(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos are playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their offense is inept and can barely move the ball, as evidenced by their 175 first downs (No. 31 in the NFL). The Broncos are supposed to be a defensive team, but their defense has really struggled stopping the run over the past few weeks and that could continue going forward.
Things don’t look great for the Broncos, as starting quarterback Drew Lock is banged up with a painful ribs injury. He did not practice on Wednesday and Lock was limited on Thursday, so his status for Week 11 is up in the air.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio revealed on Thursday that they’ll decide on who will start at quarterback in good time.
“We’ll make a decision before game time. We’ll make the decision once we have good information based upon how Drew looks, based upon how he’s practicing and feeling, and based upon what the trainers and doctors tell us too. It’s a process. We’ll make it before game time, but exactly when – whether it’s after today’s practice, after Friday’s, Saturday’s – I don’t know. When its right to be made, we’ll make it,” Fangio said.
This is not going to be an easy game for the Broncos. No matter who is starting at quarterback, the Broncos offense must look better. That in turn will help the Broncos defense play better – and even that doesn’t guarantee they can hang with a hot (and talented) team like Miami.
Here are three things the Broncos must do to beat the Dolphins.
Take on Tua
It’s been quite some time since the Dolphins have had a real franchise quarterback. Not since the days of Dan Marino (who retired in 1999) have the Dolphins had a quarterback who their fans could truly get excited about. That all changed when the team selected Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Coming off a hip injury that ended his college career, Tagovailoa began his rookie season as a backup to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tagovailoa received his first start three weeks ago against the Los Angeles Rams. Even though he didn’t get going until Week 8, Tagovailoa has looked efficient and effective as the starter.
After three games, Tagovailoa has five touchdown passes with zero interceptions. He’s doing this while being a nearly 64.0 percent passer and distributing the ball to several different receivers.
The Dolphins play great defense and have a commitment to running the ball, so the rookie quarterback has not had to do as much as other young players at his position. Even with his somewhat limited role, Tagovailoa has looked good as the starter.
Fangio likes what he’s seen from the rookie quarterback so far.
“He has good command of what they’re doing offensively. I think one of the reasons his numbers aren’t so high is they’ve had a lot of short fields. They got way ahead of the Rams quickly-. They’ve had some unusual games in that regard where they weren’t throwing it a whole lot. He’s got a really quick release, he’s accurate. Obviously, he’s got the athletic ability and he can be a scrambler. He’s elusive in the pocket, but I think the one thing is that he’s running their offense very, very efficiently,” Fangio said.
Tagovailoa may not have to do too much against the Broncos defense. When he does go to throw, the Broncos need to make sure that they get pressure on him. He’s an athletic quarterback, but every player looks mortal when they are under duress. If the Broncos fail to get pressure, like they did last week against Derek Carr, then Tagovailoa can shred this secondary.
Finally Stop the Run
The Dolphins have found a nice starting running back in undrafted free agent Salvon Ahmed, who got his first start last week and performed at a high level. Ahmed rushed 21 times for 85 yards and a touchdown in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers, adding a five-yard catch on his only target. The Dolphins felt so good about his performance that they released former starter Jordan Howard on Monday. Ahmed proved that he could be an effective starter and is set to get a healthy workload against the Broncos on Sunday.
Last week against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Broncos allowed more than 200 yards rushing to Josh Jacobs and Devontae Booker. In addition to the huge yardage, the Broncos allowed four rushing touchdowns on the day and were gashed by the powerful duo the Raiders brought to the field. This Broncos rush defense has been weak ever since defensive tackle Mike Purcell was lost for the season due to a foot injury sustained in Week 7.
Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb has faith this run defense can be better.
“As a team, we have to stick together when times are bad. On the defensive side of the ball, we can pick those guys up by being more encouraging and letting them know that we’re there for them. At the end of the day, I know they’re going to pick it up. It’s going to be a thing of the past in a couple weeks, and it’ll be one of those things that we look back on and are glad that we went through it because it made us stronger as a team. As a defense, we have to be more assignment sound and more gap sound when it comes to stopping the run. We gave up too many yards the past couple weeks. We’re not happy about that and coaches are not happy about that. We have to go out there and play the assignment-sound football that we know can play when we’re gapped out. We’ve shown in the past that people can’t run on us. We have to get back to that and stop trying to reach for the big play and play into the defense,” Chubb said.
The Broncos have to stop the run as best they can. Ahmed is a fast runner who can gash a defense in space. He is not a pile-pusher but his quickness and speed make it tough for defenders to get a bead on him. In addition to Ahmed, the Dolphins are getting change-of-pace back Matt Breida back in action. Like Ahmed, Breida can be dangerous in space due to his speed and quickness. This 1-2 punch may not be as physical as the Raiders duo, but they could still present problems for the Broncos defense.
Stop Throwing the Ball Away
The Broncos are No. 1 in the league! However, they have that spot in turnovers on the season. They throw the ball away all the time, with Lock throwing 10 interceptions in just seven games played. Add in the fumbles from Lock and the rest of this team and it adds up to bad things for this Broncos team.
They are not good enough to give away the ball consistently – especially against good teams. The Broncos have to take better care of the ball if they want to beat the Dolphins. This is a defense that has averaged almost a touchdown per game scored on defense.
They can pick off passes and return them for touchdowns or scoop and score on fumble recoveries. Either way, the Dolphins defense is dangerous.
Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said on Thursday that all the interceptions the Broncos have had tell a story.
“They’re all bad, but they’re all different, as well. I think you’ve got to look at each one and there’s reasons why they happen, but we can’t turn the ball over, especially like we did against the Raiders. That’s not something that we can do and we’ve got to get it cleaned up,” Shurmur said.
The Dolphins have spent a lot of money and resources on their defense and it shows. Not only do they get their hands on the ball and score more often than not, the Dolphins defense has only allowed 20.2 points per game – a mark that ranks fifth-best in the NFL at this time. The Broncos offense only scored 20.7 points per game on average – one of the worst marks in the league.
They won’t be able to win on Sunday if they don’t take care of the ball.