BRONCOS

Three observations from the Broncos win over the 49ers in Week 3

Sep 26, 2022, 6:39 AM
Broncos vs. 49ers...
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos are tied for the lead in the AFC West with a 2-1 record after three games. On Sunday Night Football, the Broncos were able to come back and defeat the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 11-10.

This was the biggest test for the Broncos so far this season, and they passed. Things weren’t pretty, especially on offense, but getting the “W” is all that matters.

Here are my three biggest observations from the win over the 49ers.

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Damn Good Defense

The Broncos defense played a great game against the 49ers. It wasn’t a perfect game plan, but it was quite close. So many players I felt could be problems for the Broncos ended up not performing as well as expected. The Broncos defense really focused on making the 49ers one dimensional on offense, and they didn’t let some of their opponents’ biggest stars beat them on Sunday night.

The Broncos defense regularly struggles against tight ends. On Sunday night, the 49ers were getting superstar tight end George Kittle back from injury. He made his season debut in Week 3, and Kittle was a player the Broncos clearly focused on stopping or at least slowing down. Kittle was targeted five times, but he finished the game with only four catches for 28 yards. He made some catches, but Kittle was not the unstoppable foe he’s been in the past.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel is a superstar who can hurt you on the ground as a runner or through the air as a receiver. While he did have five catches for 73 yards, Samuel was bottled up on the ground. The Broncos limited him to just six yards on five carries. The gadget plays that can gash others did not hurt the Broncos defense. They were studied and ready for when Samuel got the ball on the ground, and they made the 49ers go away from those plays because they kept shutting him down as a runner.

Going forward, the Broncos need to work on their offense (more on that in a bit), and in the meantime, they can lean on their defense. It wasn’t just the turnovers that made the Broncos defense stand out. I think their plan of attack was on point, and clearly defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has a grasp on how to get the most out of his players.

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Officials Were Off

I’m not going to go on and on about the officiating. I’ve always said that good teams overcome bad refs. That’s true in all sports, including football, and the Broncos had to prove that against the 49ers. Again, not every call should go in favor of the Broncos, but there were some missed calls that stood out like a turd in a punch bowl.

There was first a rub route that was essentially a pick play near the end zone that allowed wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to score an easy touchdown. It is a well-designed play, but the officials missed the fact that Aiyuk was only open because of a pick from his teammate. That touchdown should not have counted, and obviously that would have changed the structure of the game had the 49ers had to settle for a field goal instead.

Later in the game, there was a tripping penalty that was going to be called on 49ers pass-rusher Nick Bosa, but the officials ended up changing their minds and there was no penalty on the play. Tripping is a dangerous play, and that’s why officials are quite careful when examining that sort of occurrence. Bosa was on his way to Russell Wilson, and he very clearly raised his leg to trip the Broncos quarterback. Wilson was tripped up by the leg whip, and that’s a play that could’ve ended in a serious injury. Wilson went down, but he was okay afterwards.

The Broncos were able to overcome bad officiating. That’s the sign of a resilient team. The Broncos are not perfect by any means, especially on offense, but at least they were not taken off track by officials who could’ve called things differently in Week 3.

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Perfect Balance

In Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson threw the ball a whopping 42 times and the team lost. In this system, passing that much is the sign the game plan has gone off track. There is not much success to be gained when a game plan is heavily favoring the passing attack. Instead, this system can thrive when the ground game leads the way.

On Sunday night against the 49ers, Wilson had 33 passing attempts. I’ve often said I want him throwing the ball 25-30 times per game this year. That’s right around the proper number of passing attempts for the veteran quarterback in this system. As a team, the Broncos rushed the ball 33 times against the 49ers. It’s this type of perfect balance that helped the Broncos stay in the game and win the contest in the end.

What I enjoy the most about this plan is the stick-to-it-iveness the Broncos showed with their ground game. They only averaged 3.1 yards per carry which is not good enough. However, they didn’t go away from the rushing attack even though they weren’t at 4.0 yards per carry. Many teams will abandon the rushing attack if they’re not having 4.0 yards per carry or more. The Broncos did not, and they were able to find a way to win. I think it’s the stubbornness with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon that helped them line up in the victory formation to end the game.

Going forward, I want the Broncos to maintain that balance between run and pass. The design of this offense begins with the rushing attack. When you have success and a determination to run the ball, this offense can be nigh unstoppable. The Broncos need to stick with the rushing attack to help open up some play-action opportunities for Wilson when he goes through the air.

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Three observations from the Broncos win over the 49ers in Week 3