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Broncos at Jaguars: 11 things to watch for

Can the Broncos take care of business in Jacksonville?

Is week two too soon to consider playoff odds?

According to Football Outsiders’ playoff odds report that ran a simulation of the 2021 season 50,000 times, the Broncos enter today with a 61.4% chance at the postseason because of their 27-13 victory over the Giants in week one. They’ll face off against a Jaguars team desperate for the first victory of the Urban Meyer era and currently embroiled in reports of dysfunction and discontent. Denver looks to have notable advantages up and down the roster. Games are rarely easy, but this is about as lopsided as it gets for the Denver Broncos this season.

Here’s what I’m looking for.

Special Teams

1. Could Denver get a block?

2. Can the blocking hold up?

Kudos to Tom McMahon and the Broncos special team for keeping the clamps on Jabril Peppers last week. It opens the door for a potential breakthrough performance in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars blocking left something to be desired in their matchup with the talent-poor Houston Texans. The Jags didn’t have a kick blocked, but there were two very close calls. There’s also a chance Jacksonville gets a block of their own, as they were very aggressive bringing bodies when Houston had to punt.


3. Is Von Miller back?

4. With or without Chubb, how does the front look?

5. Can Patrick Surtain stand out in his first start?

6. Can Fangio bait Trevor Lawrence into critical mistakes?

Von Miller was every bit as good on defense as Teddy Bridgewater was on offense last week, but it came against a woefully overmatched offensive line that will finish the year as one of the worst in football. The competition won’t improve much today, as Jawaan Taylor and A.J. Cann as a pair form one of the weakest right sides in the league. I expect Miller and Dre’Mont Jones to take advantage.

If Von can’t own his matchup, it probably puts the spotlight on Bradley Chubb’s health. He missed the season opener with a balky ankle that started bothering him in the Broncos’ preseason finale against the Rams. Malik Reed stepped into the vacant starting role and looked solid as a run defender, but did little in the passing game. I’m eager to see if he can do a better job against Cam Robinson than New York’s Andrew Thomas.

On longer drives Reed and Miller gave way to rookies Jonathon Cooper and Andre Mintze, which helped lead to both of the Giants’ touchdowns. Both pass rushers were completely neutralized when Daniel Jones took advantage of Patrick Surtain II on a deep crossing route to Sterling Shepherd.

The issues up front on the “Surtain TD” is a huge reason I’m not at all out on the rookie cornerback. He could have closed on the crosser quicker and definitely should have tackled better, but the fact Jones had the time in the pocket to wait for Shepherd to cross the field is the bigger problem. Surtain only played one drive on the boundary, most of his 16 snaps in the game came in dime personnel where he looked very good, such as on Miller’s first sack.

Jacksonville should be a great matchup to break Surtain in, as they have a talented trio of receivers in Marvin Hall, Laviska Shenault, and D.J. Chark as well as a rookie quarterback who has shown a willingness to test coverage. Odds are we see some throws in Surtain’s vicinity.

Perhaps the big x-factor of the matchup will boil down to what Vic Fangio does against Trevor Lawrence. The first overall pick of the 2021 draft threw three interceptions for the first time in his life against the Texans, and the turnovers fail to capture how many balls the rookie put in harms way. Lawrence also showed off the tools to escape pressure and make chunk plays out of structure, so Denver can’t afford to fall asleep on him. Ideally, spinning Justin Simmons or Kareem Jackson after the snap befuddles Lawrence and leads to mistakes or indecisiveness.


7. What does Shurmur do to adapt to life without Jerry Jeudy?

8. Can the run game get going?

9. Is Netane Muti ready for a starting role?

10. Will the pass protection hold up?

11. Does Bridgewater do enough?

We saw hints in the preseason 2021 wouldn’t be a typical Pat Shurmur offense, and that continued in the season opener. Before Jerry Jeudy’s injury in the third quarter, the Broncos used 11 personnel (three receivers, one tight end, one running back) on just about 56% of their offensive snaps. Following the injury Denver split time pretty evenly between 11 and 12 personnel (two tight ends, two receivers, one running back) until they closed out the game with seven straight plays out of 13 personnel (three tight ends, one receiver, one running back). Since Shurmur’s time with the Minnesota Vikings he’s used 11 personnel on about two thirds of his offensive snaps.

Minus Jeudy for the near term, I’m curious if 12 becomes the Broncos de-facto base personnel group. In Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, and Andrew Beck Denver has one of the best tight end rooms in the league, which can help to mask the fact they have three NFL receivers, a recently promoted practice squad player in Kendall Hinton, and a return specialist. It’d also make sense to expand K.J. Hamler’s role, as he only logged 24 snaps against the Giants.

If the Broncos do go with heavier sets more often it could make for some tough games on the ground, as most opponents will bring extra defenders in the box to counter the big bodies. The Jacksonville Jaguars did this against the Texans, and I expect it to happen again today. It’d behoove Shurmur to dial up a healthy dose of passes out of these sets to take advantage of the mismatches Fant, Okwuegbunam, and Saubert can create on the Jags’ defenders. Myles Jack is a fantastic athlete, but Damien Wilson’s shaky and the tight ends can abuse Andrew Wingard in coverage.

Uncertainty hangs over the Broncos’ offensive line today. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence caused all sorts of issues along the interior, and as I write this it looks like Graham Glasgow will sit, and Netane Muti will make his third NFL start. The 2020 sixth round pick is very athletic and brings the kind of play strength to pop as a run blocker, but his length and inexperience has caused him problems in pass protection throughout his professional career to date. The Jags defensive line isn’t nearly as talented as New Yorks, but they may not need to be. Joe Cullen showed a willingness to bring exotic stunts and games to try and expose mistakes in the protection last week, something that could be tough with a new guard who lacks experience.

Teddy Bridgewater played a huge role in mitigating the Giants’ pass rush last week as he adjusted the protections pre-snap, and displayed the poise to keep his eyes downfield as he danced around in the pocket. His ability to escape helped punish New York for bringing heat. It could be tough to replicate today if Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Netane Muti’s can’t hold up inside because Garett Bolles and Bobby Massie will face a better group of edge rushers. K’Lavon Chaisson isn’t a household name yet and Josh Allen gets confused for the Buffalo quarterback, but they both found success against Laremy Tunsil last week and have the kind of burst and explosiveness to bend the edge.

If Bridgewater can settle in, I expect the Broncos passing game to success. The Jaguars mostly play out of single high shells without a ton of pre-snap/post-snap disguise, and heavily emphasize cover one and cover three variations. Shaquill Griffin, C.J. Henderson, and Tyson Campbell have the potential to grow into a strong cornerback trio in time, but they had notable issues switching in the season opener. Unless there’s issues with pressure, a veteran quarterback should be able to find open targets.

Final Thoughts

Given the strength of the AFC West, it’s critical for the Broncos to take the “easy” games when they get to them. The Jacksonville Jaguars finished 2020 with the worst record in football and still has holes on their roster after throwing a lot of money at so-so players this offseason. They’re led by a head coach who entered his second week in professional football shooting down rumors that he’d bail on his team for a blueblood college program and a rookie quarterback who struggled with where to deliver the ball in his first start.

When the day comes to a close, the Broncos should remain undefeated. Will they?