The Falcons and Broncos get set for a Week 9 clash in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in a matchup between two teams looking to build momentum off of successful Week 8 wins.
We went behind enemy lines to gain some perspective on the Broncos from those who watch them every week and who know them best — our friends over at Mile High Report, the official SBNation site of the Denver Broncos.
Let’s get right into it with our five questions.
Drew Lock really came on strong at the end of last season, but has battled injury and has looked a bit more inconsistent in 2020. What’s the long term outlook and prevailing opinion on him?
That’s kind of the question right now. John Elway spent the offseason doing everything he could to surround Lock with the kind of supporting cast where he almost has to succeed if not for his own issues. He has a veteran play caller who helped coach Case Keenum to the best year of his career and a strong backfield to depend on. The additions of Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler as well as Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant’s growth were meant to open up the deep passing game which suited Lock’s strengths. Instead the Broncos lost Sutton early in the year while K.J. Hamler and Lock have struggled through injuries of their own.
The receiving corps let Lock down against the Patriots by dropping a number of touchdown passes, but issues with erratic footwork and reading the field doomed him against the Chiefs. Last week showed hints of growth which has me optimistic he’s starting to grasp Pat Shurmur’s offense, but it’s hard to say until he plays more.
I think Broncos’ Country wants to believe in Lock, but most are holding their collective breath. The hope is he can be a worthy successor to Peyton Manning and John Elway, but he has to improve his footwork, anticipation, pocket management, and the mental side of playing quarterback.
(I wrote this right before Lock came back from injury and it may help to shed more light on his strengths and weaknesses)
We know about Bradley Chubb, but tell us about some of the other impact players on this Broncos defense who have stepped up and made this a very respectable unit in Von Miller’s absence.
Shelby Harris’ status is in doubt right now and if he can’t play it will dramatically change the Broncos’ defense. He’s quietly been one of the better gap shooting defensive tackles in football this year and has locked down his gaps in run defense. There’s no way around it: without him the Falcons will have a much easier time running the ball.
The way Fangio has shifted the defense to a more aggressive blitz heavy defense has suited Alexander Johnson’s skillset perfectly. Keep an eye on where 45 is and you’ll have a decent idea what’s coming on passing downs. The Broncos also like to send Josey Jewell, but it’s more about hiding him in coverage.
In the secondary the two names to keep in mind are Bryce Callahan and Justin Simmons. Callahan’s played both boundary and nickel corner this year and depending on what happens with A.J. Bouye could wind up tasked with Julio Jones duty as a way to try and protect undrafted rookie Essang Bassey. Simmons is the Broncos’ All Pro safety. He’s got a Swiss Army knife kind of skillset and offers Fangio someone with elite skills in mirroring. Last week he baited Justin Herbert into throwing a quietly huge interception.
How would you rate the job that Vic Fangio has done since taking over as the head coach before last season? Is there anything he’s doing differently this year in comparison to last year?
The way Fangio’s adjusted his defense this year in order to survive the loss of Von Miller has really impressed me. It may sound like I’m trying to make excuses, but the truth is many of the issues Fangio’s dealt with aren’t entirely within his control. Injuries have meant he’s had six different starting quarterbacks since last year and he’s only had four games with both Bradley Chubb and Miller in the lineup. I
All this to say: I’ve been really happy with Fangio so far.
Tell us a little bit about the wide receiver group that Lock has to work with. Jerry Jeudy was a high-profiled player at Alabama, but some of the other guys aren’t really household names. What can we expect from them in the passing attack?
More and more it looks like the rookies will play key roles in the gameplans going forward. Jeudy has been playing inside and outside and is as advertised: elite route running and shifty in the open field. He’s had some issues with drops, but Lock hasn’t lost faith in him yet. K.J. Hamler will see the ball on jet sweeps as well as in the passing game. He’s a waterbug who scored the game winning touchdown last week.
Keep an eye on the lineups because if Tim Patrick can play it will probably have a sort of waterfall effect on the passing attack. When he’s been healthy, he’s been the Broncos’ X-receiver and the de-facto WR1 as Lock’s favorite target. He’s a tall receiver who does a nice job playing bully ball and is sneaky good at comeback routes.
DaeSean Hamilton was clutch last week, but has spent most of his career working through issues with concentration drops. He’s not a dynamic athlete. He does all the dirty work you could ever ask for and is a good run blocker. He’s also a very good route runner who can catch opponents sleeping.
If Patrick can’t go the Broncos could give some snaps to Fred Brown, Tyrie Cleveland, and/or Diontae Spencer. Brown is more special teamer than anything. Cleveland’s a rookie who’s shown promising athleticism and physicality. Spencer’s a returner who hasn’t practiced this week. His role tends to be a smaller version of what Shurmur asks from Hamler when he’s healthy.
How do you see this one playing out?
I think Drew Lock has his best statistical game since Houston last year and the Broncos win a barn burner.
I would like to thank Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) of Mile High Report for taking the time to answer a few of my questions ahead of this matchup.