The New York Jets play host to the Denver Broncos tonight in what many are calling the Trevor Lawrence Bowl. Previewing this matchup, Joe Rowles of Mile High Report was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2020 Broncos.
1. The Broncos and the Jets get together this week in what may be the Trevor Lawrence Bowl. Who do you think wins this game, and which of these two teams has the better shot at the #1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft?
We’re at a point where I don’t consider any game a given for the Broncos. They’ll enter this week without their starting QB, WR1, ED1, DT1, CB1, RT1 and RT2, RB2, DT3, DT4, LB3, CB4... You get it. It’s at a point where players signed a week ago have begun suiting up. Right now I lean Broncos because through all of those losses they’ve shown a great deal of fight under Vic Fangio, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
At least according to the Football Outsiders’ Playoff Odds report I keep up with, the Broncos currently have the best odds at the first pick in the 2021 draft, but I assume this week’s game has a huge impact on that.
2. Both the Broncos and the Jets have been devastated by injuries this year. Unlike the Jets, however, the Broncos have some very talented players when healthy. Is this Broncos team a contender in a healthier year, or is it time for a major rebuild?
What’s been lost on part of Broncos’ Country as well as the national media is how the Broncos came into this year with what looked like a roster set to contend for the playoffs if Drew Lock panned out. Losing Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, and A.J. Bouye in the span of a week has thrown that into chaos and the injuries haven’t let up.
In many ways this roster will go down as the team that never was because they never logged so much as a game with all their talent and the Covid-related cap crunch is sure to mean some losses in 2021.
3. Is the starting QB for the next five years on the current Broncos roster? If so, who is it, and how good do you think he will be?
If I had to bet today, I’d say he isn’t. The jury is firmly out on Drew Lock and I remain cautiously optimistic he could become an NFL caliber quarterback in time. That said, he’s yet to show that the Broncos can afford to pass over this talented 2021 crop if the record puts them in position to draft one. Right now it looks like he will return for the Miami Dolphins or maybe even next week against the Patriots.
For Drew Lock to prove he’s the guy, he’ll need to do a much better job handling pressure. Against the Titans and the first two drives in Pittsburgh Lock was really shaky at managing the pocket and making use of it to divert pressure. Instead he’d fall away from the line of scrimmage or bail to his right, which is how he got hurt by Bud Dupree.
The other big thing I want to see from Lock if the Broncos are going to give him more time to prove he can be their franchise quarterback is anticipatory throws. It was a knock I had on Lock dating back to Missouri: he’s a see-it-throw-it passer which costs his receivers yards after the catch and often leads him to squeezing the ball into tight or closed windows.
Josh Allen may be proof that there’s reason to believe time will help Lock. If he can work on these two things and stay healthy I think his ceiling is something close to Matt Stafford.
4. How would you go about attacking this Broncos team on offense and on defense if you were the Jets?
Now that Elijah Wilkinson is out the Broncos will start a third string right tackle. If It’s Demar Dotson he spent all training camp with the third team and there’s some concern about his conditioning. If it winds up Calvin Anderson, he’s taking his first real NFL action.
Outside of the right tackle, the interior of the line has also been a mess. Lloyd Cushenberry has badly struggled through three weeks and his issues are leading to problems with both guards. Dalton Risner’s also looked like a shell of his rookie self, particularily against stunts where he’s late to pick up the looper.
Defensively, the Broncos’ pass rush is very dependent on stunts and blitzes. That leaves the middle of the field and secondary out of position if Darnold and the offensive line can buy him a little time. With two rookie corners starting, there’s opportunities for huge plays and Josey Jewell is abysmal in coverage on the second level.
5. What Broncos players that may not be well known to the casual fan should Jets fans be on the lookout for on Thursday night?
The Broncos best defensive lineman this year is Shelby Harris, who really tore up the Buccaneers last week. With Jurrell Casey out, the line will rely heavily on him, Bradley Chubb, and Jeremiah Attaochu. He’s got a nice swim move and worked Donovan Smith on a stunt in week 2.
You probably know most of the names Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Noah Fant since they were all highly drafted, but one player the Broncos’ offense leaned on heavily without Courtland Sutton is Tim Patrick. He’s a former UDFA out of Utah and creates mismatches with his height and straight-line speed.