So the big narrative coming out of the Monday night matchup with the San Francisco 49ers was all about the Denver Broncos’ depth issues. While completely overblown, it misses one point MHR’s Adam Malnatti and Ian St. Clair made on Tuesday:
Based on just one game, would you rather have the Broncos’ starters, or the 49ers’ starters?
Outside of the sky-is-falling backup disaster, Bradley Chubb’s big plays have stolen all of the attention. It’s totally understandable given how he blew up a second string tackle and rushed Jimmy Garappolo into a couple of bad throws.
The opening series’ pick to Isaac Yiadom set the tone for the entire evening and really hammers home the fact that Chubb has played well while also benefiting from a stronger scheme and supporting cast around him.
On the 49ers’ first 3rd down of the night, Fangio dialed up a 2-man under. Shelby Harris draws the left guard’s attention while Chubb rushes inside of Joe Staley. The 6-time Pro Bowler is left reacting to the explosive rusher and Jimmy G rushes his throw because of the pressure. Isaac Yiadom’s in the right place to capitalize on a misplaced ball.
Jimmy sees it's man, and has Breida on the fade 1on1 with a linebacker. This is where he wants to go with the ball and where he's looking.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) August 20, 2019
He's not even targeting the outside where Yiadom is, imo.
Chubb's pressure forces the throw to fade and be short, right into Yiadom. pic.twitter.com/MOgmsB4HgF
Outside of the Broncos’ 2nd year star, Shelby Harris is the other defender who popped off the tape with the first team. Time and time again (and again, and again) he was making plays. It’s just one game, but Harris looked far and away like the Broncos’ best interior rusher against the 49ers.
The first thing that jumped out to me about this play is that Fangio sent all of three, and dropped eight into coverage. Even still, Harris found a way to get his hands on the ball. The other thing that stood out is how Von got caught late adjusting to the quarterback’s eyes.
It wasn’t the only time Harris’ play hid Miller’s mistakes in coverage.
On the play above, Fangio has Von pressing the 49ers’ Dante Pettis off the line. He aims his punch for the outside and gets caught off balance when the receiver breaks inside. Garoppolo sees it and launches the ball, but Harris gets his hands up to prevent the completion.
Miller wasn’t the only Bronco Shelby Harris covered for, either. One thing I was keen to look back on during the review was the Broncos run fits. The Shanahan offense is notorious for how often it catches defenders out of position, and Monday was no exception.
On the play above, Harris locks out Laken Tomlinson and sheds him in time to make a tackle on the cutback. If he hadn’t, the runner’s gaining another yard before they meet Miller and Josey Jewell, who got caught chasing the playside.
It wasn’t the only time Jewell had issues. He also got caught peaking on a fake reverse.
It was a tough night for Jewell and brings me back to a concern I’ve had about him coming into this year. Just like Todd Davis, he’s an adequate athlete who relies on his ability to read the play and be in perfect position to make plays himself. His rookie year, he was pressed into duty because of injuries to the now departed Brandon Marshall and had his fair share of mistakes like the one above.
He’ll need to clean it up to hold onto his starting job.
While week two of the preseason is still that part of the year where both teams are running stripped down systems as they incorporate players into the new schemes, there were still plenty of hints as to what’s coming in 2019.
During the dog days of camp, Rich Scangarello explained his rationale behind getting the backs involved in the passing game. One big reason was that a one-on-one match up between a running back and linebacker was one of the easier mismatches to create on offense.
As I’ve said a few different times, preseason stats can be pretty misleading. Take Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman’s combined 10 carries for 14 yards. At a glance, it seems easy to suggest the Broncos struggled to run the ball and the backs didn’t find any running lanes.
San Francisco’s base defensive scheme follows the Seattle Seahawks’ mold. It’s a MoFC shell that runs a lot of Cover 1, Cover 3, and Fire Zone blitzes. Under Pete Carroll, the defense was incredibly effective because Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and a rotating cast of CB2s effectively kept big plays to a minimum while Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, and an 8-man box stifled opposing rushing attacks.
It remains to be seen if the 49ers have all the pieces to reach anything close to those lofty heights, but the scheme, combined with their formidable front 7, makes them a tough defense to run against. It also leaves them susceptible through the air.
On 3rd and 7, the 49ers come out looking like they’ll be sending an extra rusher. With over a decade of experience, there is little doubt Joe Flacco recognized the 49ers coverage shell. Because of this, he probably knew it’d be an easy first down to Courtland Sutton so long as he had the time.
By and large, it was a solid outing for Flacco and the first team passing game, which is plenty encouraging when you’re like me and consider it the biggest question hanging over the 2019 Broncos.
Emmanuel Sanders’ return and the big play that wasn’t got most of the focus, but Flacco’s pass to DaeSean Hamilton and his zip on the move really caught my eye. In particular, I found it intriguing how he passed up the open pass to Hamilton on the play above for the sideline to Sanders. Just a hunch, but I suspect he was trying to give the Broncos number one receiver as many opportunities as he could to settle back into game action.
All told, most of the Broncos’ first team showed plenty of promise once again. It wasn’t perfect, but there’s plenty to build on and I’d tentatively argue fans have evidence to support their excitement for this season.
Still grazin’? A few other musings.
- Austin Schlottman’s starting gig was better than I expected. He was far from perfect and I’d be floored if Ronald Leary is sweating his starting job, but the 1st year lineman out of TCU did enough to warrant some attention the rest of the preseason.
- Alexander Johnson had a couple tough reps against the Niners. I still like him a lot going forward, but I want to study his play in space a bit more closely.
- Connor McGovern’s getting undue hate: he’s been pretty solid.
- On first glance, San Francisco was Josh Watson’s best game as a pro.
- Carrying eight defensive linemen isn’t out of the question. Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, and Dre’Mont Jones are obvious locks. Meanwhile, the battle between DeMarcus Walker and Mike Purcell remains interesting. One is a sub-package pass rusher while the other is a nose shade run stuffer.
- Don’t sleep on Shamarko Thomas.
- Devontae Booker is clearly the RB4 unless finances become a huge factor.
- De’Vante Bausby and Isaac Yiadom are legitimately ballin’ out. Excited to watch them on the All-22 this year.
- Garett Bolles’ worst play wasn’t the hold on Emmanuel Sanders’ big catch, and it wasn’t the zone run making the rounds on social media where Solomon Thomas’ pushed him into the backfield. Instead, it was this: