can the Denver Broncos break out of the NFL basement?
By John Wozniak
The Denver Broncos (1-4) caused an upset in Week 5 by defeating divisional rivals the Los Angeles Chargers. It was the first win for rookie head coach Vic Fangio. Denver is one of three teams playing .200 football right now, with four teams behind them without a win. Fortunately for Fangio, he has the personnel to escape from the NFL basement of bad teams. The next opponents on the docket for the Broncos are the 2-3 Tennessee Titans.
BRONCOS ESCAPE STARTS ON DEFENSE
Denver’s defense had a slow start to the 2019 season, as they didn’t register a single sack for three straight games. In Week 4, the Jacksonville Jaguars ran the ball for 269 yards against the Broncos, adding to these problems. However, the Chargers were held to just 35 yards on the ground in the following week. Coming into the season the expectation was that Denver’s strength lies with their defense. Right now they rank 22nd against the rush, seventh against the pass and seventh overall, which would suggest despite the sluggish start the are living up to that expectation.
Losing Bradley Chubb is huge, and now the Broncos must rely on Von Miller‘s pass-rushing abilities to disrupt opposing offenses. Miller has recorded two sacks this season, and both came in Week 4. Sunday’s opponents are the Tennessee Titans, and they must guard against Miller, as Miller’s presence is crucial for Denver. The second overall pick from the 2011 draft has started 125 games, and during that time he has registered 100 sacks and 200 quarterback hits.
I feel good, we got the win. I’ve said it before, that’s the most important thing. All of that stuff really doesn’t matter if you don’t win. The week before, I had two sacks in a game. We lost the game and I really couldn’t tell the difference. It’s all about winning games and we played a solid game of defense that game. The sacks, I still just believe they’re going to come. We’ve been rushing good and we’ve got great schemes in, so we’ve got to keep playing (Von Miller) – via Broncos.com
Justin Simmons and Alexander Johnson each have an interception to their name, but it’s an area of the game where the Broncos must improve. Forcing turnovers provides a questionable offense with an opportunity to use good field position to put points on the board. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has moved his personnel around to try and generate more pressure, including giving Mike Purcell an opportunity at nose tackle.
John Elway was an elite quarterback, but the Denver General Manager hasn’t had the best judgment when selecting a passer. Peyton Manning worked out just fine, but beyond that just look down the history of the roster and Tim Tebow and Trevor Semien hit you square between the eyes. Joe Flacco is now under centre but the former Raven is unlikely to win any votes in the MVP conversation, making him a solid but unexciting option. Flacco is a veteran of the game, but he’s into his 12th season and is yet to register a passer rating of over 93.6. Flacco’s career-high 27 touchdowns came all the way back in 2014, with a career passing high of 4,317 in 2016.
Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton have been the biggest outlets for Flacco on the ground and through the air, respectively. Lindsay has 69 carries for 327 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers struggled to contain Lindsay in Week 5, and hopefully he can continue that form into the remainder of the season. Sutton has 24 receptions with 307 yards and two touchdowns, demonstrating the upside the Broncos hoped he would possess. Emmanuel Sanders also provided some assistance in the passing game, but the aging receiver can be hard to trust week-to-week coming off his Achilles injury.
SCOUTING: FRAGILE TENNESSEE OFFENSIVE LINE
Marcus Mariota has been under a lot of pressure through the first five weeks of the season. The Tennessee Titans don’t have a good pass protection unit in front of him. The Titans have given up 22 sacks on Mariota, for a loss of 155 yards, that’s a league-high. Rodger Saffold has allowed five sacks this season, a league-high, and Saffold looks like a different player to the one we saw in a Rams uniform. However, despite that pressure, Mariota is yet to throw an interception, and that trend could continue against the Broncos secondary, which we highlighted above has had trouble turning the ball over.
The 2019 Titans are one of just six teams since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to have just one turnover through the first five games of a season (via SB Nation).
The Titans defense will provide Denver with a sturdy test, as they rank top-10 in net yards per passing attempt allowed. They have allowed a little more on the ground, ranking 16th in rushing yards per attempt. On an individual basis, Harold Landry has four sacks going into Sunday’s game. Meanwhile Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard both have two intereceptions to their names already this season. One positive for the Broncos is that first-round pick Jeffery Simmons is still out and won’t feature in this game. However, the good news for the Titans is he could be back as early as next week.
THE TOUCHDOWN FINAL WORD
There is no doubt the Broncos have dug a hole for themselves with this start. The AFC West is competitive and it could be another season without playoff football for the team from Mile High. What Denver must do is find a way to stay competitive and disrupt their divisional rivals. That’s easier said than done, but it starts by winning games like these against fringe playoff teams.
A field goal could win this game and be the difference between the Broncos remaining in the fight or slumping to 1-5. Who’d be a special teams player hey?
A MBA GRADUATE AND FORMER SOLDIER. JOHN ALSO WRITES FOR THE SCORECROW. HIS PASSION FOR THE GAME GROWS, AND A LOVE FOR THE CHARGERS CAME DURING A VISIT TO SAN DIEGO. JOHN WOULD’VE LOVED TO HAVE BEEN A RUNNING BACK.
Image credit: USA Today