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Upon Further Review: Broncos 30-3 win over the Seahawks

With two preseason games in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking at what the 2021 Broncos will look like.

With two preseason games in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking at what the 2021 Broncos will look like. NFL rules require teams trim the roster down from 85 to 80 players by Tuesday, and 53 by 4 PM EST on August 31st. This film review is basically my notes as I reviewed the Seahawks game with an eye on who stood out, who played what, and what it could all mean.

Specialist

The guys: Brandon McManus, Sam Martin, Jacob Bobenmoyer

  • The three big names are all safe. I do wonder what Tom McMahon’s going to do about the rest of the special teams. Hopefully he can get it right by week one.

Defensive back

Should be safe: Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Caden Sterns

Seem safe: Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia(?)

Fighting in the bubble battle: P.J. Locke, Jamar Johnson, Kary Vincent, Nate Hairston, Parnell Motley, Mac McCain III, Saivion Smith, Trey Marshall

PUP: Duke Dawson, Essang Bassey

  • Fangio dialed up a blitz that sent six rushers on the Seahawks’ opening drive that led to Alex McGough’s 3rd and 13 pick to Justin Simmons.
  • The first team defense used nickel quite a bit with Jackson, Simmons, Fuller, Darby, and Callahan on the field.
  • Surtain played as the second team defense’s left corner.
  • It speaks to the kind of corner Surtain is that he balled out last night and it meant we basically didn’t hear his name called. The rookie put the clamps down. He allowed one catch on a crossing route where McGough faked a sweep going right before he rolled left to buy himself time against a dropping Cooper.
  • Locke didn’t light up the box score this week, but continued to look good running the alley to help in run defense.
  • Hairston’s been used as a nickel across the Viking and Seahawk games and he pitched in six special teams snaps in Seattle. His status probably depends on Ojemudia’s health and if the coaching staff’s willing to try and sneak Vincent and/or Johnson through waivers to the practice squad.
  • Speaking of Johnson, I’m curious if his potential versatility as a nickel is reason to carry five safeties. You can’t cut Jackson or Simmons, and both Locke and Sterns look too good to dump.
  • Motley still seems like a longshot for the roster, barring a significant injury to O.J. It will be interesting to see if both he and Smith make it past Tuesday.
  • As I write this, it looks like Ojemudia did not suffer a torn ACL.
  • Vincent did not log a special teams snap to go with his 24 on defense. Draft pedigree aside, it’s hard to rationalize a roster spot for a backup nickel who doesn’t play on kickoff or punt coverage units. Something to watch for next week.

Linebacker

Should be safe: Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell, Justin Strnad, Baron Browning

Fighting in the bubble battle: Josh Watson, Curtis Robinson, Barrington Wade

  • Strnad looks like he needs to do a better job at the point of attack and separating from blocks. He also reads up pretty aggressively against play action.
  • Browning was very limited with 10 snaps on defense and two on special teams.
  • If Watson winds up seeing time in the regular season, the best way to maximize his skillset on passing downs is blitzing. He’s not as quick to read out on routes as Johnson or (2020) Jewell and lacks the athleticism Strnad and Browning have.
  • With Browning’s return, I expect Wade to be cut on Tuesday.

Edge

Should be safe: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed

Fighting in the bubble battle: Jonathan Cooper, Andre Mintze, Derrek Tuszka, Pita Taumoepenu

  • The way Cooper constantly set the edge to box everything in really impressed me throughout the game. With Mintze landing on concussion protocol it looks like the Broncos’ four-man edge room is set.
  • Miller and Chubb gearing up to play more snaps in the Rams game could mean Taumoepenu’s chances at sticking around past Tuesday.

Defensive Line

Should be safe: Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, McTelvin Agim

Seem safe: DeShawn Williams, Shamar Stephen

Fighting in the bubble battle: Marquiss Spencer, Jonathan Harris, Isaiah Mack

  • Jones’ burst off the line is really something.
  • Stephen’s ability to anchor against a double team stood out in this one. He also does a nice job using his length to disengage or leverage off blockers.
  • Williams, Stephen, and Agim simply owned the Seahawks interior when they tried to run during the second quarter.
  • J. Harris looks like the DL7. I expect the Broncos to keep six defensive linemen.
  • Spencer did not log a single special teams snap and I think the Broncos will try and slip him to the practice squad.

Wide Receivers

Should be safe: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler

Seems safe: Tim Patrick, Trinity Benson

Fighting in the bubble battle: Tyrie Cleveland, Diontae Spencer, Kendall Hinton, Branden Mack, Seth Williams, De’Mornay Pierson-El

  • After Bridgewater’s fourth and five pass on the Broncos’ opening drive, Hinton came onto the field in the redzone. For all three plays he was the left boundary receiver, twice out of 22 personnel and then again when Shurmur dialed up a 2X2 gun set that turned into a touchdown for Hamler.
  • One thing that makes Hinton valuable as a tertiary option is his blocking. It should come as little a surprise a guy who willingly played QB without any real practice is willing to do dirty work to make the team.
  • Benson’s split time between boundary and slot receiver. That combined with his route running and hands make him a really appealing WR5. It may not work out that way because of the number crunch at receiver, however, and Benson’s limits on special teams could hurt him.
  • Two receivers did not log a single special teams snap in Seattle: Mack and Pierson-El. Both could be gone Tuesday with Sutton’s return to the lineup for the preseason finale.

Offensive Line

Should be safe: Garett Bolles, Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, Graham Glasgow, Bobby Massie, Calvin Anderson, Quinn Meinerz, Netane Muti

Fighting in the bubble battle: Cameron Fleming, Brett Jones, Nolan Laufenberg, Austin Schlottmann, Quinn Bailey, Drew Himmelman

  • Probably time to pour one out for the “Muti should start over Glasgow” movement.
  • Glasgow’s run blocking isn’t going to excite anyone too much, what he really brings to the table is in pass protection. He combined a very good anchor with good hands, reactive athleticism, and mental acuity. When you consider right tackle and center are both open questions, having a reliable veteran between them is invaluble.
  • Cushenberry’s a key part of the Broncos’ screen game because he’s routinely left to slide out and get in place to help the receiver. This may be one reason why the coaching staff seemingly remains open to Meinerz eventually taking over here down the road, as the rookie is a better athlete in space.
  • On Bridgewater’s long pass to Saubert to get to the one-yard-line, Anderson had a rep where 51 worked past his hands and the quarterback needed to step up to avoid pressure. While you’d like to see him clamp down the rusher off the initial punch, Anderson flips his hips while resetting his hands to push the edge past the QB.
  • Lock’s second sack of the day came on 3rd and 17 on his first drive in the game. The Broncos came out in 11 personnel, a 3X1 set with Jeudy isolated to the left. Seattle sent four with the one technique occupying Cushenberry and Meinerz while the edge over Anderson rushed wide, which isolated Muti in a one on one. He lost quickly.
  • The line did a nice job on Lock’s 3rd and six pass to Spencer. Seattle mugged the line and sent five, which left Anderson, Muti, and Cushenberry isolated in one-on-ones. They all held up, and Lock stood tall in the pocket to find his receiver.
  • On Lock’s miss to Freeman right before the end of the half the Seahawks sent four with the interior linemen running a game. Cushenberry got taken out in the wash and Meinerz stayed on the penetrator a bit long, which let the looper free to rush up the middle.
  • For all his faults with quickness and in pass protection, Fleming’s still good on downblocks.
  • I can only guess who’s to blame for Lock’s trip-sack at the end of the third quarter.
  • Himmelman and Laufenberg played seven snaps a piece. Four on offense and three on special teams.
  • Jones did not log a special teams snap, which suggests he’s sweating Tuesday. He’s a center who looked miscast at guard last week, and his lack of versatility will hurt when there’s so much young talent ahead of him on the depth chart.

Tight End / Fullback

Should be safe: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam

Seems safe: Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Fighting in the bubble battle: Adam Prentice, Shaun Beyer, Austin Fort

  • On the Broncos’ first drive Beck played fullback in a 22 personnel play in the redzone.
  • If you’re into blocking, you’re going to like watching Saubert. He stood out at the point of attack a number of times, perhaps none bigger than Pookie’s fourth and one carry late in the first quarter.
  • Without seeing Okwuegbunam in the preseason, I can confidently say Saubert is at least the second best blocking tight end on the roster.
  • Part of me suspects Prentice’s spot on the roster depends in part on the quarterback. Based on the very limited exposure we’ve had to the Broncos’ offense so far, it seems Shurmur wants to use more 21 and 22 when Lock is under center.
  • Beck played 29 snaps when you add in his special teams duties. He logged time at both fullback and tight end.
  • Prentice played 12 offensive snaps to go with two on special teams.
  • Beyer scored a touchdown on one of his 16 offensive snaps in the second half. He did not play on special teams.

Running back

Should be safe: Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Mike Boone

Fighting in the bubble battle: Royce Freeman, Damarea Crockett, Adrian Killins Jr.

  • Oftentimes we get caught up in the highlight reels runs with backs and for good reason, they’re fun. One of the things that really stands out about Pookie’s contact balance is how he can turn a tackle for loss into a minimal gain by fighting off a defender in the backfield. He converts a 2nd and two on the Broncos’ second drive that really highlights this.
  • Freeman had himself a pretty nice game, in large part because he’s a reliable outlet receiver. He also did a solid job fighting through or past contact.
  • It’s an open question if the Broncos will carry a fourth back because we don’t yet know how Boone’s recovery from his quad injury is going. Freeman definitely looks like RB4, however. Crocket doesn’t offer the same contact balance or vastly superior vision or elusiveness.

Quarterback

Should be safe: Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater

Seem safe: Brett Rypien

  • It’s hard to tell for sure without the all22 angle, but on Bridgewater’s opening rollout pass to Eric Saubert it looks like he could have found Fant if he hadn’t been under pressure from 44.
  • I’m curious to see Tim Jenkins’ thoughts on Bridgewater’s 3rd and 5 miss to K.J. Hamler. Seahawks mugged the A gaps with backers and wound up sending five with 57 dropping off and man coverage on the receivers. Hamler ran a go and Bridgewater threw behind him, it doesn’t look like Teddy had anywhere else to go with the ball.
  • On the following fourth and five the Broncos dialed up a Mesh concept out of a 3X1 trips nub (solo tight end on the line of scrimmage to the left) with what looks like Jerry Jeudy on a dig from the boundary.
  • If Bridgewater starts I’m pretty sure I’ll complain about his dumpoffs, as there’s multiple instances where he’s choosing a checkdown over more yards downfield.
  • How Bridgewater handled pressure bearing down is one area where I thought he clearly outplayed Lock. Part of this was how he slid around the pocket to buy himself time, part of it’s how he maintained his composure on rollouts with a defender in his grill. He received high grades on what falls under my “poise” trait for this reason.
  • Lock played more drives than Bridgewater did, which led him to a point where he was surrounded by clear second and third string players before he gave way to Rypien. Early on, that wasn’t the case. On his first snap:

LT: Calvin Anderson

LG: Netane Muti

C: Lloyd Cushenberry

RG: Quinn Meinerz

RT: Bobby Massie

WR: Jerry Jeudy

WR: K.J. Hamler

WR: Kendall Hinton

TE: Eric Saubert

RB: Royce Freeman

  • On Lock’s second play he took his first sack of the game. The Broncos came out in 11 personnel with Beck playing H-back. On the snap Lock faked the handoff to Freeman, the protection slid to the right while Beck arced back to pick up the backside edge. No one accounted for 52 on the Seahawks.
  • Thanks to Williams pick off McGough, the Broncos got the ball back with three timeouts and 1:02 on the clock at the end of the first half. Lock’s first attempt was to a tight end running what looked like hank route over the middle. On 2nd and 10 Shurmur dialed up a screen. On 3rd and six Lock found Spencer on a deep crosser. Fangio used two timeouts and Denver burned 20 seconds on these three plays that got them to Seattle’s 44. On the next play Lock hits Benson on a slant for five yards, and the next snap doesn’t go off until there’s 28 seconds on the clock, a checkdown to Freeman that leads to burning the third timeout.

Lock’s first and 10 pass falls incomplete. The Broncos get a free five yards on the next play because of an offside penalty on Seattle.

Lock follows it with a pass to Benson that leads the receiver out of bounds to kill the clock. On 2nd down Lock misses and McManus winds up booting the ball through the uprights for three to end the half.

  • Lock’s supporting cast to begin the second half:

LT: Cameron Fleming

LG: Netane Muti

C: Austin Schlottmann

RG: Quinn Meinerz

RT: Quinn Bailey

WR: Trinity Benson

TE: Shaun Beyer

TE: Austin Fort

FB: Adam Prentice

RB: Royce Freeman

The Broncos definitely made more liberal use of 22 and 21 personnel during the third quarter. Freeman and Crockett both saw time. When extra receivers came into the game early in the third we saw Williams, Spencer, Hinton. On the last drive Cleveland and Pierson-El were receiving snaps. By the end of the quarter Meinerz and Schlottmann swapped spots, but the rest of the line stayed in tact.

  • One thing I liked about Lock’s performance is that he continued to show improvement at setting the hallway and keeping his upper and lower halves connected.
  • I hope to get the all22 view of Lock’s third and eight pass to Austin Fort in the middle of the third. Broncos came out in a 2X2 set, Lock isn’t under any sort of duress and he checks it down underneath. I’d like to see what the rest of the receivers are doing on the play.
  • Lock’s scramble to the left on 3rd and three was a terrific highlight Fangio called “very good improvisation.”