The Denver Broncos earned their fifth victory of the season in Week 14, defeating the Carolina Panthers 32-27 and staving off a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback bid in the process. Despite the impressive performance of quarterback Drew Lock, many fans do not expect the team to repeat their triumphant production against the Buffalo Bills. With the Bills needing only to beat the Broncos to clinch a 2020 postseason berth, Denver has a chance to play spoiler. To do so, the Vic Fangio defense will need to contain the Buffalo Bills offense with greater efficiency than they did the Kansas City Chiefs, whom they held to a season-low 22 points in Week 13 (the second-lowest output of Patrick Mahomes II’s professional career).
Vic Fangio Defense vs Buffalo Bills Offense Breakdown
The Vic Fangio Defense vs the Buffalo Bills Run Game
The Broncos have allowed 17 rushing scores on the season; in fact, 12 of the last 14 touchdowns scored against them have come on the ground. For every touchdown they have allowed on the ground, they have allowed just over 100 yards, totaling 1,703 rushing yards allowed. To limit quarterback Josh Allen’s efficiency as a passer (especially off of play-action), the Broncos defense will need to contain the Buffalo rushing attack. Victory might not be possible without it.
Containing the Backfield
Running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have combined for 911 yards and four rushing scores, adding 313 yards and a score through the air to their efforts. The success Mike Davis and Teddy Bridgewater found against Denver’s deteriorated defensive front proved the run defense will need to dig down deep to prevent Singletary or Moss from fueling the Buffalo offense.
Using the Past To Inform the Present and Future
If the schematic issues Carolina took advantage of in Week 14 are indicative of anything, they are emblematic of some of Broncos Country’s biggest concerns regarding Vic Fangio. Once again, Fangio illustrated a puzzling aversion to effective halftime adjustments (or seemingly adjustments of any kind). The Panthers rushing game was able to run roughshod because the interior opted to regularly stunt for pass-rushing pressure, with both interior defensive linemen consistently playing a 3-technique alignment.
Without Mike Purcell to man the interior, these schematic decisions allowed three rushing scores— two of which came in the fourth quarter. When combined with Fangio’s constant, but unconducive commitment to sizable cushions for defensive backs, the defense in Denver is vulnerable to the run game, quick/short passes, and play-action passes.
While Buffalo certainly employs a more vertical passing aspect than Carolina, their run game will find similar (or greater) success if Fangio once again refuses to adjust his scheme. In hopes of containing Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, Denver must experiment with differing defensive fronts and blitzes from interior linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell.
Containing Josh Allen as a Runner
The Broncos defense has allowed 318 rushing yards and six rushing scores by quarterbacks in the 2020 campaign, which amounts to a 5.78 yards per carry clip. This is higher than any runner’s yards per carry on the Denver offense. In Josh Allen’s lone career game against Denver, he accrued 56 yards on nine carries (a 6.22 yards per carry margin). This suggests Allen is poised for another effective rushing performance, entering Saturday’s game with six rushing touchdowns and 350 yards on the ground.
If Vic Fangio has anything to say about it, this poise will end up nothing more than potential.
Against the New Orleans Saints, Fangio failed to employ a linebacker as a spy or garner effective edge defense from defenders like Malik Reed and allowed quarterback Taysom Hill to earn two rushing scores. To contain Josh Allen as a runner, the Fangio defense will need to make these adjustments for interior pass-rush while allowing the defensive backs to press receivers more. Decreasing the frustratingly deep cushions in general would yield similar results.
The Vic Fangio Defensive Backfield
It is true the defensive backfield’s lack of top-end speed could leave them susceptible to Stefon Diggs and John Brown’s considerable breakaway speed and route-running acumen. Nonetheless, the cushions have (in nearly two full seasons) yet to fit the personnel or schematic adjustments required for continued effectual pass defense. Admittedly, it is true biting these corners up toward the line of scrimmage might allow wide receivers and tight ends to more quickly engage blocks. Despite this, it will allow for greater success against runs outside the tackles and will allow the pass rush more time to get to Allen on passing plays.
Rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia has displayed consistent willingness to play the run and tackle in general, while De’Vante Bausby breaks on passes and outside runs with quite a bit of success. The efforts of these two corners will play a significant role in run defense with Essang Bassey out for the season, A.J. Bouye suspended for P.E.D.s, and Bryce Callahan still nursing an injury.
If the edge defenders play as ineffectively as they did against New Orleans, these cornerbacks will need to put multiple helmets on Josh Allen. They hope to contain his outside rushing efforts, and this is how they will have to do it.
The Vic Fangio Defense vs the Buffalo Bills Passing Game
2020 has been the best season of Josh Allen’s professional career and it is not particularly close. The arrival of Stefon Diggs has seemingly completely shifted Allen’s passing efficiency, allowing for Allen to accomplish a few feats. He already has a career high in passing yardage and touchdowns with games left on the schedule, he boosted his career-high completion percentage by nearly 10 percent, and he accrued better than a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio for the first time in his career (with a previous high of two-to-one). Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell have their work cut out for them in containing these two.
Containing Stefon Diggs
With three games remaining, Diggs has already set a new career high in receiving yards and should break his career high in receptions against Denver. He needs only three catches to do so. As undoubtedly one of the best route runners in the league, Diggs will face rookie corner Michael Ojemudia and the oft-cut De’Vante Bausby. This obviously favors the veteran wideout, meaning Vic Fangio will need to adjust his scheme to prevent Diggs from having a career day.
The aforementioned adjustments regarding the ineffectual cushions serve as the first step. By pressing receivers like Diggs, it impedes the timing of the play. This should allow the pass rush to apply more significant pressure on Allen, which would influence turnovers. In doing so, they would prevent the Allen-to-Diggs connection from finding a rhythm early, which has proven an effective measure against receivers like Stefon Diggs.
What Else Can Denver Do?
Furthermore, Fangio needs to use the incredible athleticism of safeties Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, and Will Parks for additional coverage over the top and for disrupting intermediate routes (especially those over the middle). It will allow the corners to play a variety of coverage techniques without worrying as much about getting burned deep.
Keeping Diggs behind the sticks and disallowing yards after the catch with sound tackling and 11 men on defense pursuing the ball—as vigorously as Shelby Harris did in Week 13—is all that is left to do in this regard.
Containing Josh Allen as a Passer
In Josh Allen’s one game against Denver thus far, he passed for 185 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, managing a 60 percent completion percentage. With that said, Allen’s worst games in 2020 have come against Kansas City, the New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. These are three teams against whom Denver has, inversely, played some of their best games this year.
If Denver can offer effort akin to that of their games against these teams and an improvement on defense over that of their performance against Carolina, it is not unreasonable to acknowledge Denver could actually win this game, even if their chances are slim. The Vic Fangio defense must not only apply great pressure in the backfield, but also notch a high number of hits and knockdowns to fluster the third-year quarterback to contain him as a passer. Compounding this with the schematic adjustments outlined previously should prove effective.
What Furthermore Can Denver Do?
If an inferior athlete like Teddy Bridgewater can find rushing success against Denver as he did in Week 14, Fangio cannot employ the same techniques in the front seven against an adept thrower on the run like Josh Allen. Increased pressure in the A-gap and B-gap with more sound edge defense from Bradley Chubb, Malik Reed, and Jeremiah Attaochu should keep Allen in the tackle box. This would allow Fangio’s exotic defensive backfield strategies to sink their teeth in more than in past weeks.
Many, if not most, expect Allen to have an excellent outing against the 5-8 Denver Broncos. If the Vic Fangio defense can make these adjustments and use more two-high coverages, it is more than possible Allen has a less efficient performance than his proponents might expect—win or loss alike.
The Last Word
Even after an impressive win over Carolina featuring the FedEx NFL Air Player of the Week in Drew Lock, expectations for Denver against Buffalo are relatively low. Buffalo is a playoff-ready team who handed the Steelers their second loss of the season in Week 14, illustrating their strengths in eking out various styles of victory against various styles of opposition.
Pittsburgh’s defense is undeniably outperforming Denver’s in 2020. Nonetheless, the Vic Fangio defense has a chance to stifle Josh Allen’s meteoric ascension to the upper echelons of NFL quarterbacks.
If the defense can remain disciplined and sound in their technique, the aforementioned adjustments will significantly limit the efficiency of the Buffalo offense. Considering how inconsistent the Vic Fangio defense has proven over the past two years, this is the kind of game the head coach needs to go well defensively. Broncos Country might disagree on their expectations for Saturday’s game, but one thing the fandom can agree on as far as Saturday is concerned?
Win or loss, the outcome of this game is predominantly contingent upon the coaching and execution of the Vic Fangio defense.
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