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12 things we learned in the Broncos’ painful loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers

These Denver Broncos aren’t postseason bound. Here is what we learned about them in their 28-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos
Bradley Chubb had a good game today.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Only one team this century has started 0-3 and gone on to make the NFL playoffs and the 2018 Texans did not play three (or even four) different quarterbacks on their way to the dance. Today is probably time to accept that the 2020 Broncos definitely aren’t ending the postseason drought that began after Peyton Manning retired.

Here’s what else we learned:

Nick Vannett was inactive. So was Albert O.

When I reviewed both week 1 and 2 on Thursday it became clear the Broncos may as well suffer through Albert Okwuegbunam’s rookie blunders. At least he has has youth as an excuse and potential as a payoff. Vannett is just bad. Against the Steelers he had a dumb false start, multiple drops, and was nowhere near good enough as a run blocker to justify those mistakes.

Today the Broncos benched Vannett, but did not activate the rookie. It meant more snaps for Jake Butt, who’s looked like he’s ready for them.

The $#!++y teams continue

In week one the Broncos found a ton of success on special teams. Since then it’s been mostly awful. In his third NFL game, Jacob Bobenmoyer made sure Broncos’ fans are aware they no longer have a Pro Bowl long snapper. The good news is with how bad the offense looked for most of the afternoon at least the rookie got a chance to get a bunch of reps?

The run defense did its job.

Through halftime the Broncos held Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette to just 3.1 yards. That average looks even more impressive if you take out Jones tough 9-yard run where he got lost among his offensive linemen. Neither back found a whole lot of success in the second half either.

Chris Godwin was an X-factor

I was nervous about how the Broncos would handle Godwin because he was a huge mismatch for guys like Josey Jewell and Essang Bassey. Well, it didn’t take Godwin long to make an impression in his return from injury. After the blocked punt, Tom Brady found his slot machine on third down.

Late in the first quarter, the Bucs dialed up a screen pass for Godwin. It worked because Jeremiah Attaochu was dropping off the edge, which gave Rob Gronkowski the chance to throw him off balance for the tackle.

Godwin was also a key part of the second Buccaneers touchdown. Arians dialed up what’s called a tunnel screen with Mike Evans moving down to the ball and following a block into the end zone.

Shelby Harris balled out.

Jurrell Casey was the big name addition. Dre’Mont Jones was the ascending star. McTelvin Agim the exciting rookie. Mike Purcell the beloved big body. For all their publicity through camp, Shelby Harris has been the best lineman on the roster to start the season.

Harris was quietly very good against the Steelers last week and continued it today. He had the Broncos’ second batted pass of the game after DeShawn Williams had in the middle of the first quarter. Then he followed it up with a really nice rush to force Brady to almost intentionally ground the ball.

In the second half it was more of the same. Harris forced Donovan Smith into committing a hold early in the third and got a hit on Brady on the following third down.

Justin Simmons had a bad first half, but seemed to recover.

The Broncos’ franchise player had a tough Week 1 as Fangio and the defense scrambled to adjust to the loss of A.J. Bouye and stop the crossing routes. He looked exceptional against the Steelers with a clutch interception and made plays against the run with his range.

Today Simmons was in coverage on Scott Miller’s 47-yard catch and gave up two touchdowns. The first didn’t concern me as a tunnel screen from the half yard line is such a tough cover for any defensive back. The second? Well, that was a bummer. Simmons was tasked with covering Mike Evans in press and didn’t get a real jam on him off the line. It left him trailing when the ball was in the air and he couldn’t get close to disrupting with the reception.

Noah Fant was not ‘the guy’ to replace Courtland Sutton.

I’ve been ecstatic with what Fant’s done with the ball in his hands. Rewatching the Titans and Steelers games it became clear how often he was getting a look because the quarterback had to respond to pressure, so I wanted to see how he’d look as a focal point of the offense

It wasn’t great today. Fant had a couple of bad drops, a false start, and allowed a strip sack on Brett Rypien.

The Broncos still need speed on the second level.

One thing I’ve had my eye on the last couple weeks is how the Broncos’ linebackers held up in coverage. Alexander Johnson got a ton of praise from Pro Football Focus and others last year for how his pass defense looked, but when I reviewed his tape this summer it looked like he could still improve as far as recognizing and anticipating routes. So far, that’s still been a problem for him.

The bigger issue through three weeks has been Josey Jewell, of course. To his credit, the Broncos’ former fourth rounder has looked miles better than he did this time a year ago. It just isn’t good enough against teams with the weapons to isolate and attack him in space as the Bucs did repeatedly today.

Michael Ojemudia had a nice rebound. Cushenberry did not.

I’ll need to get a closer look at every snap from the Broncos’ starting center, but it sure looked like he continued to struggle with power, speed, and stunts. All could be huge issues with Quinnen Williams and the Jets looming.

I was anxious to see how Tom Brady would go after O.J. after his rough showing against the Steelers. He tried a few times, but by and large it sure looks like the third-round pick took a step forward today. I’ll need to review his tape on the wide view once Gamepass allows, but so far, so good.

Chubb watch is on.

There’s been some concern in parts of Broncos’ Country in how the former fifth overall pick has looked through the first couple weeks. He hasn’t stepped up to fill the hole Von Miller left with his injury and didn’t get all that close to bringing Ben Roethlisberger down a week ago.

Look a little closer though, and there has been some encouraging signs as he’s worked his way back from the 2019 ACL tear. Chubb looks much improved at the point of attack and doesn’t look like a liability holding the edge. He’s also looked good in his drops and did create pressure against Ryan Tannehill in Week 1.

Today he had a clutch tackle for a loss and knocked Brady to the ground. He’s a guy I look forward to putting under the microscope this week.

Minnesota Magic gives way to Rypien.

Pat Shurmur earned a head coaching job with New York for how he helped the Minnesota Vikings to an NFC Championship game with Case Keenum in 2017. Even if it wasn’t ever likely, the fan in me had hope that perhaps he could re-discover some of that magic with Jeff Driskel.

We can put those hopes to bed. Coming into the game today I had a ton of concerns about Driskel’s ability to see and adjust to pre-snap looks as well as deliver an accurate ball. Maybe he can figure it out against a hapless Jets, but he’s a huge liability against NFL-caliber defenses.

To be fair, the Broncos have had really crap scheduling luck to start the year. Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are three of the most aggressive defenses in the league, and it’s something both Drew Lock and Jeff Driskel have shown issues with. That said, I definitely thought a few days to prepare could have led Driskel to at least knowing he has to help his line when there’s a free rusher coming.

That wasn’t the case.

Jeff Driskel was so oblivious to pressure that the Broncos’ mercifully benched him for Brett Rypien in the fourth quarter. The second year passer looked a bit like 41-year-old Drew Brees - He was poised under pressure and knew where to go with the ball, even if his arm looks marginal and he had to float it to deliver a ball to the far sideline.

Final Thoughts

Many of the issues that cropped up today were things I mentioned leading up to this week - Todd Bowles blitzes a ton and will bring defensive backs, he’ll mug the line of scrimmage with his linebackers on passing downs to create confusion. The fact that Driskel looked so unprepared for both these things raises questions about Elway’s decision to pass on a real backup quarterback in the spring.

What also troubled me is how Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers offense were able to routinely force rub routes against the Broncos’ linebackers to create easy looks for Gronk and the backs. What’s really concerning is how the Bucs worked to create a situation where Chris Godwin was left alone on Malik Reed.

It seems misguided to say the Jets have a worse roster and a laughably bad coach so Thursday will be a victory. All signs are Adam Gase is coaching for his job. There’s a number of issues Denver has had with other teams that could be replicated by New York - send heat at the QB, attack the middle of the defense, don’t over-commit to the run game.

If the Broncos are going to drag this season out of the gutter, they’ll need to bring their A-game.