The Broncos offense did not look good on Monday night. Specifically, the first- and second-team units struggled to play with efficiency or get in the end zone against the 49ers.
We saw most of the first-team offense on the field for Denver. While they moved the ball into the red zone, they stalled out and did not score a touchdown.
This is the second week in a row that a Joe Flacco-led Broncos team failed to score a touchdown even though they were close to pay dirt. Flacco and most of the first-team offense only have one more game, really one half of one game, to get things right and show they can move the ball when the field gets tight.
After the game, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was asked if he was encouraged or unsure about the performance of the offense on Monday night.
“Yes and yes. I thought we did move the ball and made some critical plays. Joe made a nice third-down conversion off the scramble. I thought we had some pretty good efficient play there in the early going with the offense, but again we’ve got to punch it in there and get seven, not three,” Fangio said.
The Broncos offense needs to vastly improve in a short amount of time. Can they do it? Let’s take a look.
Run to Pass
The Broncos offense is going to be built around running the football early and often in 2019. In order to have a successful passing game, the Broncos must first run the ball effectively. That part of their game was missing on Monday night.
Sure, when all was said and done the Broncos rushed for more than 100 yards as a team and finished with 113 rushing yards and a 4.2 yards per carry average against the 49ers. However, three of their four longest runs came from Kevin Hogan (24), Emmanuel Sanders (19) and Tim Patrick (10). They needed to see more from starting running back Phillip Lindsay and his primary backup Royce Freeman.
Lindsay finished with a paltry five carries for 14 yards. Freeman’s total was even worse as he rushed five times but gained zero yards on the ground. One of the reasons why the ground game struggled is the fact the team is not showing their hand in the preseason.
I’ve talked to people around the building that tell me offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is purposely leaving things “vanilla” during the preseason. After the game, Lindsay revealed that is most certainly the case.
“We haven’t put our red zone stuff in; it’s just kind of vanilla. There’s a lot of things we have coming up here that when the season starts it’s going to help us out. This is preseason,” Lindsay said.
I understand not wanting to give away everything during the preseason, but everyone knows this offense and all the various nuances you can have in the ground game. This offense has been around for decades and is well known by defensive coordinators. Scangarello can have some wrinkles here and there, but they are unlikely to be something nobody has ever seen.
We need to see Scangarello open things up in the dress rehearsal for the regular season, aka Week 3 of the preseason, which is technically the fourth game for the Broncos this year coming up later this week against the Rams.
Where is Sutton?
We saw the first catch of the preseason for Courtland Sutton on Monday night. He caught both of his targets against the 49ers and those two receptions went for 28 yards.
Simply put, that’s not enough.
The team made an emphasis to get the ball to rookie tight end Noah Fant in the Hall of Fame Game. Even in the game against the 49ers, the Broncos made an effort to get Emmanuel Sanders involved early and often. In fact, after the game, Sanders revealed that Scangarello told him to get ready as they were going to get him the ball ASAP.
Why can’t we see the same mantra for Sutton?
Sutton is supposed to be the team’s No. 1 receiver in 2019. He’s certainly capable of getting that type of workload.
Sutton has a great size/speed combination and can get by defenders downfield with ease. He does a good job of tracking passes over his shoulder and has “late hands,” so he doesn’t tip off that a deep pass is incoming with a defender trailing behind him.
The red zone is where Sutton can dominate because of his frame and wingspan. Yet, other than one end-zone target last week against the Seahawks, we haven’t seen Sutton used in the best way possible.
Yes, he’s not the most refined route runner but he has worked diligently to improve that part of his game. Sutton and Flacco have shown strong chemistry most days at training camp, but that has yet to translate to the playing field. We need to see and the sooner the better.
Here We Go Again
The Broncos offensive line had an up-and-down performance in the first half against the 49ers. Starting left tackle Garett Bolles might have had the worst game of the group. The largest play for the first-team offense, a 45-yard bomb from Flacco to Sanders, was called back due to a holding penalty on Bolles.
He was one of the most-penalized tackles in his one season at Utah in college and Bolles has continued to be heavily penalized during his pro career. What we saw on Monday night was reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Bolles over the first two years he’s had with the Broncos.
After the game, I asked Flacco if he said anything about Bolles after that play.
“What am I going to say to Garett? No, those things happen. I didn’t see it. Even if I did say something, I’d have to see it first just to see if it was actually holding. Garett’s going to do his thing out there and sometimes things like that happen, you just have to keep them to a minimum,” Flacco said.
Bolles is going to make mistakes and get penalized during the season. He has to minimize the amount of times he’s penalized, but there’s something even more important Bolles must do. We have to see him let bad plays go in his mind.
Too often during his pro career, we’ve seen Bolles have a bad play then things will snowball out of control. Bolles needs to have a short memory and move on to the next play without letting a mistake bring the rest of his day down.
We didn’t get to see if that would happen against the 49ers as Bolles and most of the first-team offense were only in for one more play after that penalty. We’ll have to wait and see how Bolles responds later in the preseason.
The Broncos defense is putting in quality work, and they look to be an elite-level unit this season. The Broncos offense is not going to be elite, but they at least have to be competent in order for this team to compete at the highest level.
Can this problem in the red zone be fixed? Fangio seems to think so.
“I think it’s fixable. Like any part of the game it comes down to guys executing the play the way it’s been designed and we have to have good plays down there so it’s a little bit of everything. We can improve that, I believe. We need to in the next few weeks,” Fangio said.
They do have a couple of weeks to get things right, but the first-team offense has to look better against the Rams. If not, this season could be much rougher than many thought originally.
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