I really like pleasant surprises. I think I may keep talking myself into believing that the Denver Broncos are going to get absolutely destroyed every week from here on out just so I can experience a handful more before the end of the season.
Seriously though...there aren’t many who saw that coming...NFL analysts, local media, MSM outlets...everyone knew just like I did that the Broncos were going to Dallas so they could lose by double digits.
That’s why we play the games though, right?
If you would have told me that the Broncos would have traded away their best player and the very next week put on the most dominant defensive effort of their season; I would have laughed in your face and called you a fool.
But that is exactly what happened. Vic Fangio had this defense ready to play. No matter how many starters they are missing. No matter what personnel groups he had to pull out of his ass to finish the game.
The pass rush worked. The run defense was stingy. While they did get bailed out with some bad throws/drops by the Dallas Cowboys, overall, they flat out looked like a team that just wanted it more and were laser-focused on slaying Goliath.
The whole defensive front played inspired football honestly. Their 4th and short stops throughout the game absolutely crushed the spirit of the Dallas football team. There wasn’t anything magical about the scheme on any one of the plays. They just hit their assignments just like the coach would draw it up on the chalkboard and out-executed the Cowboys time and again.
Kenny Young was in early and often on cleaning up tackles against the run. He shows an understanding of gap assignments much better than some of our recent starters from the depth chart. I loved seeing the effort and impact from a guy who we got off of a smart trade and is making the most of it.
Jonathan Cooper was close early in the game to get a sack (where he honestly should have kept his feet better and just finished the play), but late in the 2nd quarter, he sealed the deal. Cooper shows the edge speed you want to get around the corner if your tackle is too slow. I don’t like not having Von Miller or Bradley Chubb, but the good side effect is that young players like Cooper get precious snaps to develop and hone their skills against elite opposition. The guy was just plain awesome with 2 sacks, 2 TFLs, 2 quarterback hits, and 4 tackles.
Baron Browning really impressed me with his coverage ability as a linebacker. Late in the game, he was all over guys in the middle of the field in textbook coverage. He was an able tackler in the game as well and really did a solid job filling in at ILB for the Broncos.
Patrick Surtain II showed great man-to-man coverage on a tight-end crosser early in the game. The coverage doesn’t get any better with him right on the receiver’s hip and knocking the ball away when it gets there.
Kyle Fuller had a great pass defense on the outside timing his hit to disrupt the catch. He strangely was playing a lot of nickel corner with Calahan out but looked very good to my eyes in playing the role. Later in the game with Surtian out, he was able to fill in on the outside.
Two plays after Fuller connects, Nate Hairston blows up a pass to the other side of the field with excellent coverage technique and timing to force a punt. When you have a guy who is fourth or deeper from your depth chart on the field and is going against a savvy QB like Dak Prescot, he’s going to get challenged. It was good to see Nate able to answer the call when it happened.
Caden Sterns did his homework for this football game. With the Cowboys trying to get anything going and going for it on 4th down, he jumped a route concept the Cowboys like to use to get big yards for an interception. He followed it up with a great pass defense (and almost 2nd interception) on the next drive.
Things that went well on offense:
- You ran the ball successfully throughout the game
- You gave more carries to the more impactful back even though he’s younger and gets paid less money
- Your line outplayed the defense in effort, technique, and physicality on the vast majority of the plays
- You used Jerry Jeudy as a keystone of the offense to manipulate what they were doing
Please, Pat Shurmur, make note of these things and continue to hold to those in future games. We talk about this game as a “complete” Broncos win in every facet and I would submit to Broncos Country that this was the first real game where the offense was called and executed as it was designed to in order to win. We knew before the season started that you wanted a healthy run game to open up the pass and protect the QB and that the offensive line was going to need to be very good for the formula to work because there is no QB on the roster that is going to make up for either a weak line or weak running game (we miss you, 18!).
Teddy Bridgewater needed to be really good this week to give the Broncos a chance to win the game. With the offensive line constantly winning, getting the run game going, and keeping him clean, Teddy was able to make plays including a 40+ yard bomb that was absolutely on the money for a TD to Tim Patrick. He also showed some real heart on the QB sneak reaching for the TD.
I can not express enough praise for the offensive line in this performance. It wasn’t perfect...there were times where Bridgewater got sacked or was pressured into throwaways. But they had an above-average performance against a very nasty defensive front. They opened up huge holes in the run game that really was the key to everything else offensively working for this team. Big-time shout-out to Calvin Anderson, Quinn Meinerz, and Bobbie Massie for stepping up for injured players and helping this team not only hold the line but dominate.
Javonte Williams got some really nice holes to work with this week and blew up. He had multiple gains of 10+ both inside and out. The guy had a statement game where he averaged over 6 ypc and hopefully gets Shurmur to understand that he should be getting the bulk of the carries moving forward.
Melvin Gordon III made a great leaping catch to bail out Bridgewater for a gain of 7. He also had a nice 14-yard run as well that was impactful. The good thing about our running game situation is that both backs can run it inside and out. I do think the younger back has an edge, but Gordon did a solid job with his runs as well at 3.8 ypc which isn’t too shabby.
Jerry Jeudy caused this Cowboy team quite a headache. He caught one pass that was overthrown that I was pretty sure was going to go incomplete. He kept running a loop motion as the game went on that shook up the Cowboy’s attention until they went to sleep on it when it turned into a solid gain on a short dump-off. He’s picking back up where he left off before the injury as a special weapon for this offense.
I’ve been hyping Tim Patrick all season and that’s because the guy is a legit NFL playmaking wide receiver. He’s not got the kind of speed that worries defenders, but he has route running, hands, high-point ability, and size. He showed that if you leave him one-on-one on the outside, he can and will make you pay for it. He kept it going in the 2nd half with a big-time 3rd down conversion. The guy looked like a Courtland Sutton clone, to be honest.
Kendal Hinton makes a big-time catch and run on 3rd down late in the game for a huge gain. Sure, it mostly worked because of a bad defensive play call by the Cowboys, but he made them pay for it.
While McManus did miss an extra point and a long FG, he contributed 11 points in the game and did a good job shaking off the misses as the game went on.
Our kickoff coverage is the worst in the NFL. It was shown as such once again on the literal first play of the game. Later in the game, they gave up a 30-yard return. At some point, I’d think that McManus would just ignore the play call and kick it out of the back of the end zone.
Our ST got a real save by pure luck when their blocked punt bounced into a Dallas player and allowed us to recover for the 1st down as it is technically a muffed punt return. The blocking was absolute garbage up front. If there’s anything I am going to keep nagging about this week it is going to be how horribly coached our Special Teams unit is.
On the bright side, this team just showed that they can play with the NFL’s best and win. They are absolutely back in the hunt for the postseason if they can just keep playing the way they did in this game with effort, heart, and execution.
One game does not make a season, though and before I get all goo goo over this team, they are going to need to show me more. More offensive consistency, more defensive dominance, and more good than bad on special teams.
This game will either go down as a signature win back to relevance for the Broncos in the 2021 NFL season or as a fluke anomaly of the cliché “any given Sunday.”