It is only fitting for the beginning of a new era for the Denver Broncos to be rockier than the namesake of the state’s most notable mountain range. Prospects appeared bleak in Broncos Country following a demoralizing defeat at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders, but through earning their fourth victory of the season, the Broncos showed a shift in demeanor. In their win over the Miami Dolphins, further glimpses of what the architect of this team envisioned come to light, offering the possibility—nothing more, nothing less—of hope for the Denver Broncos.
Denver Broncos Have Hope After Week 11 Win
The Run Game
It is no secret that the Broncos are undefeated when Phillip Lindsay rushes for 100 or more yards. Last week’s loss to Las Vegas suggested relying too heavily on the passing attack would lose this team games with the way the offensive line and Drew Lock have and can continue to play.
Up until his interception early against the Dolphins, Lock seemingly was asked to do too much. In order to overcome the interception, the offense made a foray into up-tempo tactics, combining continued runs with a continued display of athleticism from the offensive line with play-action passes, usually without requiring Lock to set up in the pocket for too long, if at all.
Featuring rollouts and quick throws to protect the ball and allow for yards after the catch opportunities, the adjusted offensive approach worked to simplify reads for the quarterback. Since Lock is, for all intents and purposes, a rookie still, this is comparable to Mike Shanahan’s efforts with Robert Griffin III as a rookie.
Because of this simplification, the likelihood of another turnover from Lock became rather limited the longer the game wore on. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur employed traps, counters, and anything else he could think of to get the offensive line on the move, showcasing their athleticism in the process of obtaining 189 yards and two scores on the ground.
Examples include when rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III executed a brilliant block on the move to spring Lindsay for 20 yards in the first quarter, setting off a game-long chain of effectual blocks in this capacity, and when Garett Bolles flattened safety, Brandon Jones, late in the third quarter.
Between Melvin Gordon III’s 84 yards and Phillip Lindsay’s 82, the run game allowed Drew Lock to complete his highest percentage of passes since Week 8. The complementary nature of the success of the rushing attack continues to feed Broncos Country’s calls for a more heavily run-based offensive approach, and the successful execution of the concept against Miami is sure to inspire in the fans at least a modicum of hope for the Denver Broncos.
What More Can They Do?
The presence of the pistol formation against the Dolphins is a good sign. The sudden shift toward moving offensive linemen on nearly every running play is an even better one. To continue to capitalize on these positive traits in this young offense, Shurmur will need to continue to simplify reads for Drew Lock with quick throws, play-action passes, screens, touch-pass plays, and, most importantly, run/pass-option plays.
Applying a greater commitment to getting the ball out of Lock’s hands quickly alleviates the burden on multiple other aspects of the offense, so the team would do well to continue to do so. In essence, if Lock can continue with that style of play, it will make it easier for the run game to continue using the athleticism of the offensive line to its benefit and vice versa.
But what more can they do to turn this season around before it’s too late?
What worked against Miami worked because it took advantage of the strengths of the players rather than trying to shoehorn these players into the strengths of the scheme. Where else can Pat Shurmur and Vic Fangio do the same?
Ever since Lock first stepped foot on the professional field, he has found success on intermediate or deep in-breaking routes, especially when play-action is added to the equation. A lot of passes Lock has thrown over the last three games have been outside the numbers, away from a proven professional strength for the young passer; perhaps introducing a greater number of crossing routes, drive designs, and in-breaking routes down the field on play-action could help Lock find comfortability and rhythm with Shurmur’s scheme.
Additionally, even in the victory against Miami, Melvin Gordon failed to get involved in the passing game in a meaningful way. After the moderate success of Royce Freeman as the complementary back to Phillip Lindsay in 2019, Gordon was brought in because of his strengths in pass protection, catching the ball out of the backfield, and his propensity for breaking tackles. The aforementioned screens the offense needs to introduce would fit Gordon’s skill set perfectly, allowing for the talented runner to get the ball in space, where he’s most dangerous.
Likewise, rookie Jerry Jeudy was virtually invisible in this game. Manufacturing touches for one of the team’s most talented athletes and possibly one of their most lethal ballcarriers is absolutely pivotal moving forward. Whether or not Jeudy is a rookie, Shurmur needs to scheme the ball to him as much as he earns the ball through breaking open organically.
Instituting these continued shifts in scheme, formation, and play design is the best way to get the most out of Drew Lock in these formative games early into his young career.
Win or lose, there is once again a reason to hope. Like the team has, for the most part, in weeks past, the Broncos dug down deep and fought to the bitter end. Miami is no easy team to defeat, and while there are no moral victories in football, the team learned quite a bit about themselves and about what works through the often frustrating process of developing an offensive identity.
While it is still unclear whether or not Lock can make improvements and self-study well enough to lead this team for years to come, and while there are still as many lingering questions about Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur as there are about the young passer, it is vital for Broncos Country to find hope where they can.
The surprising willingness to adapt and radically shift aspects of the offense against Miami proved to serve as a beacon for this very element.
It is certainly true there is a long way ahead for the Denver Broncos, but perhaps more than anything— there is hope.