The Denver Broncos have had a rough start to the season. Players, coaches, and fans did not expect to start as a national punchline. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett has been lambasted by the national media, for his poor decision-making and time management decision. They are on the shortlist for an early disappointing team thus far in 2022. Fortunately, one of the bright spots of the season for Denver has been Denver’s tough defense. The defense has dragged the offense kicking and screaming to a 1-1 record. The obvious place to look at what will determine this game is the ability of Hackett and the Broncos offense to look competent. But, the real x-factor in this game will be how the Broncos defense can stop the San Francisco 49ers returning quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to get back on track.
Denver Broncos Defense Will Be the X-factor Against Jimmy Garoppolo
Defensive Holding Up Their Side of the Deal
Although it has only been two games, the defense is what has been keeping the Broncos competitive. They have dragged them to a 1-1 record. Besides the first half against the Seattle Seahawks, the defense has played six fantastic quarters of defense, only allowing nine points after that and only 13 points a game in the early season.
The Broncos defense ranks fifth overall in DVOA with a rating of -21.2%. They rank only behind the 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Buffalo Bills in total DVOA. The offense is sitting middle of the pack at 14th. Better than most people would probably rank them, but still not as efficient as the defense has been this season.
Denver won’t be the only good defense on the field on Sunday night. San Francisco ranks just above the Broncos in overall DVOA and overall DVOA. San Francisco is 10th in overall DVOA and 4th in defensive DVOA. This means points will be at a premium on Sunday, which will make Denver’s defense even more important.
It’s going to be tough for Garoppolo to make his first start of the season against a humming Broncos defense. It will be imperative that the Broncos defense gets off to a hot start and continues that throughout the game. If the Broncos maintain copious and consistent, amounts of pressure it can be a long night for a quarterback, who is looking to settle back into the groove of things.
Is Garoppolo the Answer?
In one of the most serendipitous turns of events in NFL history, Jimmy Garoppolo, who was going to get traded by the organization if not for a shoulder injury, will come in for relief of the quarterback who the organization wanted to replace him with, Trey Lance. Lance, who broke his ankle in week 2, will not be replaced by the quarterback he was set to replace. Garoppolo is making his first start for the team. The last time we saw Garoppolo, he was a quarter away from making it to his second Super Bowl in three seasons. If you ask many Broncos fans as to who they would rather have faced, many would answer Lance over Garoppolo. Lance is unproven and has not, yet, lived up to the third overall draft pick.
According to Chris Simms on his Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcasts, Simms has heard some rumbling that some within the organization think they will be better now that Garoppolo is back under center.
“They are a Super Bowl football team. To do justice to your organization, your fan base, and more importantly to your football team and the guys in the locker room, you’ve got to play the best players. I’ve heard through the grapevine that there are guys in that locker room that go, ‘Jimmy G. is the best player.’ I know. I don’t want to call people out here but I’ve heard from people that I know around the NFL that go, ‘Yeah, there’s some prominent people in the 49ers locker room that go, ‘Jimmy Garoppolo is better.’’ That’s a real thing.”
Garoppolo and Kittle Reuniting Could Mean Trouble for Denver Defense
Garoppolo was middle of the pack in almost all of the passing statistics last season. He was 12th in passing yards (3810), 18th in touchdown passes (120), and 14th in interceptions (12). Garoppolo was however sixth in completion percentage, completing 68.3% of his passes. This means that Garoppolo is effective in throwing out the short and intermediate routes. This sort of passing game is something the Broncos have a history of struggling against. This is compounded by All-Pro tight end George Kittle is also scheduled to make his season debut on Sunday.
George Kittle is returning to the lineup as well, after missing the first two weeks of the season. This could cause the Broncos some concern if Kittle is in mid-season shape. If you take fantasy football stats with any validity, the Broncos have allowed the third most points to tight ends so far this season.
Defensive Players To Keep an Eye On
Saying putting pressure on the quarter will be the difference is extremely cliche. But, there is a reason why it’s overused, and that is because it’s true. Sunday is no different as both pass rushers, Randy Gregory and Bradley Chubb, have already had major impacts this season. Chubb, who is on a contract year, already has two sacks, five tackles, a forced fumble, and two tackles for loss. Gregory has one sack, four tackles, and two forced fumbles.
If this two-headed attack can get into Garoppolo face to create chaos, it can be a long night for Jimmy. In 4for4’s week three O-line rankings and favorable quarterback matchups, the Broncos defense has a great matchup against the 49ers offensive line. One must always consider, that no matter the stats or the matchups, San Francisco has Trent Williams. That will be a brick wall that Gregory and Chubb must try to get around to get to Garoppolo.
Patrick Surtain II is another player to keep an eye on for an impact on the game. He will be a Broncos defensive x-factor with wide receiver Deebo Samuel coming into town. Surtain must prevent big plays from Samuel in the run-and-passing game. If anyone can do it, it’s Surtain. He already is considered an elite cornerback, and in his only full game this season, Surtain held DK Metcalf to only 36 yards.
Returning Key Players to the Defense
Surtain will look into making his return to the field on Sunday night. Surtain was pulled off the field at halftime in the win over the Houston Texans with a shoulder injury. All signs point toward Surtain playing on Sunday, even though he is still listed as day-to-day. Surtain is not the only major defensive player looking to return to the field on Sunday.
Defensively, the Broncos have had an onslaught of injuries to some key players. After the week one loss to the Seahawks, the Broncos’ heart and soul, safety Justin Simmons went on the four-week injured reserve. ILB Josey Jewell returned to practice on Wednesday after missing out on the first two weeks of the season due to a calf injury. Jewell has not played since week three of the 2021 season after a pectoral injury kept him out for the entirety of 2021.
Defensive tackle D.J. Jones tweaked his ankle against the Texans but finished the game and was at practice on Thursday. Jones, who has signed this offseason from the, you guessed it 49ers, has already made a major difference in stopping the run. In the first two weeks of the season, San Francisco is fourth in the league in rushing with 182.5 yards per game with three touchdowns. Having Jones ready to play is important. This is how the Denver Broncos defense will be the X-factor against returning Jimmy Garoppolo.
This could be the game where the Broncos offense finally figures things out. However, the defense still needs to go into the game with the mentality that they will be the reason the Broncos win. And that’s exactly what will happen. They will get to Garoppolo. early and often, which could cause turnovers. This is the game where the defense makes a national splash and puts the Broncos back in the AFC West title picture.
Broncos 24, 49ers 13