One of the obvious issues with the Broncos’ offense of late - among many, of course - is the underutilization of Denver’s talented wide receiver corps.
A.J. Schulte did an excellent breakdown of this problem specifically with Jerry Jeudy, noting that since his return, “Jeudy has been more of a decoy than a featured weapon.”
But the same can really also be said of Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton. Against the Chiefs, running back Javonte Williams had the most targets (6 of 9) among all the potential receivers and just one less total yard among his receptions than Jeudy, the leader with 77 yards on 4 of 6 targets. Sutton was 2-for-15 and Patrick 1-for-9 on Sunday.
Here’s another interesting but simultaneously frustrating stat - the leading scorer for the Broncos this season is Brandon McManus with 79 points. Second is Melvin Gordon with 42. Tied for third is Williams and Patrick at 24. Jeudy was obviously out for several weeks and Sutton was coming back from injury early on, but to only have one wide receiver in the mix - and not even WR1 or WR2 - is somewhat telling.
Even for a team that has needed to establish the run for its offense to win games, there is a slew of receiver talent out there not getting much involvement in the game.
Head coach Vic Fangio seems to recognize this is a problem.
“Our whole passing game needs to improve a little bit,” Fangio said. “We never got into a rhythm last week in our last game. The week before, we didn’t have a lot of the yards either. We just need to get our passing game, as a whole, in a better rhythm.”
There is little doubt Teddy Bridgewater erred on the Broncos 3rd and 2. By and large he had a brutal game in Kansas City.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 8, 2021
Pat Shurmur didn't do him many favors.
The question is whether Pat Shurmur - and even more so Teddy Bridgewater - also recognize this as a problem.
Asked about getting the ball to all the receivers, Bridgewater essentially blamed it on defenses taking away the opportunity at times when a play is drawn up for a particular target.
“You just do it within the system,” Bridgewater said. “We have plays that are dialed up to get guys the ball specifically. We might come out of the huddle and say we want to throw the ball to ‘Court’ here, and they play a coverage that takes ‘Court’ away. Now Jerry gets an opportunity to catch a pass. That’s just how it works. You might call a play for Tim, and the ball might go to ‘Court.’ You might call the play for Jerry and the ball might go to Javonte. Teams are aware of the guys that we have, their skill sets. So, we’re just trying to create ways to get them the ball and allow them to do what they do best.”
Bridgewater certainly has a point here, and all those things can be true. Even Steve Atwater on Broncos Country Tonight pointed out that there are a lot of things that go into guys not getting the ball - especially receivers who always want the ball and QBs who are trying to get it to multiple talents.
“Receivers are kinda cocky; they want the ball even when they say they don’t,” Atwater said. “And if I were to wager, I’d say Bridgewater wants to get the ball to them. Everybody wants it to happen. But there’s more to it than that. You’ve got to have the time, got to have the routes. I’ve watched plenty of film and seen guys not being open.”
And sometimes it comes down to philosophy and willingness to take the risk on a downfield play. As Benjamin Allbright noted, Broncos seem to have the two extremes when it comes to quarterbacks in that regard. There’s Drew-YOLO-Ball-Lock or Teddy-I-don’t-want-to-make-a-mistake-Bridgewater. Neither is working for the offense right now, however.
Atwater acknowledged that Bridgewater could be a little less risk averse to help his receivers, adding that he needs to take the shot when it’s man-to-man.
“Some of it comes down to philosophy. If it’s man-to-man do you try to throw that 50-50?” he said. “For me, if I’m the coach, I’m saying, ‘if you see man-to-man, you throw it. If you throw an INT, I don’t care. I don’t care.”
And Tim Jenkins made an excellent point earlier in the week on Broncos Country Tonight, saying that there’s “open” and then there’s “NFL open” when it comes to quarterbacking.
“A majority of these are pretty decent concepts downfield, and are guys wide open? No. Are they NFL open? Absolutely. They’re open enough to give Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy a chance along the sideline to make a play,” Jenkins said. “The reality is, whether you’re the defense on the sideline or the coaching staff, what feels better - a 50-50 ball to Courtland Sutton where he goes up to make a play, ball gets tipped and you’re punting or a checkdown that you feel like your guy is giving up?”
Jenkins added that he doesn’t believe Bridgewater is purposely protecting his stats but it definitely feels like he’s afraid to make a mistake. Unfortunately for the Broncos right now, playing safe football is no longer an option. Especially when they tried to play “their” game - control the clock, run the ball, keep the offense on the field - and still only walked away with nine points.
Listening to Bridgewater on Wednesday answer a question about developing rhythm with the offense, it appears to me that he doesn’t recognize his own tendency not to give his guys the chance to make the play.
“It just comes down to winning. From my end, throwing the ball to the guys. Guys need to win one-on-one matchups outside,” Bridgewater said. “It all comes together collectively. This week in practice, we just challenge each other and push each other even harder than what we’ve done in the past couple of weeks.”