
I mentioned Allen after the game and got some blowback because he A) threw the pick I just talked about and B) completed 43.5 percent of his passes. Heck I’ll even throw in he was also 3-of-12 for 10 yards with one touchdown in the red zone.
Truth be told, I expected it to be worse, and his mobility made a big difference in protecting the tackles from getting completely exposed by Danielle Hunter and Griffen.
4. Alexander Johnson
By and large he was really good. One of the things that goes under the radar is how important he’s becoming for the Broncos’ pass rush. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but he was instrumental in two of Shelby Harris’ sacks on Sunday.
5. Will Parks
The Broncos’ safety only played nine total snaps in his first game back after getting hurt against the Chiefs. He made them count.
lets go man on to BUFFALO I’m ready https://t.co/C1yHBVSH1j— William (@PhillyWill11) November 17, 2019
6. Connor McGovern and 7. Ronald Leary
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but it’s been trendy to pine for the Broncos to add a rookie center in the 2020 draft and move the re-signed McGovern back out to guard. While it remains a possibility, let’s not damn the 4th-year veteran just yet. He looked pretty solid last weekend.
As far as the embattled right guard. I’ve pointed out where he’s been lacking in the past, but this was one of his better games of the year. He held up in pass protection and had a couple of nice plays on the move as well.
Perhaps my view on these two is impacted by how much time I spent studying what went wrong with the Vikings interior, but I came away impressed with Denver’s.
8. Elijah Wilkinson
Heavy dose of perspective needed for this one, but hear me out. All told, Wilkinson is probably best suited to play guard and pinch hit as a swing tackle in the NFL. He plays with solid technique and has notably improved under Mike Munchak, but has athletic limitations that show up weekly out on the edge. Pass blocking at tackle asks him to cover a lot of ground against elite athletes.
With that in mind, I expected the Vikings to completely shut down the right side of the Broncos run game as well as blow up Allen time and again. Some of the Broncos above played big parts in preventing that, but Wilk also did his part.
Facing third and very long on the edge of scoring range, Scangarello called up a run because positive yardage got the ball into McManus’ range. Hindsight is 20-20, but I liked the decision over a pure dropback pass at the time.
As far as Wilk himself, blocking isn’t always pretty, but the former undrafted free agent rose to the occasion when he needed to here. It wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up a starting guard in 2020, where he’d get more protection in pass pro and have an opportunity to play to his strengths more often.
9. Mike Purcell
A few weeks ago Tony Romo talked about how Vic Fangio is like Bill Belichick in how he’ll take away the go-to option for an offense. His defense forces opposing coaches to win with their left hook.
It was apparent from the jump the Broncos’ defense would take away Dalvin Cook and force Cousins to beat them. Purcell was instrumental in that. He suffered a rib injury early and still played his usual 30-40 percent of the defensive snaps, tying his season high for tackles as the run defense forced Minnesota rushing offense into one its two worst outings of the season.
10. Derek Wolfe
Shelby Harris got all the love, and it was certainly one of his better games, but Wolfe was equally as important despite getting completely blanked from the box score. Jeff Essary will touch on the eight-year veterans play later this week, but he was clearly a marked man by Minnesota’s blocking scheme and still came through on a big two-point play in the fourth quarter.
11. Todd Davis
No Bronco is a better Rorschach test than Bam Bam. He has a game that’s really easy to appreciate on the All-22 but tends to get glossed over during broadcasts, and got a lot of unwarranted blame for the Vance Joseph defense’s struggles with tight ends in previous years.
Against the Vikings, he was his typical self - a key factor against the run and working to keep Alexander Johnson in the right place as he himself read plays. For as fun and exciting as the Dino has been, Davis has been critical in communicating assignments as a central hub of the defense and has held down his assignments in pass coverage.