Good teams beat bad teams badly, and so far the undefeated Broncos show the signs that they will be a good team. They have an efficient passing attack that can punish an opposing defense for committing too many resources to stop the ground game, and a sneaky good defense that comes in waves with the coverage to hold up on the back end.
In short, Zach Wilson and the winless Jets never had a chance.
Following the 26-0 victory, Denver has outscored it’s three weak opponents by a combined score of 76-26. Of the undefeated teams, the Broncos currently have the largest combined margin of victory. They entered today with a 74.6% chance at the postseason by Football Outsiders’ playoff odds report, and odds are that number is only going to go up.
After a quick look through my clips from the game, here’s my initial thoughts.
Teddy Bridgewater is the fulcrum on offense
The Broncos starting quarterback completed 77% of his 95 passes for 827 yards, four touchdowns, and no turnovers in September. It’s the best start since Peyton Manning was slinging the rock to Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas.
Bridgewater didn’t throw for a touchdown against the Jets, but he continued to help his pass protection at the line of scrimmage and make the right decisions with the ball post-snap. While it’s easy to overlook, the way he works through his progressions as he’s sliding around to buy himself time in the pocket is a big part Denver’s passing attack is so hard to defend. Defenses are caught in a bind where they need a better pass rush to knock Teddy out of rhythm and he combats it with easy completions to stay on schedule.
One thing I love about this play is you can see Bridgewater work through his progressions. pic.twitter.com/A6E2mtsHiK— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
Before the game I mentioned that New York had issues defending passes to the right, so it only made too much sense for Shurmur and Bridgewater to slice up the secondary on the boundary. Tim Patrick was the big beneficiary as the Broncos’ 6’4 receiver had his way with 6th round rookie Brandin Echols and also came up with a gutsy catch in a hole in the Jets’ zone.
2 traits of Tim Patrick's that really stand out to me here is how good he is at tracking the ball, and how he's so adept at using his body to secure the catch. pic.twitter.com/wCCFyQJtj2— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
The Broncos dominated up front
Denver’s pass rush was a lot like an ocean today. The pressure came in unrelenting waves and rarely gave Zach Wilson time to set up in the pocket. As has been the case all year, it started with Von Miller and the way he could produce through the attention he drew.
If you're scoring at home, this is the kind of bend I've been waiting on for Von Miller.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
I think he's back gang pic.twitter.com/BVo5BpJYkm
New York’s focus on Miller looked as if it left them susceptible to the games Fangio threw at them, and the Broncos head coach did a really nice job mixing in calls for Alexander Johnson to blitz.
Alexander Johnson gets the first non-Von sack of the season.— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) September 26, 2021
Denver’s defense also utilized a number of stunts and simulated pressures to create uncertainty with the protection calls, which led to a number of unblocked rushes into the backfield. It happened on the Shelby Harris sack.
Maybe LaFleur shouldn't expect his back to block defensive linemen coming free down the shoot. pic.twitter.com/HORbPiKSYo— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
It also happened on a play late in the game where Malik Reed didn’t bring Zach Wilson down, but did force the rookie quarterback to throw the ball to no one on third down.
This is going to be a fun play to look at on the EZ angle. Reed works inside and Cooper loops all the way around from the right edge. pic.twitter.com/v7LGNeSwoa— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
New York didn’t find a whole lot of room to work with on the ground either. Michael Carter led the Jets in carries with nine and averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Late in the game Dre’Mont Jones got such a good jump off the snap I thought he’d beat Carter to the handoff. The issues with the rushing attack only exacerbated Wilson’s struggles as it left him in must-pass situations where the pass rush could pin their ears back.
5 yards in the backfield at the handoff whew https://t.co/wTVhLu8Uji— charles (redzone 2-0) mcdonald (@FourVerts) September 26, 2021
The Broncos have real issues along the offensive line
Please keep in mind this is something I’m going to need to zero in on (again) when I get a chance to go back through the all-22. From what I could tell from the broadcast angles it was not a great day for Graham Glasgow, Lloyd Cushenberry, and Dalton Risner. I took note of Glasgow getting bowled over and getting beat with speed at least a couple of times. Risner had his fair share of struggles with Quinnen Williams and the Jets front as well. Then they both left the game with injuries, which led to Quinn Meinerz making his offensive debut.
Someday soon we're going to want to have a chat about Dalton Risner. pic.twitter.com/XZBI9kqONi— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
Looking beyond the fact Denver’s starters are currently struggling for a minute, it is not great that both Risner and Glasgow could be limited or out for the week four matchup against Baltimore. The Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is one of the better play callers in the league and routinely leads the NFL in blitz calls. An interior of Meinerz, Cushenberry, and Netane Muti is begging for disaster.
The Broncos current OL— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
LG: Meinerz (1st time on O)
RG: Muti (4th game on O)
Baltimore could be scary as all hell.
Remember when the WR room was a strength?
It wasn’t too long ago we were celebrating the fact that the Broncos had perhaps the deepest receiver room in the league. Down Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, Pat Shurmur will enter Ravens week facing a dilemma: does he move away from three receiver sets since his third receiver is either a 5’9 163 lb. return specialist or Kendall Hinton? Like most teams in the league, the Broncos run 11 personnel as their base grouping. That may not work until Jeudy’s back to health, as Diontae Spencer’s size is such a limiting factor that he typically serves as little more than a decoy.
If Hamler's done and I suspect he is the Broncos receiving corps. is down to:— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
Diontae Spencer (return specialist)
Seth Williams and Tyrie Cleveland off the PS...
At least they got that 5th round pick for Trinity Benson though.
Throughout the preseason and first two weeks of the season Shurmur’s actually gone against type with the way he emphasized two and three tight end looks, so much so that the Broncos went with their “heavy” looks on 49% of all offensive snaps. Prior to Hamler’s injury the personnel calls continued to hang around 50-50 for 11 and everything else, though we did see two back sets with Andrew Beck lined up at fullback.
The Broncos come out in 21 personnel and Javonte Williams gets into the open field pic.twitter.com/hvXen86pNz— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
Given what looks like the current issues with the receiver room, it could make sense for Shurmur and the Broncos to try and use more 12 personnel. In theory, Noah Fant’s athletic enough to fill in as a big slot more often, so it may not be as limiting a factor as it would be for most teams.
Broncos come out in a 3X1 with a bunch to the top of the screen on 3rd and 4. Teddy Bridgewater misses Noah Fant on a corner.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 26, 2021
I suspect he'll want that one back. pic.twitter.com/veadQ2j2qO
Baltimore is going to be the first real test for the pass defense
Of all the issues the Broncos first three opponents had, none helped Denver more than the lackluster play at quarterback. Outside of his rookie year with Shurmur and fantasy football, Daniel Jones has been a massive disappointment in the league. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have combined to throw seven interceptions and both look as if they’ll threaten Peyton Manning’s rookie interception record in a 17-game campaign.
For all the sports talk narratives, Lamar Jackson is on a completely different level. He has the arm talent to pull up from what looks like a scramble to toss the ball down the sideline and the accuracy to shred underneath zones if Denver plays him too soft. The fact he’s also the most dangerous running quarterback in NFL history complicates these facts even more. The Ravens rushing offense is as efficient as most passing offenses and the fact it functions as an option system can really open up the aerial attack.
Final Thoughts (for now)
With Denver leaving their first home victory almost certainly minus K.J. Hamler and possibly both their starting guards, it’s entirely possible today marks a high point for the 2021 campaign. I’ll admit I’m quite optimistic that the core pieces, coaching staff, and depth is good enough to continue rolling towards an 11-win season and a playoff berth, but also aware I could be sipping the orange Kool-Aid.
The Broncos will host the Ravens with seven starting caliber players missing, and my offseason Cover2Broncos chat with Pro Football Focus’ Tej Seth revealed injuries tend to snowball until about midseason. Given the fact Jerry Jeudy won’t return for at least a month, Bradley Chubb longer still, and Denver will face off against the Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, and Browns without either. Things are about to get a whole lot tougher.
Let’s hope they’re up for the challenge.