The Denver Broncos honored the late great Demaryius Thomas with a dominant 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions. There were a few bumps and a couple bruises along the way, but the Broncos led from wire to wire. The victory helps Denver stay alive in the playoff hunt at 7-6 and the blowout was filled with strong performances.
Here’s a few immediate thoughts from the contest.
The Broncos won playing bully ball
One of the big mismatches heading into today’s game was along the line of scrimmage, where the Lions ranked among one of the ten worst teams in the league at Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards’ metric. Kudos to Pat Shurmur, he didn’t get too cute on his opening script, letting his offensive line bludgeon the opposition.
Melvin Gordon was dominant on the first drive of the game, averaging seven yards a carry across six totes before Javonte Williams plunged beyond the goal line for the opening score. Shurmur continued to establish the run on the second drive, dialing up 10 run plays. Following Gordon’s first touchdown, the ground game seemed to evaporate and the Broncos offense sputtered for two straight possessions.
By the time they got the ball back for their fifth possession of the game there was 1:04 left in the first half, which meant time had to be a consideration. Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass eight straight times and Denver finished the half leading 17-10.
Broncos score on their opening drive when Javonte Williams breaks the goal line. pic.twitter.com/r8rJsseiXC— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Shurmur and the offense got back into their groove in the second half and rolled to victory. Gordon and Williams finished the game a combined 39 carries for 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It speaks to Aaron Glenn’s defensive scheme and the Lions’ second and third level defenders that neither Gordon or Williams broke a run longer than 16-yards. It’s a testament to the talent gap between Detroit and Denver that the backs still averaged a healthy 4.7 yards per tote.
Melvin Gordon rumbles for 6 and the Broncos lead 31-10 pic.twitter.com/YyLeeQC3w2— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
The run game didn’t help on the three and out drives
I won’t hesitate to call out Pat Shurmur when I think he made a baffling error, such as last week’s 3rd and 2 pass on the 20-play drive that ended in failure. With that said, this idea that the Broncos went too pass happy on their second quarter drives that wound up in punts is kind of dumb. Gordon and Williams combined to carry the ball on half the total plays and never gained more than three yards. It’s perfectly reasonable to dial up a pass at that point, especially when the Lions’ secondary is down to mostly replacement level DBs.
Broncos run defense could sink their final month
Despite the absence of DeAndre Swift and Jamaal Williams, the Broncos best run defense in this one was their offense piling on points and forcing Campbell to abandon the running game. Craig Reynolds broke a 35-yard run to set up the Lions’ only touchdown and finished the day averaging 7.5 yards per carry on the day.
Craig Reynolds with a big run after he broke a Kenny Young tackle pic.twitter.com/2SlyxRaVKY— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Lloyd Cushenberry wasn’t to blame for the sack
Before the game I mentioned that the battle between Alim McNeil and Lloyd Cushenberry was one to watch, so it seems necessary to mention the sack Teddy Bridgewater took in the second quarter happened because of the coverage. I’ll need to go back over the play on the wide angle view of the all-22, but if you don’t believe me check out how much time Teddy has. He could make a sandwich and do his taxes! So while McNeil eventually shed Cush to bring down the quarterback, it’s unreasonable to expect a center to hold up forever.
Alim McNeil gets his first career sack pic.twitter.com/pEN0hkbL5d— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Shelby Harris may have saved a touchdown
Following the Broncos’ first three and out the Lions drove from the 25-yard-line 57-yards until getting bogged down at the Broncos’ 22-yard line. Facing a 3rd and 6 down 7-14, Campbell dialed up a mesh concept out of a 2X2 set. Goff scanned the field and saw Josh Reynolds would break open beyond the sticks. Like so many passers before him, he didn’t account for an airborne Shelby Harris.
Fangio dials up a game for Shelby Harris and Bradley Chubb, and Harris creates enough space that he can get up to bat down the Goff ball. pic.twitter.com/2UMzqFCz8P— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
It seemed Goff avoided Surtain
Admittedly, I’m juggling a few things during a broadcast. This is one of those things I definitely need to go back over on the all-22, but throughout the game I kept making a mental note about how often Goff threw at Ronald Darby and the middle of the field, but rarely towards his right.
We saw flashes of the old Chubb
He didn’t stuff the box score, but Bradley Chubb had a solid game. Lost amid the Lions’ poor record is that they have a pair of quality bookends in Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell, so it was definitely to see the 2018 first round pick shows signs that he’s rounding back into form after an ankle injury derailed most of his season. Let’s hope he can stack games, the pass rush will need him against Joe Burrow.
Down 31-10 the Lions go for it on 4th down.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Feeling heat from Chubb, Goff throws the ball off his backfoot. Jackson reaches in and yanks the ball out of Zylstra's grasp.
Broncos football pic.twitter.com/EXvWkt1TVo
Dre’Mont Jones collects another Lion pelt
The Broncos 2019 third round pick had his first multi-sack game against the Detroit Lions, so its only fitting that his best performance of this season came against the same overmatched foe. And boy was it, Jones was monstrous for most of the game, including a a four down series in the third quarter where he made three different plays on the ball. On first down he showed off his quick hands as he worked down and through the line of scrimmage for his second sack. On second down he burst into the backfield so quickly the Lions couldn’t wham him, and he met Igwebuike half a second after the handoff.
Jones lined up over the right guard on 4th and 2, and did his best Shelby Harris impression.
The Lions go for it on 4th and 2.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Dre'Mont Jones pic.twitter.com/BWZS6yY4Zn
Justin Simmons should make the Pro Bowl
The Broncos’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award is also the best player on the roster. He combines elite length and instincts with very good athleticism, which makes him an impact defender on all three levels. In addition to securing his fifth pick of the season, he had another play where he read up on Goff’s pass for a near pick. He also continued to show why he has a reputation as one of the best man coverage safeties in the league with the way he smothered his assignments all afternoon.
Justin Simmons with his 5th interception of the year! pic.twitter.com/cZc3GHb5NX— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 12, 2021
Final Thoughts (for now)
Way back when the Broncos were on their way to a 3-0 start I mentioned how good teams beat bad teams badly. There’s little doubt a rebuilding Lions team missing a slew of players to injuries and illnesses simply lack the talent to be anything more than a bad team. So considering the Broncos’ own injuries and week to week variance, it’s definitely a good sign for what lies ahead that Denver beat Detroit up on their way to a blowout victory.
At 7-6 the Broncos remain alive in the playoff hunt with four games against AFC foes, including three divisional matchups. Injuries to Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, Tim Patrick, and Kenny Young all loom over the upcoming contest against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. They entered today with a 17% chance to make the dance, and those hopes aren’t dead yet.