The Broncos are at home for the first time this season, as they face a tough matchup in Week 2 against the Bears. Last week, Denver dropped the season opener against a fired-up Oakland team and they know starting 0-2 would be incredibly detrimental to their 2019 season.
In 2002, the NFL expanded and reorganized into eight divisions. Since that time, the rate of teams making the playoffs after a 0-2 start is 14 out of 133 teams (11 percent). In front of the home crowd on Sunday, the Broncos need to get on the winning track.
Let’s take a look at how the Broncos will attack the Bears on both sides of the ball.
When the Broncos Run the Ball
This game should be a street fight against a tough Bears defense. I think the Broncos have to come out and be the bully in order to wear down what many consider the best front seven on defense in the NFL. They do that best with the rushing attack.
In the play below, you see the Broncos in the red zone against the Raiders. It’s a 3rd-and-1 with the Broncos using tight end Noah Fant in motion to create a bunch formation on the right side. At the snap, quarterback Joe Flacco quickly turns and pitches the ball to Lindsay.
An unblocked defender descends on Phillip Lindsay, but he’s able to use his speed and quickness to elude his man. That defender could have been pushed further upfield by left tackle Garett Bolles before he breaks into the open field ahead of Lindsay. Bolles doesn’t block the defensive end, then he doesn’t block the safety that makes the tackle on Lindsay.
Sure, it was a seven-yard gain and moved the chains, but it could’ve been a much-needed touchdown. If Bolles blocks the safety, Lindsay walks into the ends zone. Instead, this drive ended in a 26-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
Lindsay knows the team has to improve in the red zone.
“Like I said before, it’s a mentality,” Lindsay explained. “It’s who wants it more. When you get to the red zone, it’s about one-on-one matchups, from the offensive line to linebackers and the running backs and the receivers and the DBs. It’s who’s going to want it more and that’s what we need.”
If they can play with better discipline in the red zone, the Broncos should be able to churn out a hard-fought touchdown against a ferocious opponent.
When the Broncos Pass the Ball
The Broncos may not have much time to throw the ball on Sunday. The Bears don’t have a lot of weaknesses on defense, but their secondary is where you want to attack if you get time.
In the play below, you’ll see the offensive line give Flacco plenty of time. Before the snap, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton motions over from the right side to the left and he lines up inside of Courtland Sutton.
This is a mesh route combination where Hamilton tries to rub the defender away from Sutton and get open in the middle of the end zone. Hamilton does a good job of shaking his man while also getting in the way of Sutton’s defender. He turns inside and finds himself the recipient of a rocket pass from Flacco. Hamilton drops the ball and the Broncos once again have to settle for a field goal.
Everyone will blame Hamiltion and for good reason. The ball hit him in the hands in the end zone and he dropped the ball. However, if you go back and watch the play closely, you’ll see a different target who should’ve gotten the ball. Had Flacco gotten rid of the ball at the mesh point of Hamilton and Sutton, when Sutton makes his break inside at the five-yard line, then it would have been a touchdown. Sutton had plenty of room and the linebacker in the middle of the field would not have had time to get to him before the goal line.
When the Bears Run the Ball
The Bears were in a slugfest Week 1 against the Packers, but they chose not to run the ball for whatever reason. When they did run the ball, the Bears (as per usual) tried to be tricky with their formations.
In the picture below, we see the Bears lined up in a “T” formation. Running back Tarik Cohen is behind the center out of the shotgun.
In this picture, you’ll see how they motioned rookie running back David Montgomery to an “H-back” spot on the right side. Cohen slides over and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is ready to get the snap.
Montgomery runs around Trubisky and heads outside to block. Trubisky gets the snap and immediately pitches it to Cohen, who is running behind him. This play was fumbled by Cohen and went for a loss of yards. But if he secures the pitch, then there is a huge hole formed to the left side that could have been a touchdown. The Broncos have to be aware of this trickery from the Bears and how they won’t really just run a play straight up. There will always be some form of motion or jet sweep to break the discipline of the defense.
When the Bears Pass the Ball
The Broncos have an advantage here when the Bears have to pass the ball. Trubisky has a rocket arm and can keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. He’s what scouts call a “pure sight” thrower, meaning Trubisky does not throw with anticipation that often. Instead, he will break out of the pocket to find a guy, see him open, then fire it 20-plus yards downfield on the run.
The Broncos need to keep Trubisky in the pocket if they can. Trubisky generally likes to make one read, then dump it off to Cohen out of the backfield on a swing, wheel or Texas route. Because of that, Cohen is watched closely on passing downs.
In the play below, you’ll see the Packers defense think this is going to Cohen as a middle screen. The defenders converge to the spot, but Cohen is not headed out for a route. Instead, Trubisky is waiting in the pocket with plenty of time waiting for one of three routes to come open.
On the far left outside, you’ll see wide receiver Allen Robinson on a “9” route. He’s streaking down the sideline but actually runs a “stop” route instead. Robinson is waiting for the corner to turn his hips and commit to the deep pass. When that happens, he stops short and catches a pass that went for 22 yards.
The receiver next to him holds the linebacker on a shorter route and that creates a big window for Trubisky to easily drop the ball into. This play is successful for many reasons, but the attention paid to Cohen out of the backfield creates a 1-on-1 situation for Robinson on the outside. With all the time he needs, Trubisky can scan the field and hits his man for one of the biggest gains of the night.
Chris Harris Jr. knows how the Bears will try to get Cohen open from all different spots on the field.
“They line him up in the backfield, outside receiver, slot. He’s all over the field, jet motions. He’s kind of like how we—when we have to prepare for (Kansas City Chiefs wideout) Tyreek Hill you have to look for him everywhere, so he’s going to be all over the field. We have to be ready for him, especially the linebackers and the safeties where he’s going to be at because he runs a lot of routes out the backfield,” Harris said.
This game is going to be tough to win for the Broncos. The offensive line needs to do the best job they possibly can to blast open holes for the rushing attack. I believe the Broncos win if they run the ball more effectively than Chicago and win the time of possession.
The offensive line also has a ton of pressure when it comes to pass-blocking for Flacco. They need to give him time so Flacco can pick on the weakest part (if there is one) of this incredibly strong defense.
The Bears will try to break them down defensively, and they have big-play weapons like Cohen or Robinson who could present problems for the Broncos. This game is going to come down to a play or two. Whoever lacks discipline and allows even one explosive play (20 or more yards) could end up costing their team the game.
I’ll somewhat reluctantly give the edge to the Broncos here. The home-field advantage should help and the physicality this team plays with can match what the Bears will bring on defense. I’ll say the first one to 17 wins the game, and predict a final score of Broncos 13 Bears 10.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Game screenshots from NFL Game Pass. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.
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