A good rule of thumb is to not overreact to week 1 of the NFL season. You don’t wanna get too high or too low, unless you’re a Bengals fan and you just watched your quarterback toss four picks and your team get shutout. Then you can overreact with impunity. For the rest of us, it’s important to stay on an even keel. Case in point? The Bills, Jaguars and Rams are all currently in first place in their respective divisions.
That’s why I’m trying not to read too much into the Broncos’ nail-biting win last night over the Chargers. On the one hand, it was encouraging to see the team eek out a close game over a division rival in Vance Joseph’s first game as head coach. On the other, it was eerily similar to last year’s opener against the Panthers. The Broncos almost blow a fourth quarter lead, only to be bailed out when they ice the other team’s kicker and then he misses his second attempt.
One game a season does not make, and there were enough promising signs to suggest that the Broncos are improved from last year’s squad that missed the playoffs. That’s why, for now, I’m not going to get too concerned that they may not have improved enough on the flaws that hindered them in 2016, and will happily take the win. More thoughts and analysis (mostly happy) after the jump.
1. The Offense (most of the game)
If you only watched the first three quarters last night, you would’ve been convinced that the Broncos’ offense had undergone a complete transformation. They effectively mixed the run with the pass to keep the Chargers defense off balance. They converted third downs at an extremely high percentage. They (gasp!) sustained long drives and converted red zone opportunities into touchdowns! It was a sight to see.
You have to give a lot of credit to Mike McCoy, who got his unit on a roll and found ways to get players other than Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders involved in the attack. He shares that praise with Trevor Siemian, since the quarterback made several tough, accurate throws to guys like A.J. Derby and Bennie Fowler. That’s right, the same Bennie Fowler who I dogged all through the preseason and who came up with two touchdown receptions last night. In case you’re wondering, that matched his total for the past two seasons combined. Better late than never, Bennie.
Throw in some improved blocking by the offensive line and solid runs by C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, and hopefully this is the start of a much improved offense. Time will tell.
2. The Run Defense
Melvin Gordon was a big first test for Denver’s revamped defensive line. Considering they held him to an average of three yards per carry for 54 yards, I’d say they passed that first test. Take into account all the injuries they’ve already suffered on top of that, then they did so with flying colors.
Adam Gotsis didn’t make much of an impact in his rookie season, whether it was due to his recovery from an ACL tear or lack of experience, or both. That’s what made his play last night so encouraging, as he was constantly clogging up running lanes and taking down ball carriers after a minimal gain. That’s the guy the Broncos thought they were getting when they selected him in the second round of last year’s draft, and it’s nice to finally see that translate to the field.
3. Shelby Harris
A month ago, most Broncos fans had no clue who Harris even was, myself included. Now he’s the hero of the game after his deflection on the Chargers’ game-tying field goal try preserved the win for the good guys. Not bad for a someone who had to scratch and claw to even make the roster out of training camp.
1. The Offense (the end of the game)
Just when we thought that the defense wasn’t going to have to win a game for a change, the offense did a full 180 and reverted back to 2016 form. McCoy’s vanilla playcalling of run, run, screen pass led to a Chargers interception (though there was blatant pass interference that wasn’t called) and then a Chargers score. Charles fumbled on the next drive, which the Chargers recovered and also cashed in for more points. Then on the next series, Siemian took a bad sack that set up a long field goal attempt for Brandon McManus, which he missed. Maybe the offense became overwhelmed by how well they were doing and psyched themselves out? Who knows.
And while it doesn’t wash away all the good things they did last night, it was certainly disconcerting to watch them collapse and nearly piss away the game. These are things that just can’t happen, particularly against a good quarterback like Philip Rivers who takes advantage of those kinds of mistakes. Hopefully the offense builds on the positives and carries those into next week, and not the other way around.
2. The Pass Rush
You may have noticed that Rivers seemed to have a lot of time in the pocket last night. Well, your eyes didn’t deceive you. With Von Miller drawing double and sometimes even triple teams and Shane Ray unavailable, the Broncos’ pass rush was almost entirely non-existent. The No Fly Zone may be the best secondary in football, but even they can’t hold up forever in coverage. Guys like Shaq Barrett and DeMarcus Walker need to step up, or the rush will continue to sag until Ray’s return (week 8 at the earliest).
1. Menelik Watson
Why does Watson get singled out down here at the bottom, you ask? Because he continued the long-standing tradition of the Broncos starting a turnstile at right tackle. It’s just comical at this point that no matter who Elway brings in to fix that position, it remains a critical weakness in the lineup.
Considering there is no one the Broncos could put in who would be any better, unless you want to give Donald Stephenson another try, I foresee two solutions to the problem this season: 1) Watson improves dramatically week to week, which is unlikely given where he’s at in his career, or 2) McCoy does what Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison always refused to do and lines up a tight end to help on that side. It’s not hard to figure out which option would be more helpful.
So there you have it. See, I told you this would be mostly happy. I will even happier next week if the Broncos beat the Cowboys.