1. With Teddy Bridgewater out and Drew Lock in, how different do you expect the Broncos’ offense to be from the last time they played the Raiders?
While Pat Shurmur won’t reinvent the wheel by any means, if last year is any indication he will try and streamline the offense in order to cater it to what Drew Lock does best. Shurmur’s already been dialing up isolation routes that ask the quarterback to throw it up for grabs downfield, but we could see even more two or three-man concepts to try and force the Raiders to respect the deep ball.
There will be more boot action concepts that get Lock rolling right because he tends to get jittery in the pocket, and this cuts the field in half for him so it’s easier to work through progressions. There will be fewer horizontal leading throws because Lock struggles to lead his receivers by throwing with anticipation. There will be more pre-defined reads because Lock routinely displays marginal decision-making in both the pre and post-snap phase.
The big difference in this Broncos’ offense from last time will be the concentrated effort to pound the rock. More than half of Williams 170 carries have come in his last six games and they aren’t coming at Gordon’s expense. Shurmur’s calling fewer passes to try and protect the quarterback and lean into the strength of his offensive line. Of course, the Raiders may be able to throw that off-kilter if they can get ahead early once again.
2. Back in October, the Broncos were switching seemingly series by series between Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. Has their running back rotation changed at all and is Williams starting to get more opportunities?
Williams is getting more opportunities at the expense of the receivers instead of Gordon: the rookie has 92 carries across his last six games while Gordon’s at 86. Both missed a game with injury since October, but when healthy they’ve remained in a 50-50 type of timeshare. Williams did receive more snaps last week and it looked like it was tied to Gordon’s “fumble” that wasn’t. With Gordon a free agent after the year and Denver’s postseason hopes a bit of a farce, it wouldn’t surprise me if the rookie starts to see a little more playing time down the stretch if his knee is up for it.
3. The Raiders didn’t have to worry about Jerry Jeudy a couple of months ago, but he’s back in the lineup this time around. However, his numbers haven’t exactly jumped off the page so can you describe Jeudy’s impact on the offense and how you think that will play a factor on Sunday?
Jeudy’s the unofficial WR1 for the Broncos with his ability to snap off and create separation with such ease, and Shurmur’s made an effort to move him around to create favorable matchups since he came back for the Washington game. The second-year pro is very fluid in space and has shown improvements with his route timing and concentration this year, even if the numbers don’t jump off the page.
Drew Lock stepping in for Bridgewater should give all of the receivers a bump because Teddy’s really struggled to connect downfield the last month or so. With that said, Lock’s strengths don’t necessarily line up with what Jeudy does best, so there’s a decent chance Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton have better games.
4. Outside of one tough game against Philadelphia, Denver’s defense has been pretty solid ever since Week 5. What’s been the biggest difference you’ve noticed?
I’d argue it wasn’t until the calendar turned to November that the Broncos’ defense began to solidify. They were pretty helpless against Derek Carr in week six and the Cleveland Browns’ backup running back D’Ernest Johnson made hay against the battered linebacker corps on Thursday Night Football.
There’s been a few big changes with personnel since. Baron Browning was inserted into the starting lineup for the Washington game but got knocked out of the Eagles loss after a handful of snaps. The rookie has been significantly better than I dared hope for after injuries derailed his OTAs and training camp. He’s a sideline to sideline menace who has a knack for cluttering up passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks.
Ronald Darby’s return on Halloween also helped the pass defense as a whole because it meant Patrick Surtain II slid over to take left corner from Kyle Fuller, who has since found new life as a slot corner. Jonathon Cooper’s also stepped up big time since the Von Miller trade and looks like he has a bright future.
5. It’s going to be weird watching a Raiders and Broncos game without seeing Von Miller in orange and blue. How has the team managed to replace the future Hall of Famer?
Jonathon Cooper’s looked like the best edge rusher for most of the Von-less games since, but truthfully, they haven’t managed to replace Miller. Bradley Chubb’s been a shell of himself since he returned to the lineup from an ankle injury and Malik Reed’s having the worst season of his NFL career.
The dearth of production from the edge rush has led to Fangio relying on the blitz and various games to try and pressure opposing quarterbacks and that could be amplified in this contest if Dre’Mont Jones isn’t able to play through his foot injury. I suspect edge rusher is going to be one of Paton’s priorities this offseason.