For this week's Five Good Questions I spoke with Kyle Montgomery, lead writer for SB Nation's Broncos Blog, Mile High Report. He gave us the scoop on the 6-2 Broncos which will come into O.co Sunday to face the still winless Raiders.
1. I was the only one on our staff to pick the Patriots to beat the Broncos in New England (hurt my arm patting myself on the back). And boy did they ever beat them. What's your theory on what happened? Were they looking past the Patriots to the Raiders?
Ha, that was a good one. There's no looking past the Patriots in Foxboro, even if the Broncos were playing both the Seahawks and the 1985 Bears simultaneously this week.
My theory to the loss is pretty simple: they entered an away game against a fired-up buzzsaw that is playing nearly perfect football. I also do not believe, defensively, the Broncos did enough to gameplan for Rob Gronkowski and company. There were times Gronk was covered by Von Miller - like in the red zone for a TD - and there were times DeMarcus Ware was also assigned coverage duties. Credit Bill Belichick and (/vomits) Josh McDaniels for the looks that created mismatches against Denver's D. But we also criticize defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for not focusing more on Gronk and not putting his playmakers in position to make plays. Add a handful of mistakes on offense and special teams and you have the recipe for a rout against a hot-as-hell Patriots team at home.
2. Is Montee Ball back and ready to go? If so, will he start? What do you expect to see from him?
Ball practiced Wednesday, and he looks to be practicing Thursday as well. We'll be watching his status on the injury report closely. He says he has lost weight (12 lbs.) since his injury, which puts him closer to his college playing weight, but he also said he will work to re-earn his starting job. It sounds like Ronnie Hillman has the edge to start this Sunday.
We ran a poll on MHR asking who fans wanted, and the majority of readers thought Hillman should keep the job, by a roughly 50-30 margin (with 20% going 'other' - backups C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson have looked pretty good in limited work).
3. I expected the Broncos defense to be pretty good this season, but Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware already approaching double digit sacks. That's just crazy. Is it simply their great pass rushing skills at work or is there more to it than that?
First, it's their great skills at work like you said. It's also the competition they have with one another. They admitted they're in a "race" to get to the quarterback, and Ware has taken Miller under his wing, He talks about Miller in such a way that you believe Ware when he says Miller could be the greatest pass rusher of all time. I know that's extremely hyperbolic, but Miller is on a sack-per-game pace right now in his career that matches some of the all-time bests.
Another one of the keys to Denver's sack success has been from interior rushers. The Broncos like to move edge rushers inside on 3rd downs, and Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson have been known to force double teams. When that happens, either Ware or Miller (or sometimes both) is left one-on-one with a tackle, and they can beat those guys one out of five times. Miller and Ware definitely owe some of their co-defensive linemen a steak dinner for all the greedy eatin' they've been doing.
4. What is the Broncos weakest/most vulnerable area?
A week ago, I would have said the offensive line. The run blocking has been shaky, and pass protection hasn't always been great either. The return of Ryan Clady and subsequent shuffling of Orlando Franklin to left guard and Chris Clark to right tackle didn't work out. The Broncos benched Clark in favor of Paul Cornick, who is now injured this week (limited, shoulder) and may not go. It may be Clark again at right tackle.
But after last week's Patriots debacle, I'm going to say Denver's biggest weakness is on special teams. The Patriots' Julian Edelman had a big punt return for a touchdown, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus missed a 41-yard field goal (he's now 6 of 9 for the year), and kick returner Andre Caldwell is frustrating for fans to watch. The entire unit needs some attention.
5. I can tell you guys over at MHR are yuckin' it up about the likelihood of the Broncos most lopsided vicotry this season (and rightfully so). But every time the Raiders have looked at a big spread this season, they've covered it. From the other side's perspective, is there any part of this Raiders team that gives the indication they can put up a good fight?
I'm saving the yuckin' for the commenters and see the Raiders as a challenging out for the Broncos. Truthfully, I don't like it when the Broncos are favored so big on the road, probably because Denver is 3-8 ATS on the road when favored by double digits (per OddsShark) in their last 11 matches. Plus, the Broncos have yet to play well on the road this season. They're 1-2 away from home, and their one win against the Jets wasn't as easy as the final score would indicate.
I love what I see from your rookies Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, and I'm talking them up a bit this week. I think the Raiders have a clear edge in special teams too. That's three phases of football right there where I can truly say the Raiders have impressed me. And I broke down the way the Raiders nearly beat the Patriots, Chargers and Seahawks this season, pointing out that those are the exact three teams that have most recently beaten the Broncos.
Yes, there are reasons I think the Raiders will put up a fight, and I don't expect a blowout for the Broncos. And I think Broncos fans would be foolish to overlook this game against a team that is better on film than on paper.
To see my answers to his questions, click here.
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a one-week fantasy football "Double Up" league this weekend. It's $10 to join and nearly half the field doubles their money. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday night. Here's the link.