The Denver Broncos have the look of a dark horse. They are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished with a 6-10 record, resulting in the firing of head coach Vance Joseph. The Broncos enter this season with low expectations, but with an improved coaching staff, strong running game, veteran quarterback, and a stout defense, the team looks built for success in 2019.
The Dark Horse Denver Broncos Are Ready To Surprise
Better Than 2018 Record
The Broncos were better than their 6-10 record. Their point differential was only -20, demonstrating that this was a team that lost a few close games:
Week 4 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Blew a 23-13 4th quarter lead
Week 9 vs. Houston Texans
Lost 19-17, missed 51-yard field goal to win the game. Conservative play-calling led to the loss.
Week 15 vs. Cleveland Browns
Lost 17-16 in another close game.
That loss to the Chiefs was pivotal because they blew an opportunity to move to 3-1 and tied for the division. Instead, it was their 2nd loss in a row, which sent them onto a downward spiral.
New Coaching Staff
New head coach Vic Fangio is widely considered one of the bright defensive minds in the NFL. It’s his first head coaching gig at the age of 60. He’s led top defenses in Chicago and San Francisco before arriving in Denver. We can expect Fangio to get even more production out of a defense that was already solid.
New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello worked as quarterbacks coach on Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco. He brings over the West Coast offense and zone blocking scheme that was a staple of the Broncos’ system for years under Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. Most importantly, Scangarello will use a more aggressive approach. The Broncos lost too many games due to conservative play-calling in 2018.
New offensive line coach Mike Munchak is one of the best in the game. He did a terrific job coaching the o-line for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2014-2018. Munchak will help develop what was already a solid o-line in Denver.
Ground and Pound
The Broncos will feature a strong running game this year, with second-year pros Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. They are the perfect combination of speed and power, which will give opposing defenses fits. Lindsay ran for 1,037 yards on 5.4 yards per carry with nine touchdowns. He’s an explosive young player who can hit the home run. Freeman put up 521 yards and four touchdowns on a 4.0 yards per carry. He’s a powerful back who can help the Broncos close out victories.
The Broncos’ o-line features third-year first-rounder Garett Bolles at left tackle, Ronald Leary at left guard, Connor McGovern at center, rookie second-rounder Dalton Risner at right guard, and free agent signing Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. They lost star center Matt Paradis the Carolina Panthers in free agency, but this should still remain a strong group. McGovern played well at guard last year and should do a decent job replacing Paradis. James is a strong all-around tackle who will help off-set the loss of Paradis. It will be interesting to see Bolles’ develop at left tackle under Munchak. If he can take the next step, this will be a stout o-line. The running game will be the main identity of this offense. We can expect the Broncos to pound the football and eat up clock as the complement to a strong defense.
Veteran Leadership at Quarterback
New quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled in recent years, but he’s a proven winner whose value exceeds his statistics. With Flacco at the helm, the Baltimore Ravens won at least eight games every year except for 2015, where he missed six games. Flacco is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with an unflappable confidence that rubs off on his teammates. Most importantly, he now has a chip on his shoulder. The Ravens benched him for rookie Lamar Jackson and cast him aside. He’s determined to prove to the detractors that he could still play in this league. Flacco will only be asked to manage the game and hit the occasional deep bomb to talented wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. The team also added athletic tight end Noah Fant, who is another vertical threat downfield.
The Broncos boast one of the top pass-rushing duos in the NFL with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. They combined for 26.5 sacks last season, ranking 2nd in the NFL behind the Chiefs’ Dee Ford and Chris Jones. The Broncos will continue getting after the quarterback in 2019. The defense struggled to stop the run in 2019, ranking 21st in run defense, which was a steep drop-off from the previous year, where they ranked 5th. Expect Fangio to fix this issue, as his defenses have consistently been strong against the run throughout his career, ranking in the Top 10 in five out of the last eight years. Denver added defensive back Kareem Jackson in the offseason, a sure tackler who will help bolster the secondary. Cornerback Chris Harris remains one of the best slot corners in the game. The Broncos finished 5th in defensive DVOA in 2018, so the defense should remain strong under Fangio.
This team mirrors the Ravens under Flacco – tough defensive teams that could run the football and convert a deep passing play when needed. Were it not for poor coaching and conservative play-calling in 2019, this team could have gone 8-8. Flacco is an improvement on Case Keenum. The coaching staff is a clear improvement over the conservative style of Vance Joseph. This running game could potentially be one of the best in football. The pass rush will be nasty and coach Fangio will shore up the run defense. Don’t be surprised to see this dark horse Denver Broncos team earn a 10-6 record and a Wild Card spot.
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