The Denver Broncos were an enigma over the last two years. We knew what they should be, but they failed to establish any sort of identity as they barely won any games during that time.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was sold to the fan base as a defensive genius, but in two seasons, his defense did not live up to the hype. For two seasons under Fangio, the offense has not had proper leadership at the quarterback position and was one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL.
That may have all changed for 2021. I know it’s only one game against a bad New York Giants team, but Denver looks different on both sides of the ball.
Did the Broncos find their identity against the Giants? Let’s take a look.
13 is Good Luck
The Broncos are going to lead the way on the ground in 2021. They have two running backs who can get over or near 1,000 yards rushing this year in veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams. Against the Giants, both backs ran the ball well and it was Gordon who ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run to put him over 100 yards on the day.
We saw all sorts of formations from the Broncos, but we saw them go “heavy” with a three-TE set also known as 13 personnel. It’s a rarely used formation for many reasons, but mainly because teams around the league don’t have three tight ends they can trust as both blockers and receivers. With Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam and Eric Saubert, the Broncos have just that.
In addition to the strength of the offensive line, the Broncos can use three-TE sets to impose their will on defenses each week. It’s a big look and one that screams “run” although the Broncos have proven they can pass effectively to their tight ends as well.
On Monday, Fangio talked about what going with “13 personnel” did for the offense.
“Obviously, the run guys always like to have the big guys in there. You have more runs available to you, but you also have to be able to throw some out of there, so we have to be balanced when we do it. It’s a good personnel package if you’re balanced with it,” Fangio said.
Punting is For Losers
It was clear that Denver didn’t want to punt much against the Giants. The Broncos went for it on fourth down three times – and converted all three to move the chains (or score).
This shows an aggressive identity that we saw glimpses of in the preseason. They went for it a couple of times during the preseason with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and I mistakenly thought they would not show the same aggression during the regular season. Even with Bridgewater winning the starting job, I didn’t think they would go for it that often during the 2021 regular season.
Instead of punting the ball (or kicking a field goal), Fangio instead opted to go for it because he trusts his quarterback. Bridgewater is cool under pressure and did a great job keeping plays alive under duress.
After the game, Fangio precisely explained why he went for it on fourth down so many times in Week 1.
“It was just my gut. When I brought it up, I didn’t have a lot of backing by anybody, was kind of cricket-like. But I said, ‘We’re doing it.’ So, I just felt like I had confidence in the offense number one, obviously. Number two, I felt we just had that I knew if we got the first down, we could go get some points – didn’t know (if) it would be three or seven, but I thought it was important. The reason I let it run down to 50 – I told the guy at 50, he did it at 48 – if we didn’t get it just to take a little bit of time off and we had three time outs with two following that one, and that was it. It was just more of a gut feeling than anything else,” Fangio said.
Pressure Creates Diamonds
The name of the game on defense is pressure. Even though the Broncos didn’t have 2018 first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the field against the Giants, they were still able to generate a ton of pressure on Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
Von Miller looked to be back to his old ways. He was making the Giants tackles look bad, and Miller still showed that he has his trademark bend-and-burst to get to the quarterback. Without Chubb, the team turned to Malik Reed to start, and he did a good job of creating pressure from the edge.
The Broncos only sacked Jones two times and they only got two quarterback hits (both from Miller). However, there were plenty of occasions where Jones had to scramble to get away from pressure or threw the ball away because he was under pressure. Jones also had some incompletions because he rushed throws that were hurried due to pressure.
With the return of Chubb, things could be even better for the pass-rushers on the Broncos roster. Chubb wanted to play against the Giants, but a new ankle injury kept him out of action. With more recovery time, it may not be long before Chubb is out there in a prove-it year.
Reed talked about what it’s going to be like having all three pass-rushers available (hopefully in the near future).
“(It’s) amazing, and you got a little taste of it my first year when we had this package with all three of us on the field. I think we had like seven or eight sacks that game, and I don’t think it was a coincidence with the amount of havoc we were able to create in the backfield. You have to account for so many guys. It’s hard, and it makes it hard on offenses to account. Having three guys that can really affect the game in a major way is deadly. I’m excited to get all of us out there on the field and making a big impact,” Reed said.
The Broncos have an identity in 2021. After a couple of years of not showing who they are, the team now moves forward with an intimidating plan to win games.
Their identity is simple: Aggressive.
This team wants to beat you up on offense with large packages and a ground game featuring two talented runners. They’ll pass if you give them that, and they can beat you with the pass, but they would prefer to eat up the time of possession with their backs.
On defense, the Broncos want to beat you up as well. Fangio doesn’t blitz a whole lot with his scheme, but he can generate pressure. With the defensive front and the secondary the Broncos have this will be their plan every week – no matter the caliber of offense they’re facing.
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