Last week wasn’t the bounce back game we’d hoped for. The Denver Broncos got the win, but it was another sloppy mess of penalties and coaching errors. That might fly against a bottom feeder like the Houston Texans, but this week the San Francisco 49ers are coming to town. And, fresh off an NFC Championship Game appearance, they’re a whole different beast to try to handle.
So how do the Broncos beat a team with some serious strengths? Let’s take a look:
#1: Nail the dang details.
This is probably going to be our #1 key to victory until it’s resolved.
Through 2 weeks of play the Broncos lead the league in penalties at 25. The next closest team, the Browns, have only 19 penalties so far. 25 penalties is also the highest figure in Broncos team history through 2 weeks of play. That’s right: this is a historic level of lack of discipline.
25 penalties in two weeks — the most in a two-game span in Broncos history.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 19, 2022
Three false-start penalties … again.
Two delay-of-game penalties … again. And somehow, both on placekicks. Didn’t even mention burning a timeout before a punt return. pic.twitter.com/XnI2w9UQLq
It’s safe to say that this excessive lack of discipline, combined with game management issues from coach Hackett, forms the biggest single obstacle between this Broncos team and success- in this game or any other. When you have to take timeouts on 4th down twice in a game because your decision-making is utterly indecisive and/or because simple things like getting the right guys onto the field of play for a punt return is apparently too hard... that is humiliating for a franchise with as storied a history as the Broncos.
You can’t move on to trying to outfox the other team if you’re still too busy beating yourself. If the Broncos want to win the game, they need to win the battle in their own heads first.
#2: Don’t let the 49ers offense dictate the game.
Under Kyle Shanahan the 49ers are the running-est team in football. Their 82 rushing attempts is the most of any team through 2 games, and that at an efficient 4.5 yards per carry. If they can get going on the ground they will absolutely use that as a crutch to help Jimmy Garoppolo as he continues catching up from his offseason/preseason as the Forgotten Man.
Moreover, if the 49ers can gain and keep the initiative on the ground, they’ll be able to control the clock and the pace of the game. This is a home game, and Denver needs to seize on the advantage that offers by controlling the pace themselves. Otherwise the effects of altitude and crowd noise can be notably mitigated.
So if the Broncos are to win, they need to limit the damage on the ground. A lot of that is on the shoulders of former 49er DJ Jones & his fellow defensive linemen- a unit that’s been pretty stout so far. We’ll also need significant run stopping contributions from our inside linebackers, where we’ll hopefully finally have Josey Jewell back on the field, and on the edges from guys like Baron Browning.
#3: Force turnovers.
If the offense can’t work out its red zone kinks and score reliably, then the defense will need to fill in the gap. It’s frustrating that that’s the reality yet again, but at least this year there’s plenty of reason to hope for progress as Wilson & company gain experience together in this scheme.
But for this week, the Broncos really need to win the turnover battle. Jimmy Garoppolo got almost no meaningful playing time or practice leading up to the season, which opens up the possibility of miscommunications with his receivers, bad route/pass timings, etc. Denver needs to capitalize on any mistakes and come up with at least 2 turnovers.
For my part, I’m hoping we’ll see Pat Surtain II return to the field this Sunday and take a pass all the way in the other direction for a pick six.
Give the offense a couple of short fields, along with the opportunity to surge into a lead or at least put enough points on the board to get comfortable, and we may start seeing the team work out its issues a little bit.