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Don’t expect Emmanuel Sanders to remain the invisible wideout

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Broncos offense runs hot and cold at times on the football field. They have been starting the game hot only to struggle and stumble as the game goes on.

On Monday, I asked Broncos head coach Vic Fangio what the team can do to be better offensively.

“Well, that’s a multi-faceted question with a lot of answers potentially. One is we have to avoid getting in third-and-longs. We got in third-and-long because we didn’t run it well when we did run it in those drives. We got a penalty or two on those drives. We got a sack on those drives, which translates into third-and-long,” Fangio continued. “We had too many of those negative plays which got it in the third and long.”

I have an idea: How about using your best assets enough on game day?

The Broncos aren’t using wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders enough. In the game against the Chargers, Sanders was only targeted a couple of times (one was on a penalized play) and he caught just one pass for nine yards. This has prompted some to believe the team is moving on from Sanders and that’s simply not the case.

Do not count Sanders out going forward. Let’s examine why.

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Double Coverage

Watching the game against the Chargers, it was clear to see Sanders gets a ton of respect from opposing defenses. He was covered by one of the best cornerbacks in the game, as Casey Hayward was tasked with shutting down the veteran receiver. In addition to seeing top coverage, Sanders also was getting double teamed quite a bit on Sunday.

On Tuesday, I asked Sanders is he was seeing as many double teams as I saw him getting in Week 5.

“In the third and fourth quarter, they were double covering me and Courtland. Obviously, that’s up to (offensive coordinator) Rich (Scangarello) to say, ‘Alright this team’s going to start playing us like this here on out. We have to make those adjustments.’” Sanders said.

Sanders ran 18 routes against the Chargers. On 11 of those, he saw at least two defenders. That means the Broncos have to find ways to get Sanders the ball before getting into the heart of the defense. Some wide receiver screens should be in order to jumpstart Sanders and the passing game

In his 10th season, Sanders is still getting treated like a No. 1 wide receiver. Sutton has been playing at a high level so that may change going forward, but in the meantime Scangarello must be more creative when getting Sanders the ball.

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Third Quarter Stalls

The offense has gone two games without a first down in the third quarter. That needs to change ASAP. The Broncos defense is getting worn down after halftime because the offense cannot buy them some time to get a breather.

In the last two games, the Broncos have had a lead heading into the locker room. When they get the ball after the half, the Broncos offense seems to go conservative and thus goes three-and-out way too often. It’s unusual that they go away from running the ball and go conservative by throwing a bunch of short passes.

Sanders thinks the struggles after the half are self-inflicted.

“I think a lot of those we kind of kicked ourselves in the butt. When you open up the third quarter, we drive the ball down. The first play we have a 15-yard run. Then, we stall at the 40-45, so we can’t allow that to happen and it’s been happening the past two games in terms of the second half. We’re trying to figure out a way. Whether it’s aggressive play calling or better execution, we have to be better in the second half,” Sanders said.

Scangarello needs to have better adjustments after halftime. He’s done a better job in recent weeks of coming out and driving the ball early in the game. However, there is a constant of this team struggling to do the same after the intermission.

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All About the Quad

Sanders is a warrior who has played through various injuries throughout his career. In fact, he’s come back from an Achilles’ injury that cut short his season in 2018 and looked fantastic.

He was on the injury report prior to the game against the Chargers with what was described as a minor quad injury. On Monday, Fangio cleared up whether or not the injury was bothering him and that’s why Sanders only got targeted a couple of times in Week 5.

“His quad wasn’t bothering him. He had to come out there for a minute or two there, but he was targeted twice that I know because I watched it. The way the game played out, the receivers didn’t get a lot of targets yesterday. It wasn’t just Emmanuel. Courtland (Sutton) had a couple big catches which stand out, but he didn’t get a lot of targets either. I think that’s just the way the game went.” Fangio said.

If we take Fangio at his word, Sanders is fine. If Sanders is healthy, then there’s no reason he doesn’t deserve to get more work. Both Sanders and Sutton need to get more work than they did against the Chargers.

The Broncos should work diligently to find ways to get him the ball, even if he’s double teamed. There are ways to force feed Sanders the ball and doing that would benefit the entire offense. Broncos fans should not count Sanders out, he’s still capable of being a big-time playmaker for the Broncos in 2019.