On Saturday night my wife asked me, “Do we really have to wake up that early and watch another Bronco game?”
The weird thing here is that she loves the Denver Broncos as much as I do (I out-kicked my coverage in so many ways).
We were both thankful that we set the alarm and finally got to see our team score not 1, not 2, but 3 whole NFL touchdowns.
It was magic.
The earth moved.
I know it was just the Jacksonville Jaguars and that they kinda suck. I get it. I’m just saying a small light is shining in Broncos Country and every little bit helps when you have a head coach that is so green and an offense so limp.
This defense week in and week out is playing phenomenal ball. Part of what makes this season so maddening is that if you are a football geek, you can tell that this defense is absolutely playing playoff-quality football. One of my favorite things about the defense is how well Ejiro Evero mixes in the schemes and play calls to keep opponents off-guard. He’s creatively bringing in pressure from the front-7 (dropping an OLB or lineman at times to rush an ILB or safety) and it really does create delays for the opponent’s offense that are helping them win the play.
We need to give a shout-out to rookie Nik Bonitto for his performance in this game. He’s showing why the Broncos drafted him with some really nice burst and speed to fight for a big-time strip sack. He got a bunch of effective pressure as a rusher. My only concern for him is his ability to set the edge well against the rush (hopefully this gets resolved this offseason with some functional strength and muscle gain which is a typical need for most front-7 rookies).
It was so good to see Josey Jewell healthy and on the field again. His play is a level above the other ILBs on our roster and the defense looks so much more sound with him on the field. He saved a massive play on a screen by making a great open-field tackle in the backfield. He did it again late in the game for another loss of yards.
Dre’Mont Jones continues his tear as a Bronco with a sack, 3 TFL, and a ton of interior pressure. He’s honestly looking like one of the best interior linemen in the league young player hungry for his payday. This is a player I’d love to see Paton lock up sooner rather than later.
K’Waun Williams had a spectacular day at cornerback for us. His coverage was consistently superb and led to an arguably game-sealing interception that Trevor Lawrence had no business throwing. Let’s point out here that he did this as our #3 corner. Neither Patrick Surtain II nor Damarri Mathis was targeted much in the game.
Speaking of interceptions, how good was the pick by Justin Simmons on the goal line? That’s the kind of play we want to see from our all-pro free safety and it was arguably the play of the game. He perfectly read the QB’s eyes and made a hell of an athletic play to pick the pass off.
I haven’t mentioned Kareem Jackson’s name much this year, but I’ll say that his tackling support in this game was noticeable. He did a great job of sealing down plays in the middle of the field. I think Caden Sterns healthy is an upgrade from a coverage standpoint, but Jackson still has the goods.
I really liked a lot of the play design in this game. It worked better than anything all season long because our players executed well including Russell Wilson trusting the read progression instead of ignoring it for the most part.
There’s clearly more work to do, though as the team still mostly was terrible at any semblance of consistent offensive production. They had the 3 TD drives and a whole lot of awful.
One of the areas that need improvement is their execution on 1st down. I tallied up their plays on first down and came up with the following (a “good” play gains 3 or more yards):
1st Down Plays
|Good Pass||Good Run||Ineffective Pass||Ineffective Run|
|Good Pass||Good Run||Ineffective Pass||Ineffective Run|
50/50 is not a good split and it feeds into everything the offense does. Why do we suck at 3rd down so bad? One of the problems is how consistently the team needs long yardage (4 or more) to convert. If they can get on schedule, they will see more success.
Coming out of halftime, Wilson was finally walking through his progressions. It led to quick passes to open guys or dump-offs to take what the defense was giving. That drive is something that Hackett needs to review specifically with him as the perfect example of how Wilson needs to run this offense. Before that, Wilson’s tendency to lock onto a route and throw it no matter what led to his really bad interception.
I’m going to state it again: there’s a lot that can be improved by our quarterback and he needs proper coaching. I’m still seeing a lot of this team trying to have him be a pocket passer which isn’t what he’s historically been. If your offense is going to ask a player to do something he’s not great at, the coaches should be really helping him grow. I saw signs of growth in this area in this game, but if we aren’t going to include designed roll-outs with ½ field reads to better utilize his skillset, it has to continue to get better.
The line play was not good in this game. But let’s be fair: the Jacksonville defensive front is spectacular. Also, the Bronco lost their starting center and had to shuffle around the tackles on the outside as well.
I will say that the line after Lloyd Cushenberry went out looked better by a large margin. I think you keep Graham Glasgow at center until the end of the season as it was a clear upgrade.
I will state that I miss Mike Munchak being our O-line coach. I really feel like this line would be performing better given all the injuries if they were coached at a higher level.
There was nothing spectacular from our run game honestly. Yes, we punched in a couple of TDs (which they should be able to do). But when you look at the game, our best runners were our QB and a wide receiver on an end around.
It isn’t that we didn’t see good runs from both Latavius Murray and Melvin Gordon III. It is that we saw too many stuffs and their good runs were at most 9 yards.
This game was a master class on how to use a speed freak like K.J. Hamler to cause absolute headaches for your opponents. It wasn’t just his 47-yard bomb in the 4th quarter, either. He was influencing a ton of plays just by being on the field. The Jaguars kept having to worry about him with both a corner and a safety which led to chunk plays behind him for easy gains.
Greg Dulcich is a rookie that looks like a home run hit from our 2022 draft class. He’s fast, has good hands, and understands how to run his route tree. In our opening drive of the 3rd quarter, he caught 3 passes for 78 yards. The offense needs to keep using him as he’s an absolute weapon at tight end.
We also need to point out how effective Jerry Jeudy was in this game. He was our most targeted WR (with good reason) and was really showing off his ability to create separation with his excellent route-running abilities. The most encouraging thing is that it seems to me that Wilson is finally starting to get a feel for it.
The only thing notable here was that Jacksonville had some pretty effective returns against our kickoff units. It wasn’t game-changing, but there was one return that was one broken tackle from being game-changing.
I truly believe that Nathaniel Hackett saved his job for a few weeks with this win. The troubling thing for the head coach is that the team is still getting flagged way too often. The lack of discipline from the team overall says a great deal.
Also, his game management still boggles the mind at times. It literally looked like the ref at one point bailed him out when he lost track of the play clock and seemed to signal for a timeout earlier than he should have.
The key is going to be how well the offense looks next week against the Titans. If we go back to <20 points, the seat will once again get hot for Hackett.