We only get to touch base with our AFC sister sites once every four years and much can change in that time! The Broncos won the last meeting 17-15 behind the heroics of Brock Osweiler... Those same Broncos would ride a stellar defense and Peyton Manning’s last professional passes to a Super Bowl victory. To catch up on the current iteration of the Broncos, I reached out to Laurie Lattimore, Mile High Report’s Editor. We talk about our old friend Vic Fangio, the dangerous pass rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, and more.
Windy City Gridiron: The Vic Fangio era got off on a sour note with a 24-16 loss against the rival Vegas / Oakland Raiders on Monday night. Putting that aside, what do you think of your new HC and what’s your biggest takeaway so far from his tenure?
Mile High Report: If you had asked me this before the game I would have said I love the new head coach and that my biggest takeaway is that while he’s very old-school in a lot of the ways he coaches, he’s quite innovative in the way he schemes his defenses and breaks down the offense. Asking me after the game, I’d say that while I still think both of those things, I would also add that one of my big takeaways from the Monday night game is that the Broncos don’t really have the personnel to pull off the “Vic Fangio defense” just yet. His scheme of misdirection and disguise is awesome if you have guys who really get it and also if you have guys who can make quick reactions and adjustments. Monday’s game proved that our weakness at inside linebacker (through injury to starters primarily but also level of talent for all ILBs) as well as at cornerback (mainly through injury to starters) is a big liability for our defense and despite having some of the best defenders in the game in Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Chris Harris Jr. - Fangio’s scheme really needs above-average ability from all the defense and can’t get by with stellar ability from a few but just average from the rest.
WCG: Bradley Chubb and Von Miller are among the top pass-rushing duos in the league. What’s the key to slowing them down? Do they stay in the same position on the defense or are they moved around to give different looks?
MHR: Slowing them down is not easy. Both are extremely fast off the snap and very agile running and spinning to get around the edge. So usually it will take more than one player on either, but it’s usually not possible to double-team both Miller and Chubb, so there is always a likelihood that one or both of them is getting to the QB. And if it’s not for a sack, it’s still creating pressure that will cause problems in the passing game. That said, the Raiders’ had a nice blueprint for mitigating the pass rush by getting the ball out so fast that even despite Miller and Chubb’s speed, neither could get to Derek Carr in time to make a difference.
Regarding the ‘same position,’ as you know having had Vic Fangio as a defensive coordinator, the outside linebackers will occasionally drop into coverage, though it isn’t often and is more about disguising the defense than it is to really use them in coverage. Their primary goal is to pressure the QB, and any different look is really created with that being the ultimate prize on the important downs.
WCG: Let’s talk about the quarterback situation. The Broncos have been searching for Peyton Manning’s replacement since Super Bowl 50, currently playing Joe Flacco with rookie Drew Lock learning behind him. While Flacco is a big name, he can be cut at any time for no discernible cap hit. Lock, the exciting but raw rookie from Missouri, figures to need a little time to be ready for the starting gig. What is the expectation for the transition to Lock and when do you think it will happen?
MHR: The long-term plan at quarterback is such a fluid piece depending on how a lot of things shake out this season. But just looking at the plan for 2019, it is safe to say that Joe Flacco is the unequivocal starter and the only way that will change is if he were to get injured (knock on wood that doesn’t happen).
Now that Drew Lock is on IR, set to return midway through the season, his role in this scenario is a little up in the air. During preseason he was on track to move up the roster to become the bonafide backup quarterback - assuming the role of understudy so that he could a) step into the huddle in a pinch of Flacco were injured; and b) continue developing with the second team so John Elway and Co. could determine whether he has the goods to be a future franchise QB for the Broncos.
Since he’s out for half the season, that future role is a little more uncertain but not necessarily different. If Elway thinks Lock is a true franchise QB, he could put him into the starting role next year, but the more likely scenario is that Lock aims to be the starter when Flacco’s two-year contract is up. The bigger question will come in 2021 when Elway will have to decide if he’s going to roll with Lock or need to go looking for another quarterback in the draft to be the franchise guy (Trevor Lawrence, anyone???)
WCG: I was surprised to see running backs Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay split reps evenly on Monday as Lindsay was the superior rookie in 2018. Is this a full-blown timeshare and what does each back bring to the offense?
MHR: I wouldn’t say it is a “full-blown timeshare,” but I think Rich Scangarello recognizes he has two very good running backs with some different skill sets that can both be used to the offense’s advantage. Frankly, it was an ankle injury to Royce Freeman last season that gave Lindsay more carries - and then he made the absolute most of them to really prove he deserves to be a starter too. But where he is shifty and fast, Freeman is powerful and fast. Both of those are useful in different situations, so I think you’ll see both of them used frequently but still splitting reps.
WCG: I’ve got a feeling that this game might put football back to the 1970’s with both squads boasting top defensive talent and struggling offenses. What do the Broncos need to do to get out of this one with a victory?
MHR: It’s going to come down to the offense that can neutralize the other team’s defense more. I know, I know. Highly profound.
But honestly, for the Broncos to win, the defense has to get pressure on Trubisky so he can’t complete passes downfield - or anywhere beyond the sticks, lol! Our secondary is weak opposite Chris Harris Jr. and if the pass rush isn’t making it tough for Trubisky to throw, then he’ll be able to pick apart the weak side.
And then the Broncos offensive line just has to not crumble against the Bears’ stellar Front 7- which will be a huge undertaking for our beleaguered o-line. Hopefully they can protect Flacco just long enough for him to connect with Emmanuel Sanders or Courtland Sutton, who should match up well against the Bears’ corners. And hopefully Garett Bolles won’t get too many holding calls that negate any long breakaway runs by Freeman and Lindsay.
WCG - Bonus: I’ve been dying to ask this since I took over the “5 questions with” articles - what’s up with the shade thrown from the Rocky Mountains at the Bears? We wear the same basic colors and Midwesterners love the mountains. So why did it always seem like Mile High Report was throwing shade at the Bears? Was it Jay Cutler? Brandon Marshall? John Fox? I think it’s time for us to bury the hatchet and move on from those days.
MHR: Hahaha, I am totally unaware of this shade to Bears fans, but definitely do not approve of it. I do know that our fans are some of the worst at holding grudges against players and coaches so it’s absolutely related to our anger over Jay Cutler leaving or John Fox kneeling. I assure you it’s nothing personal ;)
Thank you to Laurie and Mile High Report for the info! Follow her work on Twitter @docllv and Jeff can be found @gridironborn.