There’s reason to believe with some polish, a lot of luck, and a few drops of orange Kool Aid, the 2021 Broncos could start to look a little like 2020 Buffalo Bills. Until then, they represent the biggest test remaining on this year’s schedule.
Here’s what I’m looking for today.
1. Will they be special?
Last week was the second straight week the Panthers played in with some wonky special teams. In their loss to the Vikings, Carolina had a kick blocked and watched Minnesota’s Chad Beebe muff a punt before he caught the game winning touchdown. The Broncos mixed both good and bad in their own victory with Diontae Spencer’s stop and go touchdown as well as Brandon McManus’ missed kicks.
When it comes down to coaching. It’s hard to give the coach too much praise when Spencer had to be amazing (and was) to get free for his touchdown. It’s also difficult to blame a very reliable kicker having an off day on anything other than “hey bad days happen sometimes.” All told, I thought McMahon had the special teams ready to play. Now he has to do it again.
What gets me most about Diontae Spencer's touchdown is how he schools both the Panthers' gunners. pic.twitter.com/SNbBoAUTVS— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 16, 2020
2. Can the Broncos flummox Allen?
3. How do the cornerbacks influence Fangio’s pressure scheme, if at all?
4. Who wins along the line of scrimmage?
5. Will the run defense hold up?
6. Is duct tape, superglue, and hope enough in the redzone?
The injury bug continues to eat its way through the Broncos’ roster. The season ending injury to Duke Dawson last week means the 54 snaps Will Parks logged last week already makes him the fifth most experienced defensive back in the secondary. Parks previous experience in Fangio’s system will be tested this week against one of the most complete receiver rooms in the league. Michael Ojemudia and De’Vante Bausby fought admirably last week, but Stefon Diggs will be a huge mismatch for both. If John Brown was able to play, it’s hard to imagine how the Broncos could keep up.
Even minus their speedy number two, the Broncos will need to find a way to keep a stop Diggs from eating every snap while also battling Cole Beasley. Brain Daboll’s also done a masterful job leaning into the threat Isaiah McKenzie provides with motion and a schemed touch here and there.
If Fangio’s gameplan against the Panthers is any indication, they’ll continue to dial up heat to try and rush the quarterback’s process. There will be more soft coverage over the top, so don’t be surprised if Allen’s able to work the quick game. Better death by a thousand papercuts than a bomb over the fence. It’s critical for the Broncos to get pressure on Allen or he’ll eat them alive.
It may sound strange after Allen’s inconsistencies a year ago, but the Bills are a pass first outfit and I’d be shocked if Fangio doesn’t treat them as such. Expect something similar to what we saw against the Chiefs, with the Broncos playing light and devoting extra attention to Diggs and Beasley even if it means other people eat. Alexander Johnson helps board holes in the ship, but it’s clear now how losing Mike Purcell has hurt the entire run defense. The Broncos have looked better since Shelby Harris’ return and he’ll be needed today, but at his best, he’s also the kind of aggressive gap shooter they’ll try and trap.
It’s a testament to Fangio’s coaching that dating back to last year and through all of the injuries, Covid issues, and as well as six starting quarterbacks, he’s fielded one of the best redzone defenses in football. They’re about to face the toughest test this side of Kansas City. Allen’s contact, athleticism, and vision make him a dynamic weapon around the goal line or on critical downs, and his growth as a passer means Diggs and Beasley remain level one type of threats. As good as the Broncos’ have been at holding along the goal line this year, teams have found success on the ground. Buffalo’s fought through injuries, but leans into the kind of gap blocking that’s given Dre’Mont Jones, Malik Reed, and others a litany of issues last season. Isaiah McKenzie also becomes a factor around the goal line, and the threat he presents can effectively work as a blocker, something the Panthers used last week on one of Mike Davis’ touchdowns.
From evolutionary Tebow to dark horse MVP contender. Josh Allen’s transformation in year three has been nothing less than sensation. So much so that it’s hard to overstate how rare it is. On Cover2Broncos we spoke with Greg Tompsett about how Allen took the time to completely rebuild his throwing motion from the ground up last offseason. It’s pushed him onto what looks like a potential future G.O.A.T. type of discussion if he can keep it up. It also means there’s definitely reason to maintain optimism about this Broncos’ defense, even if they struggle today.
Josh Allen Red Zone stats (First 3 seasons):— Josh Allen's Burner Account (@JoshAllenBurner) December 14, 2020
‣ 141 pass attempts
‣ 0 interceptions
‣ 35 pass TD
‣ 22 rush TD pic.twitter.com/5inX1A3zWO
7. Can the Broncos the gameplan stay on track?
8. How does Shurmur help the offense?
9. Will the pass pro hold up?
10. Who wins their matchups in the passing game?
11. Is Drew Lock “the guy”?
Just about any way you slice it, the Broncos game against the Panthers was their best performance this season, and they did it without either of their best tackles or their starting right guard. It also came against one of the league’s five worst pass defenses and a unit that saw five rookies play 30 or more snaps. The Buffalo Bills are the best remaining defense on Broncos schedule and there’s reason to believe they’re better than all their season long stats. Like the Broncos, their depth was tested this season, but they’re now as close to full health as you get this time of the year.
Drew Lock’s passing numbers took center stage against Carolina and rightfully so, but the Broncos were still a run first team. Lock’s been a different player on play action this year so the threat of Melvin Gordon and/or Phillip Lindsay will be critical. The Bills have been weaker to the left than right this year and they’re light across the defensive line with Ed Oliver logging snaps as their 1-technique.
The Broncos will inevitably find themselves with an obvious passing down or two and Leslie Frazier’s going to be unpredictable. Lock’s among the worst passers in football when pressured, so how the protection holds up could be the swinging point of the game. 16 Bills have a sack this season. This team isn’t afraid to dial up a blitz, and they won’t hesitate to bring simulated pressures to isolate a bad matchup such as Jerry Hughs on Lloyd Cushenberry.
Tre’Davious White, Jordan Hoyer, and Micah Hyde are all very good players in the Buffalo secondary. How Lock and Shurmur find ways to attack where they’re not is going to go a long way towards dictating the game. The Bills have juggled Josh Norman and Levi Wallace at CB2 this year. Don’t be shocked if Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, or K.J. Hamler find splash plays yet again, If Lock can withstand the rush, there should be opportunities.
Wouldn't surprise me if the Broncos gameplan looks more like KC than Carolina this week. If they can establish play action and stick with it, Lock could tear them up. pic.twitter.com/lGF0bnsw97— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 19, 2020
Josh Allen is now the golden child for patience. The 2018 first rounders’ meteoric rise from shaky passer to elite quarterback has turned the Buffalo Bills into the best shot the AFC has to avoid another Kansas City Super Bowl. With a complete offense and creative playcaller to support him, there are a myriad of issues for Fangio and the Broncos’ defense to contend with.
Today will also mark Drew Lock’s 16th game as a starting quarterback. If all goes as hoped the 2019 2nd rounder will face the Raiders and Chargers for the third time of his career before 2020 comes to an end. Let’s hope Lock’s four touchdown performance against the Panthers was a sign of things to come.
Until today, the worst rash of injuries I’ve ever seen the Broncos experience at one position occurred in 2008 when seven different running backs carried the ball. Tatum Bell went from selling cell phones to the starting lineup. The 2020 Broncos’ secondary is one more injury away from a similar crisis.
Alijah Holder joined the Broncos last year as an undrafted free agent. He’s played 27 snaps in the nickel and would feasibly step in if Parks left the game. After him, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Fangio would re-shuffle the secondary. Nate Hairston signed last Saturday after a couple months on the Ravens’ practice squad. Chris Cooper’s yet to play in an NFL game, but signed on to the Broncos’ practice squad in October. We’re at a point where if a boundary corner goes down, there’s a reasonable argument for Trey Marshall stepping in with either Kareem Jackson or Justin Simmons sliding down from safety.
The Broncos secondary options against the Bills— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 16, 2020
Only Simmons, Jackson, & O.J. have played more than 17% of the defensive snaps this season. The others have combined for a total of 238 snaps.
We’re at a point where it’s reasonable to wonder if this Broncos’ defense has finally hit the tipping point. If Fangio can find a way to slow down the Bills’ passing attack, it’ll further cement his status as the Don of defense. Failure to do so is hardly a fireable offense down to rookies and free agents at cornerback.
The issues on the other side of the ball creates both a test and opportunity for Drew Lock and the offense. Beyond the numbers, they’ll almost surely need to execute at an even better level than last Sunday to keep up with Allen. Win, lose, or tie, today will give them valuable experience against one of the best in the league.
But let’s hope it’s a win.
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The Denver Broncos are big home underdogs to the Buffalo Bills this week. They are six-point dogs at home. Can they get the upset this week?
The Denver Broncos are huge six point underdogs at home to the Buffalo Bills. Can they pull off the upset and steal a win on Saturday?
DENVER BRONCOS: QUARTERBACK I wrote about the Broncos’ need at quarterback at this point last year, just before Drew Lock had a few encouraging games to end the season. Now, those encouraging games are still only showing up once every few weeks. He’s earned a 59.5 overall grade on the season and doesn’t have a single game over 70.0.
Bills fans have been waiting for this moment for 25 years: a chance to win the AFC East, in the team’s third straight nationally televised game, with a top-10 quarterback and a peaking defense. They are Super Bowl contenders — and Super Bowl contenders don’t lose games like this, even against a Broncos team coming off its best two-game stretch of the season.
The Broncos placed McManus on the COVID-19 reserve list Monday. Russolino has never kicked in a regular-season NFL game, but he has experience playing in the AFL, CFL and XFL. He made a 58-yearder during the XFL’s season this spring.
143 Days of Testing since July 26th— Brandon McManus (@thekidmcmanus) December 19, 2020
5 Day NFL & NFLPA Quarantine PCR Testing
Monday 12/14 ➖
Tuesday 12/15 ➖
Wednesday 12/16 ➖
Thursday 12/17 ➖
Friday 12/18 ➖
Friday Mesa POC (which most likely is my result for Saturday Gameday PCR)➖
Why Am I Not Playing?
Dwayne Haskins will get the start in Smith’s place. He went 7-of-12 for 51 yards in relief of Smith last week. That was Haskins’ first playing time since being benched after the first four games of the season.
Drew Brees will start at quarterback for the Saints when they play against the Chiefs on Sunday, the team announced.
This adds to a frustrating season for Thomas, who missed six of the first seven games with an ankle injury, a quadriceps injury and a one-game team suspension. Thomas led the NFL in catches each of the last two seasons, but this year he has just 40 catches for 438 yards and no touchdowns, by far the least productive season of his career.
If Marcus Mariota starts for the Raiders in Week 16 and they beat the Dolphins, they may decide to stick with Mariota and hope he can keep their slim playoff hopes alive in Week 17. If the Raiders lose to the Dolphins, they’re mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and the Raiders may decide to play it safe and sit him. So it’s quite possible that we won’t see Carr again until the 2021 season.
The Falcons announced Friday evening that the team conducted virtual interviews with Anthony Robinson, Atlanta’s current director of college scouting, and former Texans executive vice president of football operations Rick Smith.