1. One of the biggest storylines coming out of Denver this offseason was the quarterback competition between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock, which the former obviously won. What does Bridgewater bring to the Broncos’ offense that Lock doesn’t, and vice versa, what are they sacrificing with TBW, if anything?
Bridgewater gives the Broncos a starting-caliber quarterback who can win pre-snap and by working through his progressions post-snap. He’s a significant upgrade on Lock when it comes to poise in the pocket, mental processing, eye manipulation, ball placement, and general accuracy.
Starting Bridgewater has opened up the Broncos' play-calling because there’s a quarterback who can reliably hit the shallow routes and who displays the patience to hang in the pocket as deep shots develop. It’s been frustrating in the red zone, but there’s little question this is the best passing offense Denver’s had since Peyton Manning. Through five games this shows in the Broncos' overall efficiency. They’re ranked 18th in the NFL by Football Outsiders’ DVOA stat, and Bridgewater ranks 12th. The vet is also among the league leaders in EPA/play.
The one area where Bridgewater falls short of Lock is his overall arm strength.
2. Arguably the most devastating injury the Broncos have suffered so far this year was losing second-year receiver Jerry Jeudy. Who’s been the guy that has stepped up and replaced Jeudy in the slot especially after the KJ Hamler injury? And what is Denver’s offense missing without Jeudy in the lineup?
Kendall Hinton’s stepped into the third receiver spot and Shurmur’s given him plenty of snaps the last two weeks, but no one has really filled Jeudy’s shoes in the passing game. Through camp and the preseason he looked like Denver’s best receiver and his ability to create separation fit perfectly with Bridgewater’s skillset. Without him or Hamler, the passing game has become extremely reliant on Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton.
Both are very good receivers with the ability to win sky balls deep downfield, but neither has Jeudy’s separation quickness or route-running prowess. No one does.
3. Right tackle has been an issue for Denver over the last few years with the whole Ju’Wuan James debacle, so how have they replaced the guy that was never really there, and is that a potential weak spot for them up front?
Following the injury to James George Paton brought in two veteran tackles who weren’t signed in the first and second wave of free agency. Bobby Massie quickly won the job in camp over Cam Fleming and holdover Calvin Anderson and he has looked like the Broncos' best right tackle since Billy Turner. While he’s closer to solid than good, the veteran’s been a massive upgrade over Elijah Wilkinson and Demar Dotson.
Massie’s limitations in pass protection the last two weeks have had a devastating impact on a passing game down two receivers. Noah Fant has been asked to chip more to help the tackle against T.J. Watt and Baltimore’s Odafe Oweh. I do expect Massie to have trouble with the Raiders’ edge rushers. His play strength is adequate and he’s a tall player who doesn’t always play to his length, which gives opponents a chance to get into his chest and work past his hands.
4. Von Miller has been more productive in some games this season than others, so I’m curious if you’ve noticed if there’s been a specific game plan or protection scheme that has given him some trouble? And please tell me there’s some sign that he’s starting to slow down at 32-years-old?
Von Miller is still playing very good football, but the Broncos pass rush outside of him struggles to win one on ones, which makes it easier to gameplan for him. The Ravens spent plenty of time holding Miller with Lamar Jackson reading him, and the Steelers made a point to use bunch and double wing sets so as to throw a variety of looks and blockers at him. One way Fangio will try and generate a pass rush is by rushing Miller inside against Alex Leatherwood a bit.
I’ll admit I’m eager to see what When Miller does rush outside. His combination of burst, bend, and strength makes him a nightmare for Brandon Parker. In the past, Jon Gruden played a huge role in protecting Derek Carr from Von with the ways he manipulated personnel and game plans built around the quick game. It’s a tough ask for Greg Olson, and while they haven’t blown up the box score Denver’s defensive linemen are very good penetrators against isolated guards and should be a factor this week.
5. Denver’s secondary is arguably one of the best in the NFL, but could you give us a matchup between the Raiders’ receiving corps and the Broncos’ defensive backs that you think favors the Raiders and one that favors the Broncos?
It’s hard to say if the Broncos will have an answer for Darren Waller until we know if they’ll have Patrick Surtain II in the dime. The rookie has taken over starting duties since Ronald Darby hurt his hamstring and the Broncos haven’t given the job back to the veteran just yet, which makes the personnel usage for Sunday a bit of a mystery right now. Waller’s a mismatch for just about any other individual defender on the Broncos, so it’s the perfect game to break out the dime group Denver practiced with throughout training camp.
Kyle Fuller’s been a bit of a disappointment so far this season after he was cut by the Chicago Bears. He’s quite good in the short game and his run defense is very good for a corner, but from the season opener on teams have tried to isolate and attack him downfield. Ben Roethlisberger threw a 59-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson who burned Fuller when the Steelers schemed up a one on one against Fangio’s cover six. Before Gruden’s resignation, I was dreading the opening script because there’s no way Chucky wasn’t going to try and dial-up a bomb to Henry Ruggs.