We waited a long two weeks to watch the Denver Broncos take on the New England Patriots at Foxborough and it proved to be well worth it for this Broncos fan.
It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. As a matter of fact, I’d call the game quite ugly overall on both sides of the ball.
But against Bill Bellicheat and the P*ts? I’ll take that ugly “W” every time.
Vic Fangio has been getting a ton of flak this season (and rightly so) for a lackluster performance from his defenses week in and week out. Our pass rush has been MIA, the defense just isn’t turning the ball over, and we’ve seen a lot of bending and breaking that isn’t typical of a top 10 NFL defense (which let me remind you, almost everyone was expecting headed into the season).
Let’s give some credit to Fangio though. He spent the surprise bye week well retooling his defense and creating pressure by bringing blitzers which is very atypical of his style. I especially loved the late game play call with the double safety blitz at the end of the game. It was gutsy, smart, and played against the opponent’s weakness (Cam Newton sucks at accuracy when under pressure).
Shelby Harris comes out of the gate with a huge pass rush on an early 3rd down batting the ball into the air. He’s a disruptive force up front and I absolutely love seeing this defense look better without Jurrell Casey because of Harris’ play making ability. I am still scratching my head at bringing in an expensive vet instead of paying this man his due. Hopefully that mistake gets corrected this offseason by John Elway.
DeShawn Williams made an extraordinary heads up play to chase down the batted ball by Harris for the INT. That’s not a regular play we expect to see from a defensive lineman and absolutely made a difference in the game.
Anthony Chickillo made a big blind side sack on Cam Newton off what looked like a green dog blitz, though it didn’t appear designed like that. Coverage just held up so long that he had nothing else to do. On the following play he made another impact pass rush to disrupt the play on 3rd and 18. I like what he brings to the table as a blitzer. He was disruptive and showed great burst to take advantage of the few situations he had to rush.
Speaking of pass rush, can we give some props to young Malik Reed? The guy was killing it this game with 2 sacks, 2 TFL, and 3 quarterback hits. This defense really needs him to keep his momentum up from this game. The team misses Von Miller desperately and having another force across from Bradley Chubb is going to be key if this team is going to have a successful season.
My favorite new Bronco, Michael Ojemudia may not have been there to stop the pass in the 2nd half, but he made his hit and forced the fumble out for a big turnover for the Broncos. I love how this rookie is playing. We may only be a handful of games into the season, but I’m calling this guy a big hit for the Broncos in the third round of the 2020 draft. He’s an all around very solid NFL cornerback who is constantly getting tested and is starting to make quarterbacks pay for it.
Bryce Callahan needs some mad love as well. On the next drive he gets the INT off the tip by Simmons that was crucial. He had two other superb pass defenses on the day and is absolutely looking better than Chris Harris Jr. ever did in the past two seasons. Hopefully he stays healthy as he’s another huge reason this defense is starting to have some serious success.
Justin Simmons has gotten a lot of heat from me this year. In this game he was back to his extraordinary self. It was hands-down his best game of the season and was just text-book free safety play from start to finish. That tip for the INT was athletic freakery. You want to know why the blitzing pass rush was successful against NE? Look no further than the super safety play on the back end as most of the sacks happened because NE had absolutely nowhere to go with the ball.
We can’t talk about superb safety play in this game without giving some love to Kareem Jackson. His late game plays were absolutely key. He was in on a handful of very important tackles and his TFL was an outstanding job of reading a screen pass and blowing it the hell up.
When you look at the stats from this game, there is just no possible way to have any idea what the story was in this football game. If you just go by stats, Drew Lock sucks, Phillip Lindsay carried the offense, and Tim Patrick is the only monster weapon this team has at receiver.
It is poppy cocks. The frustrating thing about this game is that the offense was geared up to put a 30 banger on the Pats...EASY. The execution was supremely lacking though (as has been the story for the Broncos for going on 5 years now).
As far as Pat Shurmur, I liked the gutsy decision to go for the bomb plays early and often. It showed me that he believes in Lock and the receivers. It also showed Lock that he can do it (more on that in a moment). There’s stuff to build off of here, but after years of lackluster offense, I’m ready to see the offense start dialing it in and actually put the points on the board instead of making me analyze how close the Broncos were to scoring on any of 5 plays.
Honestly, there should be no excuse for the drops by the receivers. I hope Fangio and Shurmur has a healthy chunk of time for the receivers on the Jugs machine and a healthy chaw on the ass for the overabundance of derpage they put on tape as NFL pass catchers.
Drew Lock came out firing with a bunch of really big passes in the 1st quarter. While he only connected on one of them, I loved the ball placement on each of them. His accuracy looked very good. That being said, as the game wore on, it seemed like he wasn’t doing much to progress through to his 2nd and 3rd reads. That’s a dangerous ploy against a defense coached by Bill Belichick. Darn near every one of his receivers (and especially his beloved TE) needs to buy him dinner this week and apologize. His stat line looks like a steaming turd and most of it is because the whole team forgot how the hell to catch a football (you know...also known as their core job and why they are employed in the NFL).
The best compliment I can give to this offensive line is that in this game I mostly didn’t notice them. For a group that I spend an inordinate amount of time bagging on week after week and year after year, I think we’re just going to leave it at that. If they can play that well the rest of the year, we should have some chances to see some improvement on offense.
It was good to see Phillip Lindsay back on the field. He was dynamic in the game slogging it out as the starter and taking what the defense gave him. It is just a number of course, but I’m stoked to see he broke 100 yards. His ability to run the ball is nuts. Having his style of running complimented by Melvin Gordon’s punishing power is going to be a big advantage as the season wears on.
Tim Patrick started off the game with a big catch for over 30. He also got a big 3rd and 21 conversion in the 2nd half. Sure, we all miss Courtland Sutton, but Patrick’s play has me not missing him that much. He’s going a long way to earning a very nice contract in the near future.
That’s all the positive vibes I have for this group. Jerry Jeudy, Albert Okwuegbunam, and DaeSean Hamilton all absolutely biffed it in this game not making the catch on excellent deep passes that mostly would have been touchdowns.
Just to throw it out there, I honestly don’t want to see Albert O get 6 targets in a game any time soon. It looked to me like Lock was forcing it to his boy way too much and missing other open options. Especially when we get Noah Fant back, there is absolutely zero reason to target the backup TE that much when this game shows his inability to actually finish a damned play.
Brandon McManus was the story of this game and for great reason. He was responsible for every scoring play from the Broncos in this game and did it from all over the field, short, long, and from either side. While the offense was frustrating, it was pretty amazing to see a kicker having such an elite game (at sea level even).
2-3 isn’t bad given how poorly our first three games went. But next week is the biggest of tests. The team has built some momentum with a couple of solid wins, but now they have to face Goliath.
And let me point out that nothing in the past two weeks presents the challenge that the current Kansas City Chiefs present in the here and now. They have far better talent than New England and better coaching.