The New York Jets visit the Denver Broncos on Sunday in a matchup of struggling teams. Previewing this matchup, Joe Rowles of Mile High Report was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2021 Broncos.
1. The Broncos haven’t had an above average offense since the days of Peyton Manning. Now the Broncos have a top 7 offense in terms of yards. What are the main factors you would attribute for the turnaround?
It seems a bit simplistic to tell you it comes down to “Teddy Bridgewater is the Broncos best quarterback since Manning retired” but that’s the crux of it. The veteran has meshed beautifully with Pat Shurmur’s offense, which has allowed the Broncos offensive coordinator to expand upon the stripped down version of his system we saw with Drew Lock under center. A competent quarterback who can make the right read pre-snap, identify pressure, and find his hot read means the Broncos are mixing in empty sets with heavy personnel with play action shot plays, which puts a lot of stress on opposing defenses. Bridgewater’s also displayed the poise to keep his eyes downfield with bodies flying around in the pocket, which has helped to mitigate the issues Denver’s had up front to start the year.
2. Jets fans might not be familiar with the changes in the Broncos since last year. Could you summarize the key additions and subtractions to the players and coaching staff? What new faces are playing key roles in 2021?
Bridgewater starting over Drew Lock is going to be the easiest one to identify, but this Broncos roster is quite a bit different since you all watched Brett Rypien throw to Jerry Jeudy. For starters, Jeudy is on injured reserve while Courtland Sutton is off it, so the Broncos receiving corps won’t look the same. This time last year Albert Okwuegbunam wasn’t playing yet and Eric Saubert was a Jaguar, now they’re both key parts of an offense that uses three tight sets more than anyone in the league. Denver also added veteran Bobby Massie to try and solidify the right side of the offensive line. One new face that may or may not play on offense is Netane Muti, who started at right guard last week when Graham Glasgow missed the game against the Jags.
On defense, we seem to have Von Miller instead of Bradley Chubb this year. The linebacker corps. is goin to be undergoing some changes because Josey Jewell suffered a season ending pec injury last weekend, so you’ll probably see Justin Strnad on normal downs and rookie safety Caden Sterns play the dimebacker role when New York has to pass. The cornerback room has been completely revamped over the offseason and looks like one of the best in football. Kyle Fuller is the right corner, while rookie Patrick Surtain II is starting at left in place of the injured Ronald Darby. Bryce Callahan is starting at the nickel.
3. The Broncos haven’t had a top quarterback since Peyton Manning. Teddy Bridgewater seems to have stabilized the position thus far. What are your feelings about Bridgewater? Is he just a good stopgap until the Broncos can draft or trade for a better option? Is he a long term answer at the position?
I think Bridgewater is good enough to stick around while George Paton tries to find a long term answer at the position. The Broncos first year general manager elected to pass on a rookie quarterback in his first draft and the 2022 QB crop looks pretty uninspiring, so I hope patience under center is the long term strategy. There also remains a distinct possibility the Broncos go out and sell the farm for a 38-year old Aaron Rodgers next offseason.
4. Few expected the Broncos to be a contender this year. So far the team is playing great and stands atop the AFC West standings. What do you think about the Broncos prospects this year? Is this a .500 ish team? A playoff team? A serious Super Bowl contender?
This is the most talented roster the Broncos have had since Peyton Manning retired. Over the course of the offseason when Broncos Country waited out the Aaron Rodgers saga the conventional wisdom was they’d become a top tier team with the Hall of Famer stepping into the lineup. While that didn’t happen, Bridgewater’s play so far is every bit as good as I hoped. They should be able to contend for the playoffs in a loaded AFC West and I think they’re a darkhorse Super Bowl contender if health luck works in their favor.
5. If you were the Jets coaching staff, how would you try to attack the Broncos on offense and on defense?
The Broncos biggest issue on offense is their interior offensive line and I expect Saleh to try and take advantage with games and the occasional blitz. Lloyd Cushenberry’s been underwhelming so far in his NFL career, struggling to win consistently on the ground and routinely getting pushed into the backfield on passing downs. His struggles have put more stress on Dalton Risner, Graham Glasgow, and now Netane Muti to try and help him, which can leave them out of position against stunts and quick opponents. Quinnen Williams could be in for a big day.
Attacking the defense is going to come down to Zach Wilson’s ability to read the field post-snap and take the easy completions. The Fangio defense plays out of a two high structure that will spin a safety post-snap and create different looks than the quarterback anticipated. These disguises do wonders for the rest of the defense as opponents have to hesitate to find the open man, which buys time for the pass rush to get home. We could see Mike LaFleur try to get a one-on-one against Kyle Fuller as the Broncos’ first two opponents have, especially if Von Miller isn’t on the field as the Denver edge depth is very inexperienced.