Week 1 of the NFL season is officially upon us, and with it, a fresh start for every NFL team. The Denver Broncos get a good test out of the gate playing the New York Giants on the road at MetLife.
This is the first of many articles you’ll see this season from me. I’ll be posting weekly offensive AND defensive line previews of the upcoming game and reviews of the previous game all season long.
In this one, I’ll be previewing the Giants’ defensive line and how it compares to the Broncos’ offensive line. I’ll break down the starting lineup, where the matchups favor the Broncos, and where they might favor the Giants.
New York Giants Defensive Line
Per the Giants’ Week 1 depth chart release, this is the defensive line the Broncos can expect to play on Sunday afternoon. I’m including the edge rushers in this list as well.
DE-Dexter Lawrence II
NT-Austin Johnson/Danny Shelton
SLB: Lorenzo Carter/Quincy Roche
OLB: Oshane Ximines/Azeez Ojulari
On primary passing downs, the Broncos interior’ offensive line will have to face off against Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence II. Leonard Williams is starting to put his elite physical tools to good use and develop as a pass-rusher after being drafted sixth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s coming off of a career year where he posted 11.5 sacks, 65 total pressures, and eight tackles for loss+no gain. He’s a threat to get to the quarterback at any stage of the game. He’s one of the best interior pass-rushers the Broncos will square off against all season and will be a good test for Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow.
Dexter Lawrence has quickly become a monster in the run game and an ascending pass rusher. His natural power at the point of attack means he rarely gets displaced on double-teams. His length and motor keep him involved in virtually every play. Lawrence ended up with 26 total run stops in 2020. That power also shows up in pass-rush situations as well. Lawrence was constantly crushing and collapsing pockets all season long. While that didn’t quite turn out into a high box score as a pass-rusher with just 31 pressures and four sacks, PFF charted Lawrence with the seventh-highest pass-rush win percentage in 2020.
At the nose tackle position, Austin Johnson has emerged as the lead nose tackle for the team to replace Dalvin Tomlinson. Johnson posted eight total run stops and two tackles for loss+no gain on 122 run defense snaps last season. He constantly fights and hustles to disrupt plays, and he can shed blocks well at first contact. Johnson doesn’t offer a ton of upside as a pass-rusher, but he’s an effective enough nose tackle that he offers another challenging hurdle for the Broncos to overcome week 1.
At their edge rusher spots, Oshane Ximines and Lorenzo Carter have both been largely disappointing but still contain some promise. These two combined for 11 total pressures and one sack in 2020 per Pro Football Focus. One. The true threat to worry about is their second-round rookie out of Georgia Azeez Ojulari. While Ojulari has dealt with a few nagging injuries in the preseason, there’s a lot of excitement about his potential. Ojulari isn’t an elite pass-rusher in the sense of similar recent rookies, but he is an exceptional run defender, using his length and explosion well.
The Broncos will face a difficult battle trying to run the ball on early downs. On 3rd and long, Lawrence’s power and Williams’s quickness will make it tough for Teddy Bridgewater. The offense needs to do a good job of keeping them off-balance by mixing early passes and rushes to succeed.
Matchups that will Decide the game
In favor of Denver: Garett Bolles vs the Giants’ edge rushers
While Garret Bolles isn’t in the elite tier of NFL left tackles, he’s certainly more talented than the edge rushers in New York. Thus, he’s at an advantage against any of the Giants’ edge rushers. Bolles’ quickness out of his stance and his improved footwork and balance will help him mirror and effectively shut down any of the Giants’ edge rushers in passing situations.
Bolles has improved as a run blocker from where he was in college, due to Munchak improving his hand usage. While Azeez Ojulari is an effective run defender, he’s a rookie in his first action against an established vet with plenty of athleticism who is coached by one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. It’ll be difficult for the Giants to get anything going on Bolles’s side.
In Favor of New York: Lloyd Cushenberry III vs the Giants’ interior
If Cushenberry struggles to identify stunts and blitzes like he did in 2020, the interior of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence could make his life miserable. Cushenberry didn’t miss a single snap of 2020, which is important, but he needs a significant jump in play to hold up against the Giants’ interior. The good news is his play strength, ability to anchor, and hand usage excelled in college, and he’s coached by Mike Munchak. It’ll be interesting to watch this match unfold in game. This matchup could go a long way in determining how successful the Broncos’ offense is.