WooHoo! Not only did the Broncos get their first win in September since 2018, they started off 2021 1-0, providing much-needed confidence and morale boost to help push them through the first 17-game regular season ever. And what a win! Although the Broncos were absolutely expected to beat the Giants, it was nice to them follow through and do so in convincing fashion.
And as our ultimate fan this week reminds us, that’s exactly what the Broncos have to do this weekend against a seemingly imploding Jaguars team - beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.
Topher Doll, a former Mile High Report staff writer who moved on to bigger and better things shortly after I joined the staff, is jumping into the Ultimate Fan Guide rotation, and what a treat for all of us! I used to joke in our MHR chatroom that Topher was my “Google” because I could just come in and ask a random stats question, and he’d know exactly where to find it and just tell me the answer I was looking for (thanks, Topher!)
So today he has all our answers for how the Broncos beat the Jaguars. Yes it’s a game they should win handily, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come without playing smart, mistake-free football.
Jacksonville, here we come! ✈️ pic.twitter.com/IgwPM3Jhgq— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 17, 2021
Week 2: Broncos at Jags
MHR - TOPHER! So excited to have you participate in this series! Some interesting stats following the win over the Giants:
Melvin Gordon clocked over 21 mph on his 70-yard TD
Broncos were 3/3 on fourth-down conversions
Vic Fangio got his first win in September since becoming a head coach
Teddy Bridgewater’s 115.7 passer rating was best in the NFL last week
Von Miller had two sacks and three TFLs in his return after a year out for injury
Denver’s time of possession was 35 minutes compared to New York’s 25
You’re a numbers guy...what stat from last week’s game (any stat, not just those mentioned) do you think is actually the most important one for the Broncos heading into Week 2 and why?
Topher Doll: For me I think it was the sheer number of first downs.The Broncos had 24 first downs, which means two things happened — the defense got stops (Denver held the Giants to 50% on third down) and the offense moved the chains with consistency, not just on third down but every down. Now I’m not a believer that an efficient, ball-control offense with a great defense is a long term plan, it isn’t and there will be regression. But if the Broncos can keep churning out first downs, it means the defense is working and it means the offense isn’t making mistakes, even if it isn’t explosive. If the Broncos are to win games this year, the model they showed against the Giants is the perfect plan.
MHR - A lot of fans and analysts seemed to become Teddy Bridgewater converts last Sunday after a performance that was possibly the best game of his career. Where did you stand on the Lock v. Teddy decision and what did you think of how he played last week? Were you surprised? Do you expect similar play all season or was that likely an outlier?
Topher Doll: I’m not a big fan of either QB, but I fell squarely on the side of Teddy - though I know even at his peak he was just a slightly above average QB. But for what Fangio is trying to do, Teddy was his best option. I do feel that the heat is still on Fangio and if the Broncos start sliding, Fangio has a ripcord to pull to give him more time by benching Teddy for Lock as a desperate last move. And I’ve always felt that either due to injury or multiple losses, we’d see both quarterbacks this year. Having said that, I am still glad Teddy was announced, though I was never very heated in the debate as many were on MHR. As for his play against the Giants, to me that felt like the ceiling of his capability, which is fine, that is a good ceiling. I expect plenty of one or two TD games (he only has two games with more than two passing TDs) and with few multiple INT games. The average Teddy game I’m looking for is his peak average - around 250 yards, 2 TDs and a pick. That should be good enough to smack bad teams, keep it close with good teams and make it a little interesting against great teams.
MHR - Without Jerry Jeudy in the lineup, Pat Shurmur will likely stick with 12 personnel most of the time. Are we likely to see more Noah Fant and Albert O. this weekend? The Texans receivers gained over 250 yards on the Jags secondary. How do you think Denver’s Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick will fare against this D?
Topher Doll: Fant to me seems like a piece that should get more attention than he does, even when the wide receiver room is healthy. Denver fans have been lauding his play for a while, and he’s had some solid production but he still hasn’t taken that next step to be the vital cog in the offense, especially in the red zone. It might be bias, but the AFC West has two of the top three tight ends in the NFL (and when healthy in recent years Hunter Henry was a top 10 TE) and fans obviously would love for Fant to be like Darren Waller or Travis Kelce. That may be a bar too high, but I really want to see Fant take on a bigger role and whether that is on him to improve, on Shurmur to focus more on him or some other factor, he needs a great year this year. As for Albert O., I have never been the big believer in him that many on MHR seem to be. A lot of hype has been put on him and while I think he’s shown some skills, he’s also made a lot of mistakes as both a blocker and receiver. So I don’t know how much he changes the math going forward, but we’ll see.
Now heading to Jacksonville, I think the Broncos are going to maul this defense. Joe Cullen may turn into a great DC, but looking at his history and time with the Ravens and under Lovie Smith (two qualifications I think are worth putting on a resume, his unit wasn’t always the highlight. The Jags team is also riddled with low talent and injuries that prevent it from really highlighting Cullen’s strength’s. I think the Broncos again have a nice passing game, assuming the offensive line holds up against a defensive front - led by some high draft picks on the line like Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson and Taven Bryan - that could put some pressure on Denver.
MHR - How do you anticipate Denver’s running game doing against Jacksonville? Last week the Jaguars’ defense got burned by the Texans using their RBs out of the backfield to create pick routes and get wide open in the flats where the Jaguars defense was stymied. Is that a good approach for the Broncos?
Topher Doll: I do think the run numbers from last week were obviously skewed by the huge run by Gordon. If we remove that, the Broncos only averaged about 3.5 yards per carry. I also think the Texans have the best running back room in the NFL for sheer depth and variety, and while Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams are no slouches, I’m not sure, though I still expect a solid game.
As for replicating what the Texans tried to do, Shurmur rarely adjusts week to week and sticks to his seasonal game plan until the bye, but hopefully he picked up on what Culley and Kelly were able to draw up last week. The Texans were always going to be a run first team that relies on using multiple backs to create misdirection and cause havoc for opposing linebackers. That isn’t Shurmur’s jam, but I do expect him to make sure to get the occasional screen or Texas route but not to the level or complexity that Culley and Kelly would do. They come from the Reid and McD systems respectively after all, which both love using RBs in creative ways.
MHR - Vic Fangio went for three fourth downs last week in spite of at least one of those likely not being “in his favor” as odds go. Asked about the analytics, he said it was his “gut feeling.” This week he’s been answering a lot of questions about whether there is a trend toward “going for it” more on fourth downs. Do you know analytics-wise if there is a trend that way? Does it bear out in the statistics to be a good decision more often than not? What is your personal view on “going for” fourth down conversions?
Topher Doll: Fourth down attempts are all the rage these days and it showed. I believe Week 1 had the most fourth down attempts in history. Now many fans want more fourth down attempts, regardless of if it is correct or not, and not all fourth downs are created the same, but teams almost certainly should be going for it on 4th-and-short almost always, especially on their opponents side of the field. 4th-and-medium or longer is tricky and is usually reserved for the red zone or when behind (Reid went for field goals a bit too often last week, for example, when behind, but he also has Mahomes so maybe he knew he’d come back).
But play calling on fourth down also matters. 4th and 1? QB sneak is the way to go (unless you have Philip Rivers who was weirdly horrible on QB sneaks for a man his size). 4th and 2 or 3? Play action or a quick pick to set up a screen or slant is more and more popular. I like seeing more fourth down decisions. EdjSports and Football Outsiders have great stuff on the topic. With Denver supposedly adding more math to the front office, it is nice to see.
I do also want to note that I have seen a correlation between a coach having a losing record the previous year and being more aggressive on 4th down the following year. Meaning that coaches on the hot seat, like Fangio, tend to go for 4th down more and it is likely because they know they need wins and are willing to take more risks to achieve that.
MHR - The offensive line played decently against a strong Giants’ D-line last week, but they had a tough time getting consistent push for the struggling running game. How do you expect that to go against the Jags D which held the Texans’ running backs to an average of just three yards per carry?
Topher Doll: I think the Jags front seven is one of their few strengths. Their DC is a former defensive line coach, they have a ton of draft investment into their defensive line and linebacking corp and I like a lot of players there. I also have worries about the Broncos offensive line. The center position has been an issue since either Matt Paradis and I haven’t been impressed at all by Cushenberry and the fact the Broncos drafted Quinn Meinerz in the 3rd shows the Broncos are likely not sold either. And while Mike Munchak has a strong reputation, and this might be blasphemous, I don’t think he’s done a good job in Denver. Many point to the improvement of Garett Bolles, and while that was impressive, nearly every other offensive lineman has either leveled off or regressed. Dalton Risner, my favorite pick from the 2019 class and a player who looked like a potential lock for the interior for years to come, has regressed since his rookie year. High-priced free agents have either been consistently hurt or not lived up to their previous level of play. So often as fans it feels we got a steal in the draft, in free agency or a trade when it comes to the offensive line but then it never works out. How much of that is on Munchak is unknown but he gets a lot of praise for getting the most out of his players despite not getting that much out of the investments Denver has made to the offensive line.
Sorry for the rant. Short version, the Jags front seven has a ton of talent and a DC who wants his front seven to be at their best. They held a solid Texans OL and talented running back corps to minimal gains. I expect the Broncos to keep the runs to the outside like they did against the Giants because they seem to trust their tackles and exterior blockers more than the interior lineman. I don’t expect a huge rushing game but hopefully Shurmur doesn’t get frustrated with the run game, as he’s prone to do, and slam the ball inside again and again.
MHR - What will it mean for the offensive line with Graham Glasgow out and Netane Muti in?
Topher Doll: Everything, at least to me. Glasgow was the lone interior bright spot last week and while I think Muti is fine as that do-it-all rotational interior guy, I don’t have much faith in him. Combine that with Shurmur using Eric Saubert as an almost exclusively blocking man, despite him struggling in that area, has me worried that the Jags will be able to send their corners and safeties smashing into the interior or attacking the tight ends and both could struggle. Brian Burke once described football as a game of links in a chain. I even wrote about it on MHR way back in 2012 - football is two chains under stress, the offense and defense, both waiting for the weakest link to snap and then attack. The Broncos offensive line is full of weak links and losing Glasgow only makes the line weaker and easier to scheme against.
Welcome to the NFL Patrick Surtain. pic.twitter.com/IscpIrMeen— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 12, 2021
MHR - Patrick Surtain II will get his first NFL start on Sunday. What are your expectations from him as well as the secondary overall now that a rookie corner - albeit a very good one - will be starting and another rookie will be stepping in to Surtain’s role in dime packages?
Topher Doll: Rookie corners almost always struggle and I expect Surtain to have his fair share of struggles. I was hoping he’d get to take it easy as a rookie rather than suffer as a full time starter like the elite rookie CB class of 2020 but I think he should be fine for the first few weeks. The teams early in the schedule lack a very deep wide receiver corps and against the Jags he should be able to get his licks in while also getting the chance to play against a weaker wide receiver group.
So I expect some nice, highlight plays that get fans excited that mask the simple mistakes in tackling, covering against complex routes and the QB playing mind games.
MHR - The Broncos defense had a strong outing on Sunday, especially against the QB, with two sacks, five pressures, and a forced fumble/fumble recovery. What needs to happen for the defense to rattle the rookie this week?
Topher Doll: Pressure, pressure and more pressure, and once they get that pressure, the secondary needs to hold. We saw Lawrence struggle against pressure or when his reads broke down, but we also saw he can quickly note when his receiver is open or get yards when he uses some mobility. I want to see the Broncos get that pressure on him and I want to see a secondary that is disciplined to avoid some of the mistakes the Texans made, which allowed for Lawrence to make some big plays.
Okay, I think what I said applies to nearly every non-top, veteran QB. Lawrence has shown he’s still a normal rookie. Throwing him off his tempo and forcing him out of rhythm is what I’d want to do. Get him shaky, get him worried about mistakes and then force those mistakes.
MHR - Josey Jewell had a nice game against the Giants. Have you been surprised by his? How would you rate the Jewell/Johnson duo at ILB for the Broncos?
Topher Doll: I have liked Jewell for a while now, as many fans have, but I felt strongly that linebacker, a true three-down linebacker, has been a need for years. Jewell is a guy I like but I’m still not sold on him as the future of the position. But against a Giants’ team that is notably not exactly an offensive powerhouse, Jewell and Johnson both had great games. The Jags and Jets will provide another chance for them to shine against weaker teams, and I hope they take advantage because the real test for them, in my opinion, comes later against the teams that are stacked with offensive weapons that force the linebackers to cover Pro Bowl wide receivers, tight ends or running backs.
But, for now, I’m happy to see Jewell and Johnson trying to prove Paton right for taking Surtain over Parsons.
MHR - Now that the Broncos got their first September win in two years, how important is it to get two more Ws before going against much tougher teams?
Topher Doll: I think it is vital. First off for confidence. This team is worn down and while the veterans talk a big game, wins matter for motivation. Second, these early games are pivotal. Dropping even one game against weak competition, in an AFC that is notoriously hard to get into the playoffs (teams needed 11 wins last year), the Broncos can’t get through this gauntlet losing to bad teams.
Now the Broncos do have an easier schedule but teams change so much that even 2020 bad teams like the Eagles, Bengals and Lions could be more difficult than expected. A loss to the Jets or Jags doesn’t bode well when you know the Broncos face well coached, high talent teams after this run. Got to beat the bad teams, just got to.
Stats for Teddy Bridgewater? Roughly 250 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Stats for each Broncos RB? Oh I suck at this type of thing, uhh I don’t expect either to top 100 yards from scrimmage but other than that, don’t know.
Number of yards receiving/TDs for each receiver? Same as above, no receiver should have over 100 yards, I expect plenty of spreading the ball around.
Longest FG for McManus? McManus keeps pestering Fangio to break the record, despite not having the best history with those kicks, even throwing a fit in 2019 or 2020 on the field. Combine that with playing at lower altitude, not a good chance but I will always bet for a Broncos kicker to set the record so I say 65, just because setting the record is a Denver tradition, thanks to Elam and Prater.
Number of sacks to Bridgewater? 3
Number of sacks to Trevor Lawrence? 2
Broncos player with the most tackles? Justin Simmons
Who gets the first sack for the Broncos on Sunday? Von Miller
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos D? 2
How many penalties will the refs get wrong? 0
Final Score? 27-21
Favorite Broncos game SINCE Peyton Manning (tricked ya!) Oh tricky, tricky. Off the top of my head I’d probably say beating the Seahawks in 2018, Week 1. Now it totally screwed fan expectations but I have enjoyed beating the Seahawks since the Super Bowl and it was a roller coaster. Keenum alternated between throwing rainbows and throwing a pick. Both backs had a great game all combined with an incredible defensive performance made for a really fun game.
Team you hate to lose to the most in the AFC West? Raiders
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? Rotates season to season but right now the Chargers.
Team you hate to lose to the most in the AFC? Steelers
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC? Steelers
NFC team you cannot stand? Varies, I don’t have any long standing grudges but right now, the Cardinals.
NFC team you could root for in the Super Bowl (if not playing the Broncos, of course)? I have always enjoyed the Bears, going back to the 1990’s, so probably them.
Favorite game looking forward to this season? No real favorite game but the final three game stretch, all against division opponents, is going to be spicy.
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Von Miller
Favorite Broncos player of all time? Champ Bailey
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? Kyle Fuller, though Javonte Williams may be one of my favorites in the long run.
Superstitions on game day? Nothing really
Least favorite game analyst/commentator? Cris Collinsworth
Favorite sports cliche? “Any given Sunday”
Favorite sports movie? Not football related but “Rush” or “Borg vs McEnroe”
How did you become a Broncos fan?
Not sure exactly. I’ve never been a big fan of one team, growing up in southern Oregon you were either a 49ers or Seahawks fan and this was in the 90’s and I wrongly chose the Seahawks as a kid. Poor Tez Kennedy couldn’t fix my broken heart as the 49ers were great. I also loved watching Dan Marino plus the Bears defenses so I followed them. At some point I latched onto the Broncos and it kind of stuck. Not the most exciting story, but hey, it is all I’ve got.
Which receiving target will have the most yards for the Broncos this week?
This poll is closed