Coming off a disappointing 24-16 loss and with Lambeau looming, this week’s contest looks a lot like a must-win game. The Denver Broncos will need to start at least 1-2 if they’re going to make any real noise as an upstart in 2019. Lose on Sunday and the boo birds will look a lot like vultures. Lose the next two and Drew Lock (alongside Justin Herbert) watch will truly begin.
If you read last week’s GIF Horse, you’ll remember I mentioned Flacco’s third down performance as the key to the game. I should have added “especially in the red zone,” because that’s what really decided things.
Looking at the conventional stats, it’s easy to believe that Flacco had a pretty decent game against the Oakland Raiders. He completed 67.7% of his passes for 268 yards with a touchdown and no picks. He even finished with a 105.3 QB Rating.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll see where the problems crop up. Whenever the Broncos were inside the 20, they came up short. They made it into the red zone on four different occasions Monday night, during three of which Flacco faced a critical third down and disappointed. In fact, he finished those drives with one incompletion and two sacks.
The most likely culprits are Garett Bolles and the offensive line, but that fails the eye test. QB Rating doesn’t account for it, but sacks are often the result of quarterbacks holding the ball too long. That was the issue on the play above.
I hope Flacco and the Broncos offense will have an opportunity to prove they’ve learned from the miscues. Few expect Oakland’s defense to be more than middling at best, whereas the Chicago Bears look to have another elite unit, starting up front.
Don’t let their 0-1 start or the “regression” talk all offseason lull you to sleep on them. This is a very scary defense, especially on passing downs.
One of the big differences with this year’s Bears squad is the departure of Fangio to the Broncos. The defense was historically good last year in no small part because of his system, but the talent also jumps off the film. To replace Vic, Matt Nagy hired Chuck Pagano.
The former Colts head coach and Ravens defensive coordinator showed throughout the Week 1 matchup with the Packers that he isn’t afraid to bring the pressure.
The Bears mixed in more MoFC, Fire Zone, and Man blitzes into their game plan against the Packers. Flacco and the Broncos will have to prepare, knowing Chicago’s going to unleash hell upon them on passing downs.
Knowing this, it is absolutely critical for Rich Scangarello to manage the down and distance as much as possible.
Nine times out of 10, I’ll tell you how a passing game is the key to victory because it is so much more efficient. That’s not the case when an opponent has the kind of pass rushers Chicago does. Or when Denver employs a quarterback who needs to see a receiver open before he’s willing to rip it behind a line starting Garett Bolles.
Holy Bolles on that #Broncos third down. pic.twitter.com/TllKONkQ6k— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 10, 2019
Green Bay’s rushing offense was stuck in neutral last Thursday, in no small part because of issues at both guard spots. They did find some success with the same kind of outside zone concepts Scangarello runs.
What first caught my eye on the play above was how the Packers left Khalil Mack unblocked. When Aaron Jones cuts back, the All Pro edge almost makes the play. Still, it was a risk worth taking because both Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith got caught in the flow, which gave Jones a chance at the second level.
The same is true on the play above. Jones’ initial landmark is off the left edge of the line, which causes both Smith and Trevathan to chase. From there, it takes Jones seeing the opportunity, planting his foot, and getting into the alley.
There weren’t a lot of cutback lanes for the Broncos’ backs in Oakland, but the film is littered with plays where opportunities could emerge.
Both Conner McGovern and Bolles cause problems on this play, but the possibility is there. One of the reasons I was so high on Freeman in the Scangarello offense is because he brings all of the talents backs like Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns had to become such effective runners in the zone. He reads the field quickly and knows how to maximize the space allotted to him.
However, to stand a chance against edge players like Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack, the Broncos offense is going to have to present multiple looks to give Elijah Wilkinson and Bolles a reasonable chance. One way they can do that is by mixing in jet motion and attacking the bubbles inside.
Beyond the running game, the other crucial aspect the Broncos offense will need to use to get ahead of the sticks is the same thing Carr and Gruden used to neutralize Chubb and Von: the quick passing game.
One of the most important aspects of offensive balance that gets blurred into run or pass decisions is how these two halves support the whole. This is especially true in the Broncos’ new offense, which has so many concepts built off the boot action. Get the defense flowing in one direction and get the QB back against the flow outside of the rush to hit the backside. Scangarello dialed it up more than once, including a key red zone play.
On the play above, the Raiders bite on the play action. Flacco is looking at Emmanuel Sanders as he gets outside the pocket, only E slips. Instead of moving on to the next receiver then and there, the 12-year vet waits in hope that Sanders can get up and find open space. By the time Flacco moves his gaze to Noah Fant, the Raiders’ Josh Mauro is ready to bat the ball down.
Six points, squandered.
Which brings us full circle. The run game and play action are both tools used to make Flacco’s job easier. At the end of the day, he has to do enough to capitalize. The hope is another week within the system around the starting offense will help him to find the open receivers when they present.
Still, it’s no guarantee. Let’s hope he delivers in Week 2.