clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How can the Broncos beat Washington?

I spoke with Hogs Havens’ Andrew York to find out.

After four straight losses, it starts to feel like Denver can’t win. Over the last four games, an offense down two of its best players have struggled to move the ball or create points while the vaunted Fangio defense has bled yards all over the field. With no consistent pass rush, a shaky rushing attack, and disappointing quarterback play, the 3-4 Broncos postseason hopes are on life support. But they aren’t dead just yet, and in week eight the desperate Washington Football Team will try to pull the plug.

To get an idea as to how the Broncos match up with their next opponent, I reached out to Hogs Havens’ Andrew York.

1st and 10

Most conversations about Washington starts with their defensive front, where the Football Team has four first round picks lining up. With the Broncos issues run blocking and holding up in pass protection, there’s a lot of mismatch potential. Chase Young is must-see TV each week, but who else along the front has impressed you this year and is there anything Denver do to try and limit the damage?

York: I actually think our interior DL have looked the best so far this year. Jonathan Allen has 5 sacks so far this season, which is 2nd among all defensive tackles. That’s remarkable because he seems to draw the most double teams amongst our DL. He also has a 90.5 PFF grade on the season, for those who put stock in such things. In a rotation with him on the interior, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis are doing a great job making sure that teams can’t focus exclusively on Allen as well.

In terms of what you can do, I’d recommend focusing on a quick passing game to get the ball out quickly and negate our pass rush. Teams have been doing that pretty successfully this year due to the frequent breakdowns in our coverage that allow QBs to make a completion before our pass rushers can get home. Our DL look pretty good statistically as it is, but I think they’d look elite if the coverage could hold up its end of the bargain.

2nd and 14

For all the talent up front, Jack Del Rio’s got to be under some fire for the defensive performance this season. As best I can tell the issues are a combination of play calling and personnel, but who has disappointed you most? Is there anything the Broncos can do to take advantage?

York: Yeah, I don’t think the defensive problems are just one thing, but they have been most typically characterized as simple coverage busts, poor zone positioning, and failure to communicate and hand off assignments properly, basic things that even young players should be able to do if they are well coached. Given how widespread the problems on defense are, I think coaching has to be at least part of the problem, though I can’t say if it’s Ron Rivera’s defensive scheme, Jack Del Rio’s practices, or even the position coaching who are to blame (though most of the problems seem to be with the DBs).

The specific players who have disappointed the most are CB William Jackson III and S Landon Collins. WJ3 is disappointing because he was a big free agent signing and supposedly played well with the Bengals on his rookie contract, but he’s been getting burned as much as any of our other CBs (has a lower PFF grade than our 3rd round rookie Benjamin St Juste) and our coverage actually looked better last week when he was out with injury. I don’t exactly know why he’s been so bad, except that he was always better in man coverage than zone with the Bengals and he’s been playing a lot more zone for us (though he’s looked bad in both types of coverage here). Landon Collins is too big to play safety and lacks the speed and field vision to play in deep coverage. Many of the deep throws we have given up were due to a coverage bust or mistake by Collins while playing deep safety. In the last couple of weeks, the coaches have moved him to linebacker though, and he seems to be playing much better there. Honestly, even Giants fans used to say he’s more natural as a linebacker when he played for them, so this position switch has been a long time coming.

To take advantage, I’d pick on William Jackson if he plays (though he may miss the game due to a lingering knee injury). He often gets matched up against #1 WRs and he hasn’t looked up to the task to date. I’d also throw the ball in the direction of Landon Collins if you ever see him playing as a deep safety, though I’m hoping our coaches have learned not to let him do that. Also, CB Kendall Fuller is a decent player, but has been bullied by big-bodied WRs as well, so forcing that matchup where possible would help you. Schematically, standard cover beaters seem to do well against our defense (eg, typical Cover 2 beaters work well against us when we are in Cover 2), which makes me think the defense lacks creativity, so sticking with tried-and-true playcalls based on our alignments is probably a good idea.

3rd and 21

Taylor Heinicke looks set to make his seventh start of 2021 in Denver and has a decent chance to look fantastic. The Broncos defense has struggled against both the run and pass since week 3 and look like they’ll play Washington without Von Miller in the lineup. What should Fangio do to slow down the Football Team?

York: Bracket WR Terry McLaurin and bring the rest of the defense close to the line of scrimmage. Terry McLaurin is our only elite pass catcher and is by far Heinicke’s favorite target because of his ability to get open quickly and his ability to adjust to and catch Heinicke’s sometimes inaccurate throws. As a result, Heinicke often locks in on Terry and has the most success when targeting Terry regardless.

I think a large part of our recent troubles in the passing game have been due to teams game planning to take Terry away as an option, which leaves Heinicke struggling to go through progressions and throw his receivers a ball that is within a reasonable catch radius. I say to bring the rest of the defense close to the line because Heinicke doesn’t have the strongest arm, so while he’s reasonably accurate on short passes, he’s very inaccurate throwing deep. In addition, we’re very dependent on the run game getting chunk gains to keep the down and distances manageable for Heinicke, so if you can come forward to stack the box against the run and shut down the short passing game while also bracketing our main deep threat in McLaurin, I think it would cover all the bases.

4th and 10

Special teams often goes overlooked, and it shouldn’t this week. Since Tom McMahon took over as the Broncos special teams coordinator Denver’s had one of the worst kickoff and punt coverage units in football and Diontae Spencer’s averaging a measly 18 yards per kickoff return. What should Broncos Country expect from the Washington special teams in this contest?

Special teams has been one of our few bright spots. We have one of the best punters in the NFL in Tress Way, who earned Pro Bowl and 2nd Team All Pro honors in 2019 and had the 5th most yards per punt in 2020 (as well as being one of only 3 punters with 3 or fewer touchbacks on the season).

This offseason, we added a dynamic punt and kick returner in DeAndre Carter, who is averaging 25.6 yards per kick return and already has a kick return TD this season. Our big question mark is at kicker. Just a little more than a week ago, we cut Dustin Hopkins (our kicker of 7 years who had an 86% FG percentage this year) and promoted Chris Blewitt from the practice squad. Last week against the Packers was Blewitt’s first NFL game, where he had one blocked FG, one made FG of 45 yards, and an extra point. Your guess is as good as mine what he will look like going forward, but it will reflect poorly on the coaching staff and front office if he isn’t as good as Hopkins.

Extra Point

What is your prediction for the game? Broncos win if...? Washington wins if...?

York: I think Washington wins if we can take advantage of the Broncos’ injuries at DL and LB to lean on the run game and not rely on Heinicke as much as we have the last few weeks. We will also win if our defensive coverage continues to improve like it has appeared to do the last couple of weeks (the large scores allowed were at least partly due to turnovers by the offense). We need to continue some of the defensive adjustments we have made, such as keeping Landon Collins at LB. We also need to stop folding in the 2nd half of games, which has also happened the last 2 weeks (particularly on defense). This is a stark contrast to last year, when our team performed much better in the 2nd half than the 1st.

The Broncos win if they can run up the score early and/or turn this into a shootout. You have the better QB in Bridgewater and the better defensive secondary. If this becomes a passing game, I think we’ll lose. You’ll also win if you can make some of the adjustments I mentioned earlier, like bracketing Terry McLaurin.

I’ve been very pessimistic about the Washington Football Team recently, but I actually think we’ll win this game. Washington’s defense has finally seemed to start to come together in the last couple of weeks and it was also around week 7 last year when our defense started to take shape. Although our offense has struggled recently, the Broncos’ injuries at DL and LB should allow us to really lean on the run game. I still think it will be close and could go either way though, and I absolutely will not be surprised if the WFT snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. In terms of score, I’d predict something like 21-17 in favor of Washington.

Poll

Who is going to win this game?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Denver Broncos
    (552 votes)
  • 62%
    Washington Football Team
    (920 votes)
1472 votes total Vote Now