FanPost

Sultan Azteca's Weekly Post 4 – Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

In Context: So what are our chances, really?

After the disappointing loss to the Ravens (not because it was a must-win game, those Birds are tough cookies, but style points left much to be desired), Broncos Country are already running for the exits and flipping through the top 2022 draft prospects scouting reports ("surely we will land in the top-10!"). But this is not the time to panic (there will be plenty of time for that later). Now, looking at other prospects (the playoffs ones), what are our most realistic chances to get to the playoffs after a 5 year draught, and after navigating through one of the weakest schedules Denver has faced in recent years? We are facing each bottom-feeder in the AFC, plus one in the NFC, in addition to the entire NFC East, which for the most part is seen as a box of cupcakes.

So, this is what the rest of the 2021 schedule for the Broncos looks like, and my most honest opinion of our chances against each opponent, in short:

Week 5 @ PIT: Both teams limping into a desperate early showdown to keep their playoffs alive. I give details in my analysis below. WIN (4 -1)

Week 6 vs LV: Regardless of your feelings, these Raiders look solid, and Broncos do not look solid even at Mile High. Hate to say this, but Broncos cannot handle them now. LOSS (4 – 2)

Week 7 @ CLE: No way these Broncos win while visiting a talented, disciplined, well coached team. LOSS (4 – 3)

Week 8 vs WAS: Washington is lacking many things, including the magic of the Fitz. We should pick this one up, or else… WIN (5 – 3)

Week 9 @ DAL: This will require fireworks to keep up with the Cowboys’ O. And our powder kegs are wet. Very, very wet. LOSS (5 – 4)

Week 10 vs PHI: Same as Washington, this is a must-win against a team in disarray WIN (6 – 4)

Week 11 BYE: Much needed. By this point we should already have back Jeudy, Chubb, Darby, and Ojemudia, at least. Our chances get stronger.

Week 12 vs LAC: At home, and with a more complete team, we should (must!) squeak by a very competitive Chargers team. Our playoff hopes hang on this one WIN (7 – 4)

Week 13 @ KC: Horrible! LOSS (7 – 5)

Week 14 vs DET: This is another MUST WIN game against one of the weakest teams in the league WIN (8 – 5)

Week 15 vs CIN: Cincy is no longer the pushover of yore, with a better QB and perhaps even better coaching than Denver. Still the talent gap and whatever home field advantage we can muster should make the difference. WIN (9 – 5)

Week 16 @ LV: This is looking deep into the future. The Raiders’ clock may have rung midnight by then and turned into pumpkins as usual, or the Broncos could be shoveling more bodies into the IR. Either way, as we stand now, my hopes are slim LOSS (9 – 6)

Week 17 @ LAC: This Broncos team cannot win two out of two vs this Chargers team LOSS (9 – 7)

Week 18 vs KC: And everything boils down to this. Will the Broncos shake off the shackles from the Chiefs for the first time in 275 years (or so it feels)? Or our ships sink with the shores of the playoffs in clear sight? I think the Chiefs will still be struggling for their own life in the last week, and the Walrus has far more smarts than Vic. LOSS (9 – 8)

In conclusion:

With 7 playoff berths in dispute, will a barely winning record be enough to make it to the party for the first time in 6 years? With the way the AFC North and AFC West are going right now, I hardly see that happening.

Get back here in 13 weeks to see how close I got things. Expect a full refund if I miss them.

Prediction

My prediction read: "The Broncos leverage on the banged-up Ravens, play disciplined on both sides of the ball, with the D restricting Lamar to < 200 passing, 0 TDs + 1 rush, 3 sacks (Von and Malik beat their respective replacement tackles for theirs, plus one by Strnad in his breakthrough game), and 2 INT (Simmons, Strnad again, off a Shelby tipped pass) while recovering a fumbled pass (KJack, Fuller recovers). The Ravens RBs add another TD late in the game to keep it a 1-score nail-biter to the end.

The Bridge beats Lamar in the the South Florida QB Bowl, shining by spreading the ball in short routes with a few effective sideline bombs to Sutton and Patrick, diverting constant pressure from a frustrated Ravens' front 7 that cannot get to him on time, watching helplessly how the secondary is dissected systematically, and the clocks gets chewed on. The Bridge goes 300+, 2TDs + 1 rush, 3 sacks, 0 INT, with Albert O playing a key role (65 yds, 1 TD) in the shallow routes, along with Spencer and Moore. Patrick gets another TD, but Sutton is the top receiver (+90 yds). Our RB's get sealed again behind a patched up O-line, barely edging the 100-yd mark but not even averaging 3.0ypc, with Pookie being the top contributor.

Final score, 27 - 23, Broncos."

In the Fangio era, one thing I have learned from the weekly prediction analysis is that the results of the Broncos’ D is always far more predictable than their O. Heck! I even got the first four consonants of the young defensive player’s name who would have a breakthrough game!!! (see Rookie Watch)

As expected, Vic laid barbed wire across the field, and triple-dog dared Lamar to beat him in the air. Only problem is he forgot to notify the anti-aircraft batteries to get ready. So Lamar went gun-happy and passed for his 2nd highest in his career, with 316 yds, 1TD and 0 INTs, 3 sacks, and a 96.2 QB rating. Numbers not terribly impressive, nonetheless, but they were all what BAL needed to defeat a listless O that got none of my projections right. Losing The Bridge for half of the game played some role in it, and Albert O had the opportunity to meet my quota in a single play, but failed in lamentable fashion. Spencer got knocked out as well, and Moore was there for 19 snaps, not being targeted once. The run game fared much better than expected, even if used sparingly (see The Bad).

At the end, the Denver D did as expected, allowing exactly the total points projected. The O only missed the projection by mere 20 points…

Rookie watch

Only a week after scoring his first INT of his career, it was S Caden Sterns who gave a lesson on how to keep Lamar in check. He was all over the place, quite literally: tackling 3 (all solo), getting 2 sacks (showing a great nose to find the quickest hole in the line to get to the QB). In the secondary, he also managed to wrestle an excellent pass from the hands of Sammy Watkins to break a long completion, forcing BAL to punt, keeping the game within two scores at the start of the 2nd half. He even recorded a tackle playing in Generic Teams. The most impressive stat? He achieved all of this in only 7 (SEVEN) defensive snaps.

Pookie Williams grasped his slot in the highlights of the week, carrying on his shoulders half of the Ravens D for what seemed like 3 miles. Outside of that one 31 yd run, he only ran 17 in his other 6 carries. He added 11 yds in 3 passes, out of 3 targets.

Surtain got 6 tackles, but he had the bull’s eye brightly painted on his back. He was targeted 10 times (most in the game), allowing 7 completions for 76 yards, and a 92.1 QB rating against him. Still, he had only the fourth worst QB rating of the day, above Dino Alexander (108.3), Kyle Fuller (118.7) both allowing 100% completion rates (combined 6 of 6). Who had the worst day back there? It was KJack, who allowed a perfect 158.3 passer rating (5 of 6, for 91 yds, 1 TD). Surtain had a bad day, but nothing compared with the rest of his teammates back there.

Meinerz got 100% of the snaps for the first time in his short career, having a bad game, but who didn’t in the Broncos’ O-line in the day?

Penalties:

Find the common element in the following paragraph. Ready? 4 flags for 25 yards (half the damage seen a week ago). Rookie Meinerz got a false start call, followed immediately by Melvin Gordon for a 15-yd face mask call (which was the flavor of the week in the refereeing world) which was declined. Saubert was penalized for false start, and Kendall Hilton for illegal shift. Bolles, finally was flagged for a holding that not only cost 10 yards, but also a 22-yd completion from Lock to Hilton. Tim Patrick and Von were flagged for penalties that were declined.

Did you find it? For the second week in a row, the D and the GT have recorded a clean slate. All penalized yards were the result of offensive plays. Please add another black eye to Mr. Shurmur's crew, please.

The Good:

Caden Sterns… (see Rookie Watch) Other than that, little else. We could sing chants for the D-line doing a good job stopping the Ravens’ ravenous rush game, but it was basically because they were free to pick apart our secondary at will.

The Bad:

I will hand over the mike to my fellow FanPoster Broncoman

The Ugly:

No, Bridge, NOOOOOOO! It is just obnoxious to have not only one, but two players down in dirty plays. Clear targeting of players in head-to-head collisions is just unacceptable in all cases. It is appalling that this type of plays cannot be reviewed, the way soccer referees are allowed to review plays for a potential red card send-off. I still remember the filthy hits that Daniel Sorensen took on Phillip Lindsey last season not once, but twice, with the second one sending Pitbull off with a concussion, while the referees turned a blind eye in both cases. Here is our hoping that Teddy and Diontae get well soon, and no kind of sequels affect their lives in the future.

Around the league:

Lessons on how to lose your undefeated status with class (and how not to): After 5 undefeated teams at the beginning of Week 3 faced big challenges, only one stands tall… the one facing another undefeated team.

The Panthers lost by 8 points vs the renovated 2021 Cowboys ("renovated" in the sense that only a QB like a healthy Dak Prescott can give), this after another glaring example of officiating playing a key role in an NFL score. Regardless, the Panthers held the lead at the beginning of the 2nd half, after which, then proceeded to go Missed FG-Punt-INT-INT in their first four drives. At the same time, the Cowbows went TD-TD-TD-FG, making it a 23-point swing.

Broncos and (until Sunday, everybody’s darlings) Rams suffered disappointing losses by 20 and 17 points at home. The Rams held the lead until the first drive of the 2nd quarter, when their divisional co-leaders (and currently the only surviving invictus team) Cardinals stepped on the gas and never looked back. In the meantime, the Broncos held the lead for a total of 3:57 in their game.

Finally, the Raiders fell short to an inspired Chargers team that saw the opportunity to climb to the top and immediately pounced on it, now wrestling for the AFC West crown with Las Vegas and Denver. Raiders-Chargers was actually a fun game to watch, with both teams playing a nearly mistake free game. Both teams missed almost no tackles in the entire game, being of particular note for the Raiders, which have struggled for years in that department.

Final Note: At the end of week 3, the Broncos have good reasons to be concerned about their chances against the rest of their division. Just like the Divisional co-leaders Bengals in the AFC North, it is a team with identity issues holding what appears to be a temporary lead in a division plagued by increasingly clear playoff contenders.

Looking forward: PIT Steelers

Next opponent: The Steelers (1 – 3) are a weakened opponent now, which makes them more dangerous. They have the tools, with well-known names on all sides of the ball, but with widespread issues in QB consistency, the poorest rush O in the league, and a mediocre D. Not only Big (old) Ben is increasingly looking like a burden, but everybody in the bench behind him have proved themselves not good enough to be a starting QB in the NFL. Coming from their third loss in a row, now in the hands of the Packers, the Steelers look punch-less and drifting. Mike Tomlin’s seat may get uncomfortably hot if the Broncos beat them at home next Sunday.

Offense: Roethlisberger has average stats at best (1,033 yds, 64.1% comp, 4TD-4INT, 10 sacks, 78.9 rating). In spite of the ugly outing vs Ravens our QB combo of Bridge+Lock combine for better stats than that (1,005 yds, 69.7%, 5TD-1INT, 12 sacks - for 5th most -, 101.4 rating). Nonetheless, we have two problems: one is that those stats look good only thanks to The Bridge, who we still hope to be our QB on Sunday (I don’t care if he did not practice a single snap: if he is healthy, he is our best option PERIOD). The second one is that Lamar came to Denver with numbers similar to Ben's before our secondary made him look like the MVP.

Ben has an assortment of weapons at his disposal: WR Diontae Johnson (233 yds, 2 TD), WR Chase Claypool (211 yds), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (129 yds), and TE Pat Freiermuth (93 yds, 1 TD) are some of his top receivers this season. The run game (32nd in the league with an awful 55.3 ypg) rides entirely on the legs of 1st round pick RB Najee Harris (185 yds, 1 TD, 3.4 ypc), who is also a key receiver (178 yds, 1 TD).

Defense: The Steelers D is ranked 16th in total yards (358 ypg), 19th in passing (259), and 11th vs rush (99), with the Broncos’ D looking better in each of them, (267 ypg total, 198 pass, 70 rush). The Steelers’ D allows 11 ppg more than the Broncos’ (23.3 points, vs 12.3). Their top tackler is former Jaguars’ top tackler (proving it was no fluke) LB Joe Schobert (29 tackles already! 17 solo), followed by S Minkah Fitzpatrick (28, 19 solo). 5 of their top 8 tacklers are part of the front-7, which means they are capable to contain the plays in the shallows for the most part. For comparison, the Broncos’ leader, KJack, has 21, followed by Dino with 19. As for sacks, the one and only cause of concern is LB TJ Watt, who accumulates 5 of the 8 sacks of the team. TJ also accounts for one of PIT's two fumbles recovered, the other picked up by DT Cameron Heyward. For comparison, the Broncos total 11 sacks, with 4.5 of them hanging from Von’s belt, and their only FR came in the hands of Malik Reed. PIT's leader in INTs is S Terrell Edmunds, who has recorded the only one the Steelers have today, while the Broncos have now 4 of them, one each by KJack, Simmons, Sterns, and PSII.

Special teams: Theirs exists, which is enough to beat ours.

Turnovers: For the fourth consecutive week, Denver has a better TO ratio than their opponent (which didn’t help much last week). The Broncos fell to a 3-way tie for 8th best in the league (+2) after losing their TO contest to the Ravens. The Steelers are tied for 7th worst (-2).

Offense

Defense

Steelers

Broncos

Steelers

Broncos

Rank

Rank

Rank

Rank

Total YPG

301.8

27th

353.8

17th

357.8

16th

267.8

4th

Pass YPG

246.5

16th

232.0

21st

258.8

19th

197.8

6th

Rush YPG

55.3

32nd

121.8

11th

99.0

11th

70.0

5th

Rush YPC

3.3

30th

4.3

t-12th

3.7

7th

3.5

6th

Points/gm

16.8

28th

20.8

21st

23.3

13th

12.3

2nd

TO Diff

-2

t-24th

2

t-8th

Spread:

The Steelers are early favorites by the slimmest of margins: 1-point (well, the slimmest is actually 0.5 points, but you get the point… or half point? … ok, moving on…). Should you take it? Hard to tell, considering the offensive (and insulting) nightmare of last week. The Broncos MUST pick this one up from the rotting carcass of a Pittsburgh in disarray, if they want to keep up with the Western Joneses in their division.

POLL

After the Ravens’ wake-up call, what are your expectations for 2021?

19 – 1 till we ain’t! (Oh! And I gotta remind Santa about my orange & blue unicorn again this year!)

3 – 14 (Broncos suck and life sucks! and now I will go test the noose samples I ordered online)

10-12 wins, making it into the playoffs as a come-and-gone wildcard

7-9 wins, missing the playoffs for the gazillionth time in a row

Shasta (Other, please describe in comments)

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