The Denver Broncos saw their game against the New England Patriots postponed, first one day from Sunday to Monday, then from Week 5 to Week 6. Things are trending with the Patriots (and their positive COVID-19 tests) to allow the game to be played this weekend.
The Broncos got their bye week – unbeknownst to them – last week, but have now spent two weeks preparing for this one game. Broncos coach Vic Fangio admits there hasn’t been much difference preparing last week to this week for the same team.
“No. It hasn’t been, and that’s a credit to the players. They’ve dealt with all the distractions that have been a part of this season and they’ve dealt with it well. We started over in our preparations right from ground zero. We weren’t going to make any assumptions that they remembered or knew everything that we wanted from last week. We’ve even added a thing or two with the extra time, so it’s been good,” Fangio said.
We will see the Patriots get two star players back from the COVID-19 list in quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots are a tough team to beat, but the Broncos do have a chance if they execute their game plan. Here are three things the Broncos must do to beat the Patriots.
Attack the Edges
The Broncos will see the return of co-starting running back Phillip Lindsay in Week 6. Lindsay could be in line for a larger role with the Melvin Gordon situation. Earlier this week, Gordon was cited for DUI and may be facing some team discipline – in addition to league discipline. Gordon missed practice on Wednesday as he was sent home, but on Thursday he returned to the practice field.
Fangio discussed why the team let Gordon practice on Thursday.
“We have had a couple discussions with him yesterday and today. We did let him practice today. Obviously, it’s a matter that’s going to be punished pretty strongly from the league standpoint. We’re working through — from our standpoint — if we are going to do much more than what the league will do. What the league will do will be pretty substantial because that’s something that is negotiated in the CBA. We’ll make a decision as it relates to us by game time,” Fangio said.
The Patriots run defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Gordon is coming off his first 100-yard performance with the Broncos from the Jets game way back in Week 4. Even though the Patriots have not allowed a single rusher to pass the century mark, they do struggle stopping the run consistently against a strong-rushing team. For example, earlier this year they let the Seattle Seahawks run all over them.
Denver can do that on Sunday if they so choose. Gordon provides power up the middle and can grind down a team as the game goes on. However, Lindsay may be the more-important piece in this contest. The Patriots are soft on the edges and a player like Lindsay could do a lot of damage on toss plays, flat routes and wheel routes. If the Broncos want to give themselves the best chance to win, they had better attack the edges.
Let Lock Play Streetball
This week, we’ll likely see Drew Lock return as the starting quarterback for the Broncos. He hasn’t been out there since Week 2 against the Steelers, so we haven’t seen much from the Broncos young quarterback. He was close to returning last week, but probably wouldn’t have played if the game had happened. Now, he’s even closer to returning – even though the team has yet to officially announce he will start.
“He definitely could start on Sunday as he looks now. We’ll hold off on making that final. He had a good practice today, so we’ll see how it goes. There were no setbacks,” Fangio said.
Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur did not put together the best game plan for Lock in Week 1 against the Titans. We barely saw him against the Steelers, so nobody knows what Shurmur had in store for Lock in Week 2. It seems like Lock is not yet comfortable in this offense – for good reason – he’s barely had time to get comfortable!
If the Broncos want to make him comfortable, then they need to structure things that work to Lock’s strengths. He’s got a big arm and is athletic, so the team needs to keep him out of the structure of a pocket-passing offense. Let Lock get out and run around to make plays and keep pressure away from him. Lock has really struggled with pressure and looks much better when he’s not blitzed.
We could see the team use bootlegs and designed rollouts to get Lock on the move. In a way, the team needs to let him play streetball. When Lock is comfortable and in the zone he can be a dangerous quarterback.
For the Broncos to beat the Patriots, the team should consider letting Lock improvise within the offense.
Even though Fangio doesn’t like to blitz – at least he’s not known for blitzing – the team had to send extra rushers after the quarterback against the Jets. Doing that worked, and the Broncos ended up with 10 quarterback hits and 6.0 sacks against the Jets back in Week 4. The team cannot forget to blitz against Newton and the Patriots.
Still only a year removed from a knee injury that cut his 2019 season short, Bradley Chubb entered the Week 4 contest with zero sacks. In the game against the Jets, Chubb was able to get to the quarterback often and finished the game with 2.5 sacks.
“Yeah, we just wanted to bring pressure as much as we could, and Coach Fangio did a great job calling that game. It allowed us to be more free on the edge and not get those double teams as much. Hopefully we just continue to get the rushing and the coverage going like we did last week, and it’ll be good for us on our side.” Chubb said.
In addition to a big day from Chubb, the team also saw inside linebacker Josey Jewell get 2.5 sacks against the Jets. Jewell is not a star like Chubb, and he’s mostly panned for his struggles in coverage. While Jewell still isn’t a great option as a coverage linebacker, he did look good as someone who could be sent on a blitz from time to time.
“A lot of the stuff really depends on what coverage we’re in. Sometimes, we’re in coverage where we can mug up and go attack our guy, which would be the running back or tight end if they’re blocking, and just go attack. Sometimes, it just looks like a blitz and really, you’ve got to just see who you have. If you have a running back, you can go through a bull or go through and flip your hips, just a bunch of different stuff. I hadn’t done a lot of it in the three games before that, but I got a good amount in this last game and hopefully we can get some more throughout the next few weeks,” Jewell said.
The Broncos found a key for their defense in 2020 – blitz early and blitz often. If they want to beat the Patriots, then that recipe needs to continue.
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