Oh it’s going to be a great Sunday, UFGers! Our 3-0 Broncos finally get to test their 2021 improvement on a formidable Baltimore team, and we get to do it with the Mile High home crowd (you were great last week, Broncos Country!)
There’s no denying this is going to be a tough one, but for the first time in a while it feels good to go into a game against a strong opponent feeling like our team can compete - and certainly has the chance to bring home the win. Like Teddy Bridgewater said earlier this week, the Broncos “can’t get caught up in who they’re playing; it’s all about making this team better.”
And speaking of that, this weekly series just keeps getting better and better. Every week you guys bring it, and it’s a highlight of our MHR game coverage. Veteran commenter “mad horses” joins us today for another outstanding preview for this Ravens matchup - a team we’ve all hated vehemently since 2012.
Let’s do this!
Burn this m-f-ing tape. https://t.co/MPwUonVkHJ— Doctor of Words (and tights) (@docllv) September 29, 2021
Week 4: Ravens at Broncos
MHR - Broncos pitched a shutout to the Jets last week; what are your thoughts generally about how that game went down?
Mad horses: It went according to script, in my opinion, although the shut-out was an added bonus. While the decisive win was great, the celebration must be tempered a bit. The growing injury list is bad. The Broncos are again decimated with the loss of starters, and while we will see some of them return yet this season, it’s really taking its toll. Also, Baltimore is coming to town, and they are a formidable opponent. So the Jets game really seems like a distant memory at this point. In fact, what Jets’ game?
MHR - Broncos are 3-0 against teams with a combined 0-10 record currently. How much stock should Broncos fans put into those wins?
Mad horses: It’s been overplayed. I put considerable stock into the wins, especially with the double-digit victories. It’s interesting that many will downplay the strength of this team because of the poor records of its opponents. It’s early in the season, but look at the teams with losing records right now, including the Chiefs, the Patriots, the Seahawks, the Falcons, and the VIkings. I know that they are not winless teams, but they are all only one game away from being winless. Somewhere in all that is a point I’m trying to make, I’m sure.
MHR - By all accounts, this will be the Broncos first test of just how good the offense and defense is because the Baltimore Ravens are a pretty complete team. Which unit on the Broncos will have to play beyond its potential this weekend for the Broncos to beat the Ravens - offense, defense or ST? (p.s. - you are not allowed to say “all three” because, duh, of course that’s the answer - lol)
Mad horses: The offense will need to play beyond its potential. Specifically, better third down conversions and more TDs in the RZ. If they can match their time of possession in their first three games, and score one or two more touchdowns, Denver should be fine.
MHR - Teddy Bridgewater has so far been fabulous, both for the offense specifically and the team generally. But the offensive line has some holes - particularly with injuries - and Bridgewater is down two receivers in Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. What are your expectations for the passing game this weekend? How much does Pat Shurmur need to get the tight ends involved?
Mad horses: Great question. Denver will need to rely much more heavily on TEs and RBs in the passing game. Fant needs to ball out this game, and quit the dumb penatlies. Albert O needs to be a factor, as well as Saubert. Both Boone (can’t wait to see him back in the huddle) and Pookie Williams should add relief on the check downs and can help spread the field. In terms of WRs, where we are thin but not lacking talent, obviously our starters need to do what they do. Expect Sutton and Patrick to battle a rather beat-up Baltimore secondary … the outside will indeed be tested and I like our chances for some big plays here. The back-ups need to seize the opportunity, and we may hear Kendall Hinton’s name on Sunday. Finally, how cool would it be to see David Moore have a big play, just to stick it to the Raiders.
MHR - Vic Fangio noted that his confidence in the Red Zone offense this year is much greater than in previous years. How is your confidence in our RZ offense, and what will it need to do this weekend to be getting touchdowns instead of field goals?
Mad horses: So far the RZ offense has not lived to its potential, and more creativity in the play calling may be needed. Teddy has legs, so why not use some designed rollouts on short-yardage plays? And maybe some pitch outs (especially with our banged up interior line) and quick passes to the outside? We have a great corps of running backs and TEs who can catch and run. I would like to see Andrew Beck be more of a factor. Shurmer seems to be dialing in some more effective play calling this year so maybe things will continue to progress.
Currently, however, Denver sits at 26th in TD scoring percentage in the RZ, and this will not be sustainable as Denver faces a very tough part of the schedule. Baltimore, incidentally, is third best in this category. Coach Fangio believes it’s just a matter of better execution, and he’s the coach. But from this fan’s perspective, It would be good to see a little more creativity to better utilize the multitude of weapons on Denver’s offense.
MHR - The Ravens love to blitz and do it all day long. How does our offensive line stand up to this, and what does Teddy and the run game need to do to keep it from being a major problem?
Mad horses: Things are likely to get pretty crowded at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Denver will need to rely even more on its heavy packages because of injuries (Glasgow is out, Risner is questionable, and Melvin Gordon is banged up). Our pass protection will need help, especially with Baltimore’s blitz frenzy. While Munchak will have his players ready (very excited to see Quinn Meinerz in the line, with his gut), we can expect more 12 and 13 personnel sets to help block, and more importantly, to bolster the passing game now that we are down two starting receivers. Expect this game to be decided in the air, as Baltimore will be stacking the box and dialing up blitzes like crazy. Quick passes to the outside, rollouts, bootlegs, and maybe some well disguised screens will help keep the blitz in check. This may be the first game this season where we see Teddy exit the pocket more and utilize his athleticism to the outside.
With fewer wideouts in the formations, Denver will nevertheless have some opportunity for outside passes against a banged-up Baltimore secondary. I like our chances here, if Teddy can buy enough time to allow his receivers to get open. Some big pass plays may enable Denver to establish more of a running game as things progress. But against Baltimore, it will take an effective pass game to establish the run, not vice versa.
Here is every Lamar Jackson rushing touchdown in the NFL in two minutes.— James Simpson (@JS_Football) September 26, 2021
Electric ⚡ pic.twitter.com/gpyK0PFhLR
MHR - Lamar Jackson. That’s it. That’s the question. How do we stop him?
Mad horses: First, let’s dispense with any notion that Jackson is injured. He was in full practice on Friday, and was merely resting some soreness this week. He will be full-throttle on Sunday.
Second, Denver doesn’t stop him. But Denver may indeed disrupt his game and force him into some uncomfortable situations. Jackson is a major threat to the outside (we all know that). He is the reason Baltimore is the best rushing team in the NFL, and has been for some time. Consider this: two weeks ago, against KC, Jackson ran for over 100 yards with two TDs. Yes, yes, KC has a sucky defense, but the stats are pretty revealing. Baltimore wins on Lamar’s legs. He is a threat with his passes, but has thrown three picks to match his three TDs so far this season, and currently has a 86.4 QB rating. Respectable. Teddy Two Gloves, by the way, has no picks and a rating of 116.4. Just saying.
But back to your question, we stop Jackson by keeping a formidable pass rush with our base defense, and sealing the edges. No blitzes, no scout on Lamar. Just solid play by the D. Force Jackson into a passing game and let our secondary do their thing. Isn’t that what this Denver defense is set up to do (give me a loud ‘HELL YEAH!’). If Denver is true to its game, Jackson can be contained. For the most part.
MHR - When it comes to containing Lamar, what approach would you take with the pass rush? How do you keep him honest but account for the pass play too?
Mad horses: We stay true with a four-man rush (Denver has the talent to do that), and the onus will be on Denver’s edge defenders to keep containment, and to disrupt the read-option which has been a staple for Baltimore. Fangio and Donatell will dial up a good scheme and we are all anxious to see what that looks like, but as noted above, it won’t be blitz heavy and will require disciplined play by the entire defense. I don’t want to downplay Jackson’s passing ability … he is a freak of an athlete who can do it all. But he is most dangerous when he can both run and pass. Forcing the pass play and negating his big runs, or at least minimizing them, plays into Denver’s strength. Our secondary is excellent and our safeties play smart. The passing game will be no easy win for Baltimore.
MHR - I commented on a local radio show that the Broncos offense needs to keep doing what it’s been doing with sustained drives that eat up the clock, maintain ball control and end in points, even if field goals, so the defense is rested enough to handle Jackson and put pressure via the pass rush and take away pass options with the secondary. And I argued it needs to be the defense controlling Lamar while the offense just gets points on the board with methodical first downs (rather than a shootout that the Broncos inevitably are not built to do). Is this possible? What would your game plan be?
Mad horses: Denver has been dominating on time of possession, and I agree with your comment above. I like Teddy Bridgewater’s ability to read defenses and play smart. He has a nice progression through his reads, and makes the safe play. This is the one area where I think Denver has a notable advantage — Baltimore’s secondary is suspect and Teddy may be able to exploit that, if he can buy enough time to find the open receivers. Short of that, we will see a lot of low risk plays utilizing quick passes.
MHR - One thing we know this week - if the game comes down to a field goal to win, the Ravens’ Justin Tucker is possibly even more capable than Brandon McManus of kicking a long one…especially at Mile High. Who’s your money on this week?
Mad horses: Ugh. I am going to be honest here, Doc. If this game comes down to a field goal victory, I am not so optimistic. McMoney is as reliable as they come, but Justin Tucker has kicked in Mile HIgh before, and we know how that turned out (those of us who remember 2012). He is wanting to break his record from last week when he kicks in the thin air of Denver, for what it’s worth.
MHR - Regardless of who wins this one, what do you really want to see from the Broncos? What would tell you that this team is on the right path?
Mad horses: If we see solid play by both the offense and defense, and a tight game for four quarters, that would be so telling. We have all been waiting for this game. The “litmus test game”. The “statement game”. A “playoff caliber game”. I truly feel that Denver will sneak away with a win, by doing what they do best, and minimizing the mistakes. Baltimore is a little bit high on themselves, and they should be. But they are coming into the Mile High City facing a defense, the likes of which they have not yet seen. And as good as Lamar Jackson is, he doesn’t score points when he is on the sideline.
Stats for Teddy Bridgewater? 275 yards, no picks, 2 TDs.
Stats for each Broncos RB? Gordon a big question mark, as he is hurt. Pookie runs for 70 yards and Boone runs for 40.
Number of yards receiving/TDs for each receiver? Sutton scores a TD with 110 yards. Patrick with 65 yards. Fant comes alive with 40 yards and the other TD. David Moore has an impressive debut in Denver with 30 yards, with the remainder of passing yards by the RBs and Saubert.
Longest FG for McManus on Sunday? 47 yards
Number of sacks to Bridgewater? Three
Number of sacks to Lamar Jackson? Four, with a lot of pressures
Broncos player with the most tackles? Alexander Johnson
Who gets the first sack in the game for the Broncos? The most? Von. Von.
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos D? Broncos with two picks, and a forced fumble.
How many penalties will the refs get wrong? All of them against Denver. None of them against the Ratbirds.
Final Score? Denver wins a nail-biter, 31-27.
Favorite Broncos game with Peyton Manning? SB50. I know that he did not play well, but he went out on top.
Favorite postseason win, not a Super Bowl?The Drive. No doubt.
Favorite Broncos game EVER? SB32. Classic.
Team you hate to lose to the most in the AFC West? KC
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? KC
Team you hate to lose to the most in the entire AFC? KC
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC? KC
NFC team you cannot stand? Any NFC team that loses to KC
NFC team you could root for in the Super Bowl (if not playing the Broncos, of course)? I like Chicago and San Fran.
Favorite game looking forward to this season? Baltimore on Sunday … for real
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Big fan of Justin Simmons.
Favorite Broncos player of all time? The Duke
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? PSII.
Superstitions on game day? Blue Broncos shirt, Broncos visor, orange wristband. I need to stay busy. Iron shirts, clean garage, work outside, whatever. Probably should cut down on the caffeine.
Least favorite game analyst/commentator? Phil Simms. What a jerk.
Favorite sports cliche? “Grab me one, too”
Favorite sports movie? Gladiator. I know…
How did you become a Broncos fan?
Started to become a devoted fan when I was in college (CSU … Go Rams!). My dad was a fan, and my older brother and I had season tickets for several years. Our son and daughter are big fans, so it’s a generational thing, I’m proud to say.
Thanks Laurie for letting me contribute here. GO BRONCOS!!!