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Jets-Broncos Preview: 6 Questions with Mile High Report

New York Jets v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With the Jets getting set to take on the Broncos this Sunday, I asked Sadarine of Mile High Report a few questions on the state of Denver’s resident football franchise.

1. It’s been a rough start for Case Keenum as he ranks 31st of 34 qualifiers in passer rating, one spot behind Sam Darnold, and owns the worst TD-INT ratio in the league at 3-6. What has been the issue with Keenum and is there confidence that he can turn things around this year?

From the looks of it so far, Keenum’s game has regressed in a big way from last year’s version when he had an amazing run with the Minnesota Vikings.

I’ve heard a few voices out there throw out the idea that there is a large talent gap between the Broncos and the Vikings, to which I say, “nonsense.” The Broncos talent on offense is impressive and has looked at times this season sublime (especially at running back).

With 4 games under our belt of the Case Keenum era in Denver I can tell you that if his stats look bad (and they do) that it is due to his ability to throw the ball being very inconsistent. It isn’t Tim Tebow levels bad, but he’s overthrowing and underthrowing a lot of passes (look no further than the 2nd to last play against Kansas City where if the ball was thrown on target would have been a game winner).

I do think this is something that can improve a great deal. I keep hoping to see improvement, but he just hasn’t put the pieces together yet. The positive note we are left with is that he’s still looking far more legitimate than any QB we had starting in the past two years.

2. The young backs for the Broncos have been spectacular as Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are both top 15 in total rushing and averaging 5.0+ YPC. How do those two guys compliment one another, and how much credit does the offensive line deserve for springing the elite ground game Denver has had so far?

It can not be understated how well the offensive line is blocking up front. Especially our interior with Ron Leary, Matt Paradis, and Conner McGovern who all are consistently winning their blocks week after week. There are always holes to be had (unlike the past few seasons) which is giving the running backs the opportunity to make positive plays happen.

That being said both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are absolutely looking like future stars in the NFL. Lindsay has the kind of quicks and straight line speed that allow him to make twitch plays and hit openings for big gains before the defense really has time to react. His game is very much one you could compare to Darren Sproles in his prime. He’s also superb in the open field in maximizing yards using great angles and his aforementioned quickness.

Royce Freeman is the more traditional type running back you think of in the NFL. He has great power, a low center of gravity, and really impressive burst to go along with great vision. If the Broncos didn’t have a back like Lindsay who has consistent big play potential, Freeman would be a bell cow back and the talk of the NFL. His game really reminds me of Maurice Jones-Drew and I do honestly think he can attain that level of play in the next year or so.

3. Jets fans know what it’s like to unite in collective disdain for a head coach, as they are currently in that stage with Todd Bowles. Broncos fans seem to be in that place with Vance Joseph. Where is Joseph struggling and how safe is his job?

I belong to a small slice of Broncos Country that is still in wait-and-see mode with VJ. I completely throw out last season because there were too many signs that on the field decisions were being made by John Elway (playing time for high draft picks being the most obvious blunder).

The big thing I’ve called for from the Broncos this year is for them to be competitive and thus far they have been. Vance doesn’t appear in the least to have lost the locker room and as such, I honestly don’t get why all the noise about the HC in week 4 of the season.

But the team can’t have another bad season like last year. There is too much talent for them to be less than .500 by season end and if they are, I will be right aboard that train wanting a new head coach.

As far as his struggles, I will point largely to his on the field coaching on game day. He’s had a couple of pretty terrible oversights in challenging (both throwing the red flag on something that he’s never going to win and not challenging something that is worth a look).

His job in my mind is safe so long as the team stays plugged in and competitive. If we see another losing skid like last year and consistent double-digit blow outs, I can see him getting fired mid-season.

4. The Broncos are a middle-of-the-pack defense in the scoring for the second straight year despite their high quality talent. Is this unit still getting the low end of the stick from the offense or are they truly a step or two below elite level?

The scheme the Broncos have employed is predicated upon superb ability for your corners to play man coverage at a level far above average. Losing Aqib Talib took that ability away from the Broncos. They are trying to replace that talent level gap, but the roster just doesn’t have a corner that can play at that level to put across from Chris Harris, Jr.

Joe Woods is still coaching up guys like Bradley Roby, Adam Jones, and Tramaine Brock to be able to fit in the holes and make the base scheme work, but ultimately it isn’t going to be what it was in the glory days of 2015 or even 2016.

The other piece that makes the Broncos scheme work is its pass rush. While it hasn’t been terrible so far, it sure is a step or two away from elite. Von Miller had a great opening game and since then we have only seen a few flashes from him. Bradley Chubb is a rookie who is playing very well and rounding into shape, but the consistent high level of play just isn’t there quite yet. What is a bigger problem is a lack of interior pass rush that the Broncos have had since they let Malik Jackson go after their Super Bowl winning season. Demarcus Walker was supposed to be that guy, but he’s been a healthy inactive all season long to date.

I’d sum it up by saying this defense is good, not great. They definitely are stopping the run very well, but in today’s game having a weakness in pass defense doesn’t really let that strength shine much on game day.

5. How has the rookie class performed? Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton, and Royce Freeman each seem to be having great starts to their careers. Was there a feeling this class could be special right away or is their early production a surprise?

I’m not a big draftnik by any means, but I shared the sentiment of most of the MHR staff after the draft: they knocked it out of the part in 2018. Top to bottom (and even UDFA which is where we got Phillip Lindsay), the draft picks all look like solid players that can make an impact.

Bradley Chubb definitely has the look of a raw elite edge rusher / defender. Courtland Sutton is likely going to cost Demaryius Thomas his job in the next year or two as he does the same kind of things that DT does, but better. Royce Freeman is already looking like a solid starting RB. The other guy that I think is going to be a great player is Josey Jewell who looks like a very good instinctual player at ILB.

The early production I think has been a very pleasant surprise only in that I can’t remember the last time we had a head coach that would actually lean on rookies in the first year. But to Vance Joseph’s credit, he is playing the guys that look like the best players from week to week and it is paying off.

6. Are the Broncos a playoff-caliber team this year? If so, what major adjustments need to be made for them to get there?

They definitely can be. The biggest thing they need is for the offense to gear up and start performing at the QB position. We need better scoring earlier in games and it certainly isn’t a problem in the running game. If we can get more consistent scoring early, everything changes because there will be more pass rush opportunities on defense.