Let me start off by saying that Denver lost one of its greatest football alumni last week and the Denver Broncos did an awesome job of giving friends, family, and fans a great outlet to honor Demaryius Thomas as well as his legacy.
We’ve had a ton of articles, comments, and talk at milehighreport.com about DT. I’ll just share here that my favorite memory of Demaryius was not his walk-off TD against Pittsburgh, any of his phenomenal TDs working with Peyton Manning, or any stat-filled season that is going to help put him in the Broncos Ring of Fame.
It was his performance in Super Bowl 48 that brings me the most joy to remember. In a game where our team was outclassed from the initial snap until the final whistle against a team that was absolutely all-in and on top of everything our team did to win football games, DT showed what made him great: effort.
DT was a shining example that day of what I look for to tell if a player is special or not. He was indomitable. He never stopped no matter how many crushing hits the Seahawks put on him (and there were many). That’s how he played, prepared, and worked in the offseason year in and year out.
God bless you, your family, friends, and all who cheered for you, Demaryius. We love you and miss you.
On to the Game
One thing that good football teams do consistently is that they beat up on bad football teams. The Detroit Lions were coming into this game as the worst in the NFL and then on top of that were missing about a third of their starters due to Covid-19.
Denver did what they should: they beat them soundly.
It is yet another sign to me that this team is on the right path. I doubt if it will be enough to get them into the playoffs, but compared to the past two seasons, they are letting me watch meaningful football in the month of December. That alone is worthy of celebration.
Vic Fangio had this team ready to go. There were some plays that got away from the team both running and passing, but nothing that ever really threatened the Broncos in a serious way.
Anytime you hold a team to 10 total points, you are having a great defensive day in the NFL.
Dre’mont Jones showed up big early on a 3rd down, absolutely manhandling the center right up the middle to get a drive-killing sack. Later in the game, he absolutely took over a whole drive with a sack on 1st, a TFL on 2nd, and a pass defense to end the drive on 4th down. That’s impactful, dominant play. If he can keep playing like this every week, this defense is going to put this team in a position to win a lot more games.
Kenny Young looked terrible on the big run for the Lions in the 2nd quarter. He not only failed to play the gap but completely whiffed on the tackle. He had a lot more downs to my eyes against the run than ups, though it is worth noting that he did force a key fumble early in the 3rd quarter. He and Baron Browning really need to improve if we are going to keep teams like the Chargers and Cheifs from running wild over our defense down the stretch.
Has anyone seen Bradley Chubb? You know that top draft pick from a few years back that was supposed to be a pass-rushing phenom… I miss the guy and really wish he’d show back up as the team could really use him instead of the injured shadow of Chubb we’ve been getting in recent history.
My favorite play of the game was Justin Simmons’ interception. He saw it developing, completely owned the pass, then immediately took the ball to celebrate with DT. I know I wasn’t the only person in Broncos Country moved by the gesture. He also really stepped up his support against the runs that kept getting past the 2nd level which led to him leading the team in tackles (this is not what we want to see by the way).
Kareem Jackson showed up to play today as well. His pass defense on 4th and goal was a huge play at a key point in the game. He knew the receiver was going to box out and he used perfect technique to slap and break up the pass he couldn’t stop from getting there.
The interesting thing to me about the secondary was that the Lions seemed to put speedier guys on Patrick Surtain II and had quite a bit of success with it. The Broncos didn’t get hurt too much by it as Surtain is a superb tackler, but that’s something that other teams may try to scheme: matchups with Surtain having to play off technique against quicker guys to get small chunks of yards.
It is a mixed bag for me honestly when it comes to the offense. Yes, Pat Shurmur seems to have finally gotten the message that running the ball successfully is what this team should be focusing on. It helps when the offensive line blocks as well as they did.
The problem is that the pass offense now looks completely pedestrian. We’re not using a vertical attack much at all with most of the passes being designed as 10 yards and in or outlet passes to the sidelines.
That works against bad teams, but when you play a team that can defend the run, it is going to lead to inept offense and put the team into a hole that we’ll have to find a way to try and claw out of (which is kind of the story of most of this season).
Early on, Teddy Bridgewater poorly threw a pass down and away from a crossing route to Jeudy. It was a shame as that’s the kind of play a guy like Jeudy can turn into a nice gain after the catch and a big missed opportunity.
One highlight was his throw vertically to Noah Fant which was absolutely gorgeous and on time for a big gain. The other was his drive at the end of the first half where he did a superb job of getting the Broncos down the field in the 2-minute drill to kick a field goal.
Teddy honestly gets some of the heat like Shurmur above because we have no way to know if he’s doing what Shurmur has coached him to or if he’s just choosing not to take risks at this point. He really needs to get back to involving the WRs more though. In the past few games, he really has been turning into a turtle of a quarterback. This may help the team win, but it won’t get us anywhere if they do so happen to find a way into the playoffs.
The line was blocking their tails off early and often. We showed a good bit of 12 personnel and really controlled the line of scrimmage allowing the backs to do work. Yes, the Lions’ defense was depleted, but the line honestly played better football with more effort this week and it showed up in spades up and down the line.
Javonte Williams was an absolute beast on his early TD run. The power he runs with is elite. His ability to shed tackles is as well. I loved seeing him take a pass in the flat to the house as that’s another tool in a running back’s belt that makes them dangerous. It is worth noting that he had a bad drop on a 3rd down pass from Bridgewater that was low, but right where it needed to be and Williams let it go through his arms.
Melvin Gordon III was hot early and just kept chugging out the plays. He really showed nice vision and anticipation on several of his runs finding creases to break 10+ yard runs. I honestly think he’s being given more snaps due to his contract, but the thing of it is that he’s churning out stats just like Williams and it is coming from his veteran knowledge and good vision.
I loved seeing the effort on the TD pass to Albert Okwuegbunam. That play should have been downed handily, but the defender took a risky angle and Albert O made him pay for it.
Noah Fant needs more of those vertical route concepts called for his number and we’ll go back to being pretty happy with our young stud of a tight end.
Both Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick aren’t doing enough on the outside or the plays just aren’t being called for them…I can’t really tell which is happening. Patrick had a really bad drop that hit him in the hands and when I was able to spot Sutton, he just wasn’t getting any separation (and keep in mind the Lions’ secondary was absolutely depleted).
We didn’t have a turnover on Special Teams, nor did we allow big returns to happen. That’s a win for this Broncos team. I’m not going to be greedy and ask for more as I know what quality of coordinator they are led by.
We’re in a position to make some noise…now we get to see if the Broncos are going to keep bouncing up and down in how good they look each week or if they can put together a little run and squeak into the playoffs.
I do agree with Fangio that the team needs to treat each and every game here on out as a “must-win.” Fangio needs them to be successful if he wants to stick around. But the long-term fan in me wonders if that would be to our detriment overall.
I think Fangio is a super defensive coordinator. I think his inability to hold his other coordinators accountable may end up being his downfall, though. A good head coach wouldn’t put up with ⅔ of the team holding them back from success.