It wasn’t always pretty, but the Broncos found a way to take care of business against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the murderer’s row that is the AFC West still ahead, a fast start is important for the Broncos playoff chances. According to CBS 62.7% of all 2-0 teams since 1990 have made the playoffs, while Football Outsiders’ playoff odds report gave the Broncos a 61.4% chance at the dance before kickoff today. Things are looking decent so far.
What follows are my thoughts following a quick review of the broadcast clips.
Bradley Chubb should have never played
Chubb’s balky ankle has been a question since Fangio mentioned he had a procedure done in the offseason. The Broncos handled him with kid gloves throughout training camp up until the preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams where every starter logged snaps, and following the game Chubb missed practice with ankle pain. He’s been a limited participant since, so it made little sense to risk him against a Jaguars team that hasn’t won a game in over a year’s time.
Denver did it anyway, and now we need to hope it doesn’t cost Chubb his 2021.
Josey Jewell could be a big loss
Until Jewell’s injury in the first half today he’s looked like the Broncos’ off ball backer most likely to receive an extension from George Paton. The Outlaw was fantastic in the season opener with quick processing helping him to make plays from sideline to sideline. That continued today, he was a force between the tackles and did a nice job reading up to punish Laviska Shenault for catching a dump off in the early second.
Unfortunately Jewell got hurt running down a punt when he made a big hit. His absence opened the door for Justin Strnad to earn playing time on defense. If Jewell can’t suit up next week it will mean Strnad makes the first start of his NFL career, while Baron Browning and Jonas Griffith would be a ding away from their first snaps on defense. While I’m optimistic about both Strnad and Browning’s potential, linebacker was the iffiest part of the Fangio defense due to it’s unproven depth. If Strnad’s playing when Denver meets the Baltimore Ravens he’ll be tested extensively.
Really nice read and drive by Josey Jewell to get the TFL pic.twitter.com/9qakLozIFz— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
The zebras wore teal and black
Generally speaking I try to ignore bad officiating because it’s pretty random and eventually evens out. With that said, Denver basically had to play against 12 today because the calls were so lopsided. Kyle Fuller got tagged for a really shaky illegal contact play where Marvin Jones ran him over, which extended a drive. The refs followed it up by ignoring a blatant defensive pass interference on Courtland Sutton.
I assume the officials have money on Jacksonville. pic.twitter.com/fHe6YFwmbC— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Later in the contest the line judge watched as Von Miller got mugged by Jawaan Taylor, which brought back my memories of the 2019 contest. Honestly, the Broncos should have won this game by 20 or so points.
Ref doesn't care that Von Miller was held right in front of him. pic.twitter.com/sT5nFRiEhx— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Patrick Surtain II had a nice debut
It wasn’t all good. George Paton’s first draft pick earned a bad DPI early in the game and Trevor Lawrence didn’t hesitate to test him out in the first quarter. Things tightened up as the Broncos’ pass rush settled into a rhythm, however, and Surtain had one of the prettiest first interceptions I’ve ever seen.
The Broncos line is a question mark going forward
I didn’t expect the interior offensive line to have a great performance against the Giants because Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are monstrous. I also thought the way Pat Shurmur was leaning into 12 and 13 personnel would potentially muck up the box and make the run game look worse than they performed. Graham Glasgow’s heart also meant an expanded role for Netane Muti, which led to some learning moments.
All this to say: I’ve tried to grade the Broncos’ line on a curve to start the year as there’s a lot of context behind their struggles. With that in mind, I still did not believe the Jaguars would be able to make the Broncos so dependent on Teddy Bridgewater to succeed.
Given the Jaguars talent along the edges, it didn’t surprise me to see Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson find their way into the backfield. Some will try and blame Garett Bolles for the Allen sack early in the game, but after I went back over the play there’s no way the play is Bolles’ fault.
Broncos pulled Dalton Risner on the PA play that led to the Josh Allen sack. Bolles blocked down to fill the vacated space and turned to try and impede the edge only after it became clear he didn't bite. pic.twitter.com/CcOytxHVQf— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
One player in particular I do plan to focus on when I get a chance to go back over the all-22 is Dalton Risner. He had a bad loss on Bridgewater’s touchdown pass to Tim Patrick and will be under the spotlight when Denver faces off against the Jets.
Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown with the defense bearing down.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Let's just say I'm nervous about Dalton Risner vs. Quinnen Williams pic.twitter.com/myVqaZ3mZn
Courtland Sutton was a beast
There’s only so much I can say about Sutton’s game before I see the wide angle on the all-22, so bear with me. Following a week where a report out of practice led to numerous questions about Sutton’s knee, it was awesome to see how he reasserted himself as the go-to guy after a relatively quiet week one against James Bradberry.
Teddy Bridgewater finds Courtland Sutton for 34 pic.twitter.com/yNOCpRpL48— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
The Broncos’ pass rush did its part
There’s going to be matchups down the road where it really hurts the defense when Von Miller has to catch his breath. We saw a glimpse of that today in the third quarter when Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper weren’t able to pressure Trevor Lawrence on 2nd and five only to watch the rookie miss his receiver. With that said, when Miller played the rush was a constant nuisance.
Dre'Mont Jones deserves some credit for holding up the Jags RG and RT so Von Miller has a free run at Trevor Lawrence. pic.twitter.com/mR5mTPajpq— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
As nice as Miller’s 109th sack looked, it’s worth remembering that a good pass rush doesn’t always mean sacks. Sometimes it leads to bad misses on critical downs, such as when Fangio used Malik Reed and Shelby Harris on a stunt to hurry Lawrence on third down.
Broncos use a T-E stunt with Malik Reed and Shelby Harris on 3rd down. Harris pressures Trevor Lawrence and Denver gets a stop pic.twitter.com/XJvX3Crdp3— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Constant pressure tends to impact an opponents process, as well. Over the course of the game it became clear the Denver defense was getting in Lawrence’s head as he’d rush his process when he sensed the rush. This was a factor in the Kareem Jackson pick, though to the veteran safeties credit: he made a really nice play reading the quarterback’s eyes to jump the route.
This will be a fun play to go back over on the all-22.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Reed hems Lawrence into the pocket and works back inside to hurry him. Jackson clearly jumped the route. pic.twitter.com/6pPaQoYDIU
If Chubb is out for long, it’d make a ton of sense for Vic Fangio to dial up more blitzes with Alexander Johnson. This was something the Broncos did to try and mitigate the loss of Von in 2020 and it’s a great way to add juice to the rush. Johnson has the play strength and explosiveness to be a real threat.
If the Broncos are going to be without Bradley Chubb going forward, I hope Fangio looks to blitz Alexander Johnson more. Did so in 2020 and it fits his skillset. pic.twitter.com/3uimc1xYkd— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Teddy Bridgewater was better than the numbers today
The Broncos starting quarterback finished the day 26/34 for 328 yards, two touchdowns, and three sacks. Those numbers count what should have been a DPI on Courtland Sutton as an incompletion and do not include the 35-yard DPI Tim Patrick drew in the third quarter. On top of those two plays, Bridgewater was money on the Broncos 2-minute drive at the close of the first half, but his pass fell incomplete because K.J. Hamler never turned his head in time to haul in the pass.
Teddy Bridgewater finds Noah Fant on an out route and the tight end does the rest.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2021
Broncos touchdown! pic.twitter.com/yIrT0bJ4eD
By and large, the veteran was surgical underneath and continued to help his protection with the way he quickly dumped off when the rush got free. He also continued to display the poise Broncos Country hasn’t seen Peyton Manning retired, and didn’t hesitate to take shots when the opportunities presented themselves.
Bridgewater did all this with a woefully inconsistent running game that averaged 3.2 yards per carry, a number that looks better because two of Javonte Williams 13 carries went for 30 yards.