Another game day is upon us, ultimate fans, and though our loyalty and faith is being tested at 0-2, it is the Ultimate Fan Guide’s promise to help you feel good about this team even if not entirely confident about a win.
I am heading to Green Bay tomorrow with my gigantic orange Broncos’ foam hat, and I’m excited. I know the odds. I know the likelihood Broncos come back 0-3 and I don’t care.
Like John Elway, I like the direction of the team and am excited to watch it develop. So I could not have picked a better Week 3 UFGer than LordByron’sLuggage, who like me, sees a lot of promise in Vic Fangio’s plan (now we just need a few stronger players at certain positions and life will be grand!)
But LordByron’sLuggage is optimistic the Broncos can pull out an unlikely win, and I am behind that 100 percent. Plus, the Broncos never lose when I go to the game (except once, and Peyton Manning was benched but that game became an interesting turning point that later turned into Manning coming back to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory, so I kinda still chalk that up to a win ;) )
Also, if you only have three minutes to read this post, just go ahead and skip down to LBL’s game day superstition - it’s so epic, it had to be its own final question!
I am headed to #GoPackGo territory tomorrow and you can damn well bet I'm wearing my @VonMiller jersey and kickass orange foam hat (and likely a bright orange poncho )to rep #BroncosCountry !— Doctor of Words (and tights and kicking ass) (@docllv) September 20, 2019
Week 3: Broncos at Packers
MHR - The 16-14 loss to the Bears has a lot of fans in panic, but it’s hard not to see how the team improved in many ways over its performance against the Raiders. Without factoring in the tough schedule or the various opponents, how do you feel about the progress from Week 1 to Week 2 and the general outlook for the team overall?
LordByron’sLuggage: Just the eye-test showed way more cohesion in executing the coach’s instructions and fostering better team play. Yes, jet-sweeps count as runs just as shovel passes count as throws. But putting aside those 70 yards Chicago gained on jet-sweeps, mostly behind Cordarelle Patterson, our defense played much better against the run (especially still missing Todd Davis and a big body to occupy double teams at DT). Both teams knew Chicago had to run, but 3-yards-ish-a-carry and very few up-the-middle gashes a la Josh Jacobs was because Vic and Don used Jewell and the other LBs much better to shoot the gaps before they could develop.
MHR - If there has been anything constant about the Broncos it has been how poorly Garett Bolles has played at left tackle. Whether he’s getting a holding penalty or not, it’s clear he is not improving his technique. Coach Fangio hinted that he isn’t listening well enough to his coaching, and Emmanuel Sanders straight called him out for it. How would you handle him if you were Coach Fangio and Mike Munchak right now?
LordByron’sLuggage: As I commented yesterday, I think a fresh voice like Gary Zimmerman could help - just in case Bolles, like some over-sensitive millennials, is tuning out Munchak due to being criticized over and over. However, he is, at least, keeping Flacco upright (is about all I can think of as a silver-lining).
Vic may want to also tell him that WWF take-downs aren’t as important as moving your feet after establishing proper technique in a balanced base. It’s called blocking not steer-wrestling because it’s football not rodeo.
Acme Packing Company (SBNation’s site for the Packers) has a writer speculating LT David Bakhtiari is slowing down from his torrid 2016-2018 pace of no more than 3 allowed sacks and 3 holds per season. This small-sample size speculation centers around his grand total of 1 sack and 2 holds thus far entering Week 3! (insert sound of tiny-violin... for which there needs to be an emoji).
MHR - The Packers have a tough secondary in Jaire Alexander and Kevin King who essentially neutralized the Vikings’ heavy hitters at wide receiver. How should Rich Scangarello utilize his running backs to negate this strength?
LordByron’sLuggage: Without Theo Riddick, our running backs are still inexperienced in route running and need to do more than predictably flare out to the sideline or catch a 1-yard center screen amidst 300-pound defensive tackles.
I would start them both flaring out and then cut center to the 5- to 7-yard area behind the C-gap so ILB Blake Martinez has to worry about them. Like Riddick, they need to settle down in the zone instead of constantly moving each pattern forward. Banged-up first-round safety Darnell Savage ought to be tested as well (as I think we need to send Fant deeper than 20 yards this week since there is very little Green Bay’s DBs have to worry about downfield other than E-Man and Sutton Place).
Like others here, I am always wanting more left-side pitch-outs to Freeman and Lindsay. This is possibly a residue of Alex Gibbs/Bobby Turner’s coached success from the TD-Gary-Anderson-Portis-Droughns eras on that option where the runner can see what’s developing before cutting back behind Risner or testing the edge-setters around Bolles.
Yes, this WCO staple was easier when right tackles and right guards could block unengaged backside-pursuit defenders around the ankles to keep our runners from getting ear-holed on the cut-back. But it’s still worth utilizing more with Green Bay after their shaky performance against Vikings speedster Dalvin Cook on the edge.
Also Bolles needs early left pitch-outs to restore his confidence and to provide a healthy outlet from what must be a week of pent-up aggression. Yes, Preston and ZeDarius Smith are large and in charge at setting the edge. But better to have league-leading-in-QB-pressures ex-Raven edge-terror Ze’Darius Smith running horizontally and getting run over by “The Plow-Boys,” (Risner and Bolles) than running over Flacco and causing more havoc.
Broncos-Packers Q&A: Exploiting Denver’s weaknesses https://t.co/Ilv3Lj3ZHS— Packers coverage by Acme Packing Co. (@acmepackingco) September 20, 2019
MHR - Speaking of Scangarello, while some of his play calls have been head-scratching (i.e., the “swing gate” play against the Raiders and the short throw at the goal line instead of a run play against the Bears that ended in an INT) in general he has shown some quick growth in two games. What kind of passing plays would make sense for Flacco against the Packers and its impressive young corners?
LordByron’sLuggage: I won’t pretend to speak with any authority on this other than to repeat what I wrote above regarding their safeties and dimebacker vulnerabilities (plus, my answers need to be shorter here to make up for later).
MHR - Tight end has continued to be a glaring weak spot - either due to inexperience (Noah Fant), injury (Jeff Heuermann, Jake Butt) or just lack of true pro talent (Troy Fumagalli). And all of them have struggled so far this year at blocking. Is this position of any real use in our offense this year - and how?
LordByron’sLuggage: Well, their TE options have been limited, but I will go on a limb and predict that TE/FB Andrew Beck will finally see some targets this week from H-Back and TE alignments. Fant needs to keep getting his workload gradually increased too (but Scangs has done a good job, thus far, not overwhelming him with routes when blocking issues and coordinating with Elijah Wilkinson has been so spotty). I don’t blame anyone for this from Elway to the coaches THIS YEAR. We spent a first-rounder on Fant and brought in promising UDFA in Austin Fort. And against GB, it may be 10-on-10 instead of 10-on-11 for once (since their TEs have also disappointed so far).
MHR - Here are some interesting stats about the Broncos’ offense:
It had a league-low 17 possessions during the first two games, but has entered its opponent’s territory 14 times (82.4%) while averaging 42.1 yards per drive (5th in the NFL). Against Chicago, the Broncos’ offense totaled the most first downs (27) in a single game since the 2014 season, increasing their season total to 45 first downs (9th in the NFL) with 30 converted by pass.
Does that encourage you about the difference in the offense from last year to this year or does the lack of scoring and touchdowns negate any progress?
LordByron’sLuggage: I didn’t know those stats until now, so I am incredibly encouraged considering the revolving door we keep having in coaches, scheme and personnel.
Like another MHR commenter posted, we should emulate the way the Patriots set up the run with the pass to avoid running head-on into 8-man boxes. Flacco needs to get early-down pass success to shift the Packers out of their base looks and into the sub-packages. “Dr. Cyanide” had some good stats to better illustrate that (and we all saw how Peyton never departed from audibling into that, so the matchups — that also provide about 50 pounds less to push around in the middle — could best be exploited even if it meant running “Slowshown” Moreno into the ground when warranted).
MHR - Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and his ability to extend plays and make completions can be a killer to even the best defenses. But he has some young playmakers and an OK offensive line - so how does the defense take away the Packers’ offensive strengths?
LordByron’sLuggage: This may seem more daunting than it actually may be (says the UFG contributor who feels the pressure to be glass-half-full).
From my cribbing at Acme Packing Co., I read that A-Rod started hot vs. Minnesota because he got to the line in the first quarter with 13-17 seconds left on the play-clock and got rid of the ball quickly. But in the second quarter, he snapped it with only 5 seconds left and held the ball much longer (probably due to Xavier Rhodes clamping down better on Davonte Adams but mostly due to Zimmer adjusting on-the-fly by buttressing Anthony Barr’s not-so-nimble MLB coverage with the savvy-and-shifty Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith cheating closer to the line the way we finally saw Justin Simmons do against Chicago more often).
If any game calls upon Fangio, Donatell and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to utilize complexity, avoid predictability and adjust on-the-fly it is this one. I like our chances if the game is close heading into the fourth quarter.
Rodgers’ Packers offense — admittedly still shaking off rust and HC Matt LeFleur’s new scheme — only scored three points in the second half these past two weeks (behind a pitiful 7-of-27 on third downs that our also mid-30s QB has surely bested).
And other than Adams, they also have gotten dismal results from their over-the-hill-gang at TE and unproven pairing at WR2 and WR3:
Marquez Valdes-Scantling — aka MVS — hasn’t had his deep-threat utilized while catching only 58 percent of targets for small gains. While tall slot-receiver Geronimo Allison — whom I fear is heading for a breakout performance on Sunday — has a league-worst 52.7 DVOA on an admittedly small sample-size that does include his first TD early in Week 2.
Graham only caught 38 percent of targets before disappearing against Smith and the Vikings DBs in Week 2, while Marcedes Lewis is a one-dimensional blocking-TE at this point of his career “outside of a few gadget plays.”
They traded kick returner Trevor Davis to Oakland so TE Evan Baylis could be brought back from the PS because draft-pick TE Jace Sternberger from Texas A&M has been injured.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said he anticipates rookie Elgton Jenkins will make his first start at guard in place of Lane Taylor. Taylor didn't practice today during the media portion, but the change doesn't appear to be solely injury related.— Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) September 20, 2019
MHR - The Broncos defense was much-improved against the Bears last week, holding the team to just 120 yards in the air, only one touchdown, 16 points total and multiple three-and-outs. Yet it didn’t force any turnovers or get any sacks - and only had minimal hits on the QB. A big reason for this is a lack of push up the middle from the defensive line. How can the Broncos work around this weakness?
LordByron’sLuggage: I don’t believe they can unless we finally see Von and Chubb attacking via blitzes in the middle alone or together in double-A gap or Green-Dog blitzes to test Corey Linsley at center, Lane Taylor at left guard and Billy Turner (grrrr!) at right guard (as Shasta more eloquently explained in a recent post).
I fear we all drew premature conclusions about Shelby Harris breaking out after that first-half exhibition vs San Francisco (where posters were calling on Elway to sign him now to a larger deal).
I would love to see a slot corner blitz, but we need Kareem Jackson and Chris Harris Jr. so much in coverage that Bryce Callahan’s absence likely removes this potentially deadly weapon unless Duke Dawson Jr. gets a chance.
MHR - The Packers are 2-0, having beaten two of their division rivals right away, and Vegas is basically predicting a blowout win by Green Bay. Yet Broncos players seem relatively upbeat about their ability to compete even against a 2-0 team at their place. What’s your confidence level for the Broncos this weekend?
LordByron’sLuggage: I am predicting a Broncos win 20-17. If we can bottle up Aaron Jones by shooting gaps again off mostly 8-man boxes and play tighter to stop Rodgers from emulating Carr’s quick-throw success, we can shock the experts and line-setters if Flacco can get us going early to set up a less-predictable but safe offensive attack.
After a strong early start — apparently leaning on “split backs with one going in motion” — GB was stopped by Zimmer’s Vikings behind a D that flooded the first 10 yards, and thus limited much YAC on short-passes.
The only flaw in my thinking is how Bolles does against Za’Darius Smith as well as whether beastly late-blooming first-round pick Kenny Clark, possibly-hobbled massive Montravious Adams and the hard-working Northwestern two-some of Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster can exploit Ronald Leary and the middle of our line to throttle the embryonic explosion of Royce Freeman and company.
Clark and Smith do terrify me, but I am not as afraid of Jaire Alexander and Kenny King against a veteran QB like Flacco and the thankfully-emerging Sutton and E-Man if we find a way to attack and confuse their safeties. Hopefully I don’t eat those words with a healthy serving of crow.
MHR - The Packers picked up a new kick returner in second-year cornerback Tremon Smith who once ran a kick back for a 97-yard touchdown. How do you feel about the special teams kick coverage after an improved performance last week?
LordByron’sLuggage: My mother told me if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So let me summarize with one phrase - guarded trepidation.
MHR - Many fans and pundits alike praised John Elway’s 2018 and 2019 draft classes. But after an 0-2 start and the specter of first-round draft busts in Shane Ray, Paxton Lynch and Garett Bolles, the “Elway sucks” boo-birds are out. What do you think of “Elway the GM?”
LordByron’sLuggage: I had joined Ian Henson and others by calling for his firing until this year’s draft. But I see signs of encouragement even though I question our commitment to top-notch scouting and am dejected at how FA got worse at the same time drafting may have improved (if ever so belatedly).
I liked Elway signing QB Brandon Allen and TE/FB Andrew Beck on cut-down weekend, but wished Elway was quicker to claim Pats multi-tool PR/KR/WR “gunner” Olszewski when he was waived by Bill Belichick for about two hours before being re-claimed.
Injuries to eight likely contributors makes any even partial judgment premature at this juncture though (with new systems, new QB etc....). But I loved hiring both Fangio and Scangs and hope my faith will be rewarded.
“Sacks come in bunches and it'll be a good week to get it this week in Lambeau.” - @VonMiller— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 20, 2019
Stats for Joe Flacco? 23 of 38, 1 TD,1 INT and 307 yards (with one fumble that McGovern falls on).
Stats for each Broncos RB? Phillip Lindsay, 12 carries for 47 yards and one fumble w/no TDs; Freeman, 16 carries for 76 yards with 1 TD. Fant, no rushes (or jet-sweeps, please, says docllv!) Sanders, 2 carries for 18 yards. Lindsay/Freeman combine for 8 receptions for 89 yards. 141 yards team rushing.
Number of yards receiving/TDs for each receiver? Sutton, 4 for 56 yards, no TDs. Sanders, 5 for 86 yards, 1 TD. Hamilton, 2 for 24 yards. Fant, 4 for 52 yards.
Longest FG for McManus? 52
Number of sacks to Flacco? 3
Number of sacks to Aaron Rogers? 2
Broncos player with the most tackles? Josey Jewell
Who gets the first sack for the Broncos? Todd Davis
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos D? 1/2/1
How many penalties will the refs get wrong? 3
How many holding penalties for Garett Bolles? Are double-digits permitted? Just kidding. Two.
Final Score? Broncos by three: 20-17
Favorite Broncos game EVER? Would love to say MNF against ‘87 Bears, but first SB win with Elway and the Broncos in their 37th year in existence remains paramount.
Where were you the day the Broncos beat the Packers in 1998 in SB 32? Locked in my NYC apartment with my music mix on and prominent notes on my door threatening what would happen to anyone foolish enough to knock/ring or complain about the noise.
Team(s) you hate to lose to the most? Chiefs.
Team you love to beat? Patriots
Favorite game this season? This one.
Toughest game still on the schedule? At Kansas City
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? E-Man Sanders
Favorite Broncos player of all time? Randy Gradishar
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? Kareem Jackson
Least favorite game analyst/commentator? Dan Fouts
Favorite game-day snack? Braised Chief Livers with a nice Chianti.
How did you become a Broncos fan?
They say we choose our teams and political parties at age 10, and I was no exception. A year earlier in 1976, I had come across a full-color Denver Broncos photo book in my Northern New Jersey library’s sports section for some odd reason. So perhaps that planted seeds that grew with the 1977 Orange Crush and a 1979 summer vacation to Mile High Stadium and the Four Corners region where a guide pointed out what he called “Turner’s Peak” after our straight-footed FG kicker.
What are your superstitions on game day?
I have a 23-year, constantly-adjusted music mix that only plays while we are on offense:
It always ends with our final two drives accompanying “I’m The Ocean” by Neil Young with Pearl Jam before ending with “Genius” by Warren Zevon at over-60 volume (which stops and starts at every play-stoppage to elongate its mystical magic).
“Precious Angel” by Bob Dylan on the first-drive
“If I Had A Rocket-Launcher” by Bruce Cockburn in obvious-passing situations
“Blue World” by The Moody Blues
“Silver Stallion” by The Highwaymen, “Whiskey In The Jar” by Thin Lizzy and Jackson Browne’s “Nino” (especially suiting an expected, Lindsay-heavy, ground-attack) and “Just Say Yeah” are featured prominently and game-tested among others.
Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” is usually bookended with “Whiskey In The Jar” with, embarrassingly enough, the maximum-mojo TV theme to 80s nighttime-drama “Falcon Crest” sandwiched between them.
The moment a drive ends with a punt, points or exactly when a turnover occurs, the music must be stopped immediately — to not aid the opponent’s mojo — and a new song must be begun the next-time we get the ball (this is why I haven’t heard the announcers on offensive-plays in 23 years).
Back when I used to partake of the herb, “Buk-In-Hamm Palace” by Peter Tosh was also included.
It sounds insane, of course, but every season I tried to break free, calamity in the form of pick-sixes or season-ending injuries automatically ensued. So I’ll tell you all that the magical-thinking is nonsense and it’s simply a relaxing way of assuring myself that I’ve done all I can to avoid jinxes (but that’s not the full truth).