So I’m going to approach this “things we learned” a little differently. I promise this will still have the things I learned from today’s game with the Browns, but I wanted to add in something Mile High Report has covered over the course of this season that may have slipped through the cracks.
A. Flacco’s contract restructure does NOT mean he sticks around
This is something I’ve seen members of the local media misinform Broncos Country on. By now I’m sure you’re aware I was not a big fan of the trade for Joe Flacco last year (even preferring another season of Case Keenum over parting with a 4th rounder) and so I was livid upon the restructure news.
Over the Cap’s Nick Korte’s facts talked me off the ledge back in August. So take some solace in this: the Broncos’ restructure does move some of Flacco’s cap hit into next year, but they were always going to be on the hook for about $18 million of his contract. The restructure gave them breathing room this year and moved a big chunk of that guarantee into a season where they have a lot of cap space. More below:
With that, we’re on to your regularly scheduled ramble. Here’s what we learned today:
1. Adam Gotsis was active.
DeMarcus Walker’s health status pushed him to the inactive list, and the 2016 2nd rounder got the nod over former Bear Jonathan Harris.
According to a player source, DeMarcus Walker will be inactive vs. Cleveland as he battles his shoulder injury. Thus, Adam Gotsis will be up and in the D-Line rotation. #BroncosCountry @BroncosRadio @KOAColorado— Brandon Krisztal (@BKDenverSports) November 3, 2019
2. Courtland Sutton looks like LeBron
A couple weeks ago with the Emmanuel Sanders trade I mentioned how the onus now falls on Courtland Sutton to step up and become a true Alpha in the Broncos’ receiving corps. He had some moments last week, but let’s just say he started out today with a loud bang on back to back plays.
On the second drive of the game facing 3rd and 11, Brandon Allen found Sutton on a slant and the 2nd year start did the rest, rumbling for a big first down. He was just getting started.
3. Justin Hollins’ first sack is all effort.
One thing I noticed early in this game is how Fangio seemed to be rotating Von Miller more than in previous weeks. Part of this may be the knee ailment that cropped up on the practice report this past week.
The biggest beneficiary of this was Justin Hollins, who notched the first sack of his NFL career.
4. The Broncos got pressure.
Even beyond Hollins sack, it was clear early in the game that Fangio was going to find ways to get defenders into the backfield. Von Miller rushed a Mayfield throw in the first quarter on a straight rush, beating Greg Robinson.
This wasn't a sack, but Von has an opportunity to make some noise today. pic.twitter.com/X8TiZSTeTL— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 3, 2019
On a crucial third and short on the Browns first scoring drive, the Don of defense sent Duke Dawson on a blitz call and he wound up stuffing the run.
Pressure continued to be a factor into the second half, even as the Browns adjusted and started to find ways to make big plays.
5. Noah Fant shows out
Remember after Kansas City how certain segments of the local media was ready to damn the Broncos 1st round tight end? Here’s betting they won’t this week.
Pressure by the Broncos defensive front played a critical part in forcing the Browns to kick a field goal after the Diontae Spencer fumble. Both of the edge players as well as Derek Wolfe got heat on Baker Mayfield.
Late in the first half with the Broncos clinging to a 17-9 lead, Von Miller came up with a nice pressure on 2nd and long. Box score scouts will ding him because it didn’t turn into a sack and Mayfield attacked Duke Dawson on the next play, but it’s worth noting how he continued to demand attention.
6. The defense did its part once again.
One of the things that’s been forgotten with the way the Broncos have lost games this year is just how good the defense has become under Vic Fangio. Glass half empty types will cling to the blown lead against the Colts or the early part of the year, but I choose to remember this:
Vic Fangio's 1st #Broncos D has one legitimate pass rusher, one proven cornerback, a guy who spent his summer with the Salt Lake Stallions, and 3 first time starters including an UDFA rookie.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 2, 2019
Through 8 games, they're the 3rd best defense by DVOA in the league. https://t.co/bwoCo6kTdC
What’s remarkable about this “patchwork” defense is how so many of the young unsung players are showing remarkable promise. That continued against the Browns. Davontae Harris showed smothering coverage on a huge third and goal.
Malik Reed set the edge like a 270 lb edge player, not a 235 lb rookie. It’s been something I’ve mentioned after watching the Colts game, but you really can tell how Von Miller is impacting the “Dream Killer’s” game.
Great play by Malik Reed and Kareem Jackson on the edge here. 235 lb CFA showing out against a ton of beef. pic.twitter.com/MjFLLJgI1L— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 3, 2019
While Alexander Johnson has been one of the biggest secret stars in the league since he got his first start. I’ve already looked at him at length after the Chargers game, but let’s just say he’s continued to impress me. He was all over the field today and brought it at the point of attack.
Given the way these three have stepped up as they’ve received more and more playing time, it felt only fitting that one would step up for the biggest stop of the game.
7. Brandon Allen had some bad throws mixed with the good.
For all of the great play by the Broncos in the first half, it’s worth remembering how lucky they were in spots, starting with his first real pass attempt after a scramble on 2nd and long.
After this drive Allen started hitting Sutton and some other nice passes, but he still mixed in a few scary throws as well.
Brandon Allen owes DaeSean Hamilton a beer or six. pic.twitter.com/aOrxWDZ207— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 3, 2019
It’s also commendable how Allen showed the wherewithal to choose his spots, even if it looked ugly at first glance though.
In the second half the heat on Allen turned up to 11, with the Browns coming on more blitz looks with tight coverage behind it. Like Flacco before him, Allen had some issues with locking on to his primary read.
8. The Broncos’ run game was iffy, except when it wasn’t.
One of the big things I was watching for today was how consistent the running game could be when Steve Wilks and the Cleveland defense focused on taking it away. It was pretty ugly for much of the first half and the Broncos averaged 3 yards per carry outside of this one big run by Phillip Lindsay mixed in:
Early in the third quarter the slog continued, but the momentum started to break Denver’s way after the Broncos D came up on a huge fourth down stop. Brandon Allen found Courtland Sutton on a couple of nice passes to get the Broncos past midfield. Then he found Noah Fant off of play action.
Crazy how a different quarterback suddenly leads to Noah Fant producing. Coincidence? pic.twitter.com/rdtvZPMBPS— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 3, 2019
...and then 30 broke one for 30:
9. Garett Bolles costly penalty ruined another Broncos’ drive.
I say this with the desire to stay as positive as possible for a rebuilding team a couple of pieces away, but it should be pretty telling how most of the 2017 1st round picks’ defenders have become silent. His false start on 2nd down cancelled a nice run by Phillip Lindsay, and it wasn’t at all surprising or even upsetting. We’re at the point that this is what you come to expect. Hopefully when Ja’Wuan James is healthy, the Broncos can move Elijah Wilkinson in for the bust.
10. Duke Dawson struggled for most of the game.
This is going to be something I look at closely once I can get my hands on the All-22. After his 3rd and 3 stuff in the first half, the Browns seemed to go after the Broncos’ slot corner time and again. At the end of the first half he was in coverage on a couple of key receptions. He also missed a key tackle and got beat a few times in the third quarter to help Cleveland’s passing game move the field.
11. Rich Scangarello gets a laugh at the haters.
Two weeks ago there was talk in some corners of Broncos’ Country about how the Broncos’ 1st year play caller was the issue, and how he was holding Joe Flacco back by not playing to his strengths. Then the Colts 3rd and 5 call happened.
So it seemed only fitting that he iced the game with a Wild Phil run to throw ice water on all of the conservative talk.
12. I was right on two counts.
Going to take this victory lap while I can.
Broncos win Call me crazy, but I think the Broncos are going to win, and they’re going to score more than 20 points.
It’s worth noting both of these and mixing in a little caution. As I mentioned before the game, Brandon Allen’s performance does not necessarily mean Elway’s solved his search for the heir to Peyton Manning.
It does mean there’s a possibility the second half of the 2019 season will be a lot more fun than the first.
As fun as beating up on the Chargers and Titans was, this game against the Cleveland Browns sure felt like the sweetest of the three victories so far this year. It was a total team effort to pull out the win, with young contributors stepping up left and right in critical moments. It also means the first year regime gets to roll into the bye 1-0 over the last eight games, and Brandon Allen showed enough to potentially buy them time to get Drew Lock ready for the final month of the season.
Upon first viewing, here are the 11 Broncos who most impressed me. I reserve the right to tinker once I can get a closer look at the line and secondary play on the All-22:
1. Brandon Allen
2. Alexander Johnson
3. Davontae Harris
4. Derek Wolfe
5. Courtland Sutton
6. Noah Fant
7. Malik Reed
8. Von Miller
9. Justin Simmons
10. Devontae Booker
11. Todd Davis
Okay, I cheated: and Phillip Lindsay. I expect so much from him it’s hard to be impressed at this point, but he was a cold blooded killer today. Lucky to watch him in orange and blue!