After one week, the Broncos offense is good from far, but far from good
After one week of the 2021 NFL season, Broncos Country is excited about the team’s offense. And for good reason.
In their season-opening win over the Giants, Denver posted very respectable numbers on that side of the ball. They scored 27 points, racked up 420 yards, produced a 100-yard rusher, saw nine different receivers catch passes and had a quarterback who completed 78 percent of his passes.
Those are good numbers by any measure. When they’re compared to what the Broncos have produced on offense in recent years, they seem like “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Last season, Denver averaged just 20.2 points per game and they mustered only 335.6 yards per outing. Week 1 was a huge jump over that level of production.
But before anyone starts finding the right spot on the facade at Empower Field for Teddy Bridgewater’s name, makes Pro Bowl travel plans for Melvin Gordon or dusts off Pat Shurmur’s resume for head coach openings, a closer look at the production is necessary. Things may not be as rosy as they seem.
From afar, the Broncos offense looks beautiful. Up close, there are some cracks and blemishes.
Gordon rushed for 101 yards on just 11 carries. But 70 of those came late in the game on one run, in what was essentially garbage time.
Trailing 20-7, the Giants mounted what looked like one last attempt to get back in the game. They produced a 14-play drive that took more than six minutes off the clock, reaching the Broncos six-yard line. But there, they stalled, turning the ball over on downs.
Gordon’s touchdown came four plays later, with just 4:48 to go in the game. It was over. And the Giants knew it.
Other than that explosive play, Denver struggled on the ground. Gordon had 10 other carries for just 31 yards, while Javonte Williams had only 45 yards on 14 carries. All told, the Broncos averaged just 3.1 yards on the ground outside of one big play.
That put a lot of pressure on Bridgewater. Having the veteran quarterback throw 36 passes is not a recipe for success on a weekly basis. He pulled it off against the Giants, but that’ll be harder to do against better opponents.
On that same front, having to convert three fourth-downs to keep Denver’s first three scoring drives alive will also be more challenging. In fact, Vic Fangio might not even make those decisions if the Broncos are playing a team with a less-than-anemic offense. The head coach was able to gamble against the Giants, knowing Daniel Jones and company probably couldn’t make him pay if Denver failed to convert.
They did make the plays, however. Credit is due for that success. But it’s cause for concern.
The Broncos first points came after they converted a fourth-and-seven at the Giants 37 yards line. Their second came after getting a fourth-and-two near midfield. And their third was the result of a fourth-and-one at the four-yard line that turned into a touchdown.
That third score is one that should be cause for concern. It was a great effort by Bridgewater to avoid a sack; the quarterback’s ability to extend plays was impressive in the opener. But out of desperation, he had to throw the ball to Albert Okwuegbunam short of the line of scrimmage. A great individual effort by the tight end, as well as three missed tackles by the Giants, resulted in a touchdown.
That’s an unlikely series of events. It won’t happen on a week-in, week-out basis.
This isn’t to take anything away from Bridgewater, Gordon, Okwuegbunam or anyone else. They made plays.
But the question has to be asked: Is it sustainable?
There are signs that point to it being a bit of a mirage. There are red flags for those paying attention.
The reality is that the Broncos had three points on the scoreboard with 19 seconds left in the first half. That’s a continuation of a pattern from last season where offensive success in terms of yardage wasn’t translating into points.
Why? Because the Broncos don’t produce big plays. Their scores have to come on long, methodical marches.
Denver’s first four scoring drives were 15, seven, 16 and 10 plays, respectively. That’s great and should be applauded. But again, those types of marches will be harder to put together against a better opponent.
Denver has to find some big plays. And they’ll have to do it without a couple of key weapons.
Jerry Jeudy suffered a high-ankle sprain in the win over the Giants. He could be sidelined until Halloween.
Meanwhile, Courtland Sutton continues to demonstrate that he’s yet not fully recovered from an ACL tear that cost him most of the 2020 season. The wide receiver had one catch for 14 yards in Week 1, while also limping down the sideline in an ill-fated attempt to catch up to a deep pass from Bridgewater. He just doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness back yet that helped make him a Pro Bowl receiver in 2019.
All of this doesn’t add up to a reason to push the panic button. It does suggest, however, that it’s time to pump the brakes a little bit.
Teddy Bridgewater may prove to be the answer at QB, but he’s not there yet. Pat Shurmur might’ve rejuvenated Denver’s attack, but the offensive coordinator had good moments a year ago too. And the Broncos young weapons could be blossoming, but they have to show they can do produce on a weekly basis.
That’s just the reality. One week doesn’t change things.
Beating the Giants was nice. Winning against the Jaguars and Jets would be, too. But until the Broncos can do it against legit contenders, it’s too early to declare that the offense is fixed.