We are three weeks into the season and I’m starting to get a feel for this team. As we were watching the game, I shared that they remind me of the 2015 Broncos: a dominating defense propping up an inept offense.
The difference here is that this is a young team all-around that has a lot of potential for growth. The hope is that we see that on the offensive side of the ball (which common sense tells us we should).
This was a hard-fought win against an excellent team. It is one that this young team, their coaches, and their front office should feel very good about. The 49ers are well-coached and have an excellent roster. Their defense especially looked impressive with a tremendous front seven and some of the best linebacker play you will see in the NFL.
My hat is off to this defense. Before the season started, I had big questions about the coach and the roster, and fully expected this defense to take a solid step back. I am pleased to eat crow on this one. Ejiro Evero has this defense dialed in and ready to play week-in and week-out.
None of the three offenses the Broncos have faced so far this season is anything close to a passing powerhouse in the NFL. That being said, to hold teams to an average of 13 points per game over three weeks is impressive. You have to be at least above average at defending the pass and the run to pull that off regardless of competition.
Coach Evero and his defense are carrying this team to wins with a powerhouse pass rush, sound coverage on the back end, and a shutdown cornerback who is just getting started in his young career.
Josey Jewell is back, baby! He had a superb TFL late in the 1st quarter, reading the play perfectly and attacking the ball. He also recovered a fumble in the 2nd half on a mis-snapped ball by the 9ers. The guy was a play-making machine leading the team in tackles, getting a sack, 2 TFLs, and 2 QHs. I can not stress enough how an excellent inside linebacker elevates the play of a defense overall. It is good to have you back, Josey!
Mike Purcell balled out this week. He had a nice run stop up the middle on the game’s first drive. Later in the 2nd half, he fights through two linemen and forces a safety for the Broncos. He was moving the pocket consistently from the NT position which makes this defensive front just hum in every aspect of what they want to do from down to down.
Randy Gregory is looking every bit the part of an elite edge player for this team. He had a great speed rush off the right side in the 2nd half to get a big-time sack. He was pressuring the QB all night long and was even looking superb in coverage when he had to do it.
Bradley Chubb also looked superb on the other edge (when they didn’t line both of our pass rushers on the same side). He had a great pass rush to stop a drive on 3rd and long. Just like Gregory, he was downright disruptive and it is so good to see him looking healthy again. I will say his coverage was not nearly as solid as Gregory’s but it was a big ask on a wide route to the sideline for a big man like Chubb.
Jonas Griffith needs a shout-out as well. The young stud made a key interception at the end of the game where he was trailing the play and thanks to great coverage by his teammates, he was in a great position to make a big play on the deflected ball.
Let’s be real for a minute. Patrick Surtain II is a shut-down cornerback. He gave up 0 passes on six targets, which is absolutely dumb in the NFL. They had him moving around as well situationally as I saw him lined up on George Kittle a couple of times, which made Jimmy Garappolo look elsewhere.
Ronald Darby got flat-footed on the 49ers’ first touchdown. He has to see the receiver move and immediately respond or the opponent will score a touchdown 100% against him. The problem there was the alignment and if we’re being honest, it wasn’t a touchdown…it was an OPI as the 49ers blatantly got away with a big penalty and gifted 6 by the refs.
P.J. Locke was only on the field for 18% of the snaps, but the young player got the key fumble to end the game. He was ready and he made a huge game-changing play. I hope it has him hungry for more. Success can oftentimes beget success for your young NFL players who are dialed in and ready to go when their number is called.
Let’s start by giving the offense credit where it is due — this offense was run much more smoothly than in the first two games of the season. The team looked far better prepared (fewer penalties) and the play calls were consistently ready without frustrating delays of game or wasteful time-outs.
But man, oh man, the play calling needs work. This game offensively got bailed out by Russell Wilson doing Russell Wilson things. It won in spite of the play calling, not because of it.
A quick list of obvious things:
- Swing passes to the flat against teams playing zone with excellent coverage linebackers are low percentage plays. We threw way too many of them that got little to nothing and set us behind schedule offensively.
- At the end of the game on 3rd and 9 when the opponent has timeouts left, running the ball to burn one of their time-outs is meaningless. Get a high percentage pass play that Wilson can run and see if you can end the game. He can always throw it away if it isn’t there or looks too risky.
- This offensive line is good at run blocking. We have good running backs. Stop going shotgun so often, line up in 12 (1 running back, 2 tight ends personnel), and use that to force the defense to load the box (which opens up play action).
Russell Wilson’s 1st quarter throwing left much to be desired. He was off on pretty much all of his passes past the line of scrimmage. He locked onto initial reads and was very inaccurate.
As the game wore on, he woke up and started clicking with more accurate passes and many scrambles with short dump-offs to get first downs.
The one TD drive we had was honestly Wilson willing us forward with several key plays he made to keep the chains moving and get the drive home. It was mile-high magic at its best and I loved it. My only question is why wait until the 4th quarter to throw those wrinkles in? Why not sprinkle in some RPOs and rollouts for this kind of play just to keep the defenses on their toes?
This was easily the roughest game of the season for the offensive line. A lot of that had to do with the opponent to be fair, but nevertheless, they struggled to keep the defense off of Wilson, giving up 3 sacks on the night and 9 quarterback hits.
Garett Bolles looked particularly bad in this game with a holding penalty and a really rough night holding down the left edge. Honestly, Cam Flemming didn’t fare much better on the right side (he had some cat named Nick Bosa giving him fits for some strange reason all night).
I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention both Andrew Beck and Dalton Risner. On the touchdown run, they pulled Risner perfectly and had Beck lead block as a fullback. It was an excellent design and both of these guys made that walk-in touchdown easy for Gordon.
Our running attack largely crashed back to earth with only 3.1 ypc between Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III, and Russell Wilson. They faced an excellent front that bottled them up really for most of the night.
Of note were Gordon’s fumbles (he had two on the night). He’s leading the league in our short sample size of three games for most fumbles by a running back.
The 49ers defense was largely doing a number on our receivers coverage-wise. They didn’t even break 200 yards passing. But just as notable was how many drops this team had. We had drive-extending plays dropped multiple times, and the receivers, backs, and tight ends all need some quality time with the Juggs machine.
Courtland Sutton led the team again with 97 yards receiving making some game-changing plays and having his one hit-my-hands-and-bounced-away drop per game.
Jerry Jeudy had a rough go of it, only snagging two catches on 6 targets. His drop on the deep tipped pass late in the game was heart-wrenching. It won’t go in the record books as a drop since the defender tipped it, but elite NFL receivers catch those passes (ask my boy Shannon Sharpe, as I’m sure his Hall of Fame opinion would agree).
Kendal Hinton may not have elite size, speed, or route running, but my guy catches the balls that come his way and his 27-yard catch in the 4th quarter was absolute fire.
The Broncos Special Teams had themselves a very solid game. They did a superb job on the initial kickoff getting a stop at the 10. Their coverage on returns looked much improved from what we saw in the first two weeks of the season.
Corliss Waitman got a friggin game-ball after all. He was asked to punt the ball 10 times and honestly killed it with placement, angle, and hang time.
All eyes are on this Denver Broncos offense. We hired a young offensive guy as head coach. We made a blockbuster trade for an elite NFL quarterback in his prime. The team is going through the necessary growing pains as a team as they learn the plays, grow their understanding of their jobs from play to play, and try to get to where they can just play and not have to think.
I saw growth on that front in this game. Sure, we want to see 20+ points per game. That should be some kind of standard for sure.
But this win showed guts. I saw a team that didn’t give up for even one second. They believed and they fought from start to finish. That goes a long way in the NFL. And underneath it all is a sleeping beast. When this offense finally wakes up, the NFL is going to take notice. It is all just a question of when...