Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 6

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 6
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos won the closest game they’ve played in a while, as they beat the Dallas Cowboys 51-48 in Week 5. They extended their regular-season winning streak to 16 games, good for fifth best in NFL history. That mark is seven games shy of the record of 23 games by the Indianapolis Colts from 2008-2009.

They did not extend their streak of winning by seven points or more, ending at 15 games for second best in NFL history behind the 1941-42 Chicago Bears (16).

The Broncos offense continues to play at an astronomical level. It set the record for most points through the first five games of the season with 230. That breaks the previous mark set by the “Greatest Show on Turf,” a.k.a. the 2000 St. Louis Rams (217).

Denver has now scored 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks. This is the fourth time that’s happened in NFL history and the first time it’s happened in the last 63 years. The last teams to achieve that feat were the 1950 Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants.

Even though Peyton Manning completed 78.6 percent of his 42 attempts for 414 yards and four touchdowns, none of those numbers represents a season-high for the veteran quarterback.

This week, the Broncos return to Sports Authority Field at Mile High. This time they get to face the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the 20th game in NFL history between a team 5-0 or better and a team 0-5 or worse. The unbeaten team is 17-2 in those games, with the only losses coming from the 1979 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17-14 to the winless Giants) and 1963 Bears (20-14 to the winless San Francisco 49ers). This is actually the third time Peyton Manning will play in this type of game (2009 Colts vs. Rams, 2005 Colts vs. Houston Texans).

The Broncos' 51 points in Week 5 against the Cowboys is the same number of points the Jaguars have scored all season long.

After the Broncos’ official Twitter account noted this, the Jaguars responded with a tweet of their own: “Stay Classy, Denver.” At Monday’s press conference, Denver head coach John Fox briefly discussed the social-networking dustup, saying only, “It’s been dealt with.”

The Jaguars are arguably the worst team in NFL history, but the Broncos are not going to overlook them. Fox commented on the team not getting overconfident this season:

No, I think in general, in life, you’re dealing with either adversity or prosperity. Sometimes dealing with prosperity is more difficult than the adversity. Our guys understand that. They understand it’s more about the process than the results. They understand it’s more about the preparation work which will relate to the performance. All that other stuff they don’t really pay attention to.

Denver is a 28-point favorite against Jacksonville this week. Per The Gold Sheet (via Chad Millman of ESPN The Magazine), a sports-handicapping organization that has been in business since the 1950s, this is the biggest point spread since the Baltimore Colts were 28-point favorites against the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966.

Fox also discussed whether or not he was worried with such a large point spread:

No. I don’t look at point spreads. We look at the tape. I’ve mentioned that many times. One thing I’ve learned is if you fall asleep at the wheel, you wreck. We’ll just look at our preparation. We’ll look at the tape. All of that junk is for other people; it doesn’t have anything to do with us.

Victory by a large margin is the most likely outcome against the Jaguars.

 

Division Standings

Standings via NFL.com

The Broncos sit atop the AFC West after five weeks. The Kansas City Chiefs are tied with them at this time for the division lead with a 5-0 record. The Oakland Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers 27-17 late on Sunday night, and now both teams are tied with 2-3 records.

The AFC West is likely to boil down to a race between the Broncos and the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how this rivalry plays out later on in the year.

The Chiefs and Broncos don't play each other until November. However, they will face off twice in three weeks at that time.

 

Injury Report

The Broncos were really beat up against the Cowboys in Week 5. A few key defenders were banged up, and they had to leave the game.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Ayers has been an improved pass-rusher this season.

After the game, Fox gave a brief update: “Robert Ayers left the game with a shoulder injury, Wesley Woodyard left the game with a neck, and Chris Harris left the game with a concussion, Ronnie Hillman with an ankle.”

On Monday, Fox had no update for the press. He only said the injuries were considered minor, and he’d provide an update on Wednesday.

We know Hillman’s injury was minor. After coming out for a few snaps, we saw him return to the field and look no worse for wear.

Losing Ayers against the Cowboys had a negative impact on the pass rush for the Broncos. He recorded a sack in the first quarter, and he has at least a half-sack in three consecutive games.

Woodyard was struggling in coverage against the Cowboys before he left the game with a neck injury. He’s been the heart and soul of the Broncos defense this year, and losing him for an extended period of time would really hurt the team.

Harris has developed into one of the best young cornerbacks in the game today. He’ll have to pass the NFL’s protocol for dealing with concussions before he can return to the field.

Champ Bailey hasn’t played yet this season as he continues to recover from his preseason foot injury. He has been limited in practice over the last two weeks and is close to returning to action. Against the Jaguars, we could see the Broncos decide to ease Bailey back into the lineup.

 

What Must Improve

It’s difficult to determine where the offense must improve after two straight weeks of scoring 50 or more points. However, it’s easy to see holes on the defense that opponents will try to exploit going forward.

Tony Carter is, and always will be, a gambler in coverage. He loves to bait the quarterback in an effort to make a play on the ball. This leads to big turnovers for the Broncos, but it also can lead to big plays for the opposition.

In the picture below, we see Carter with tight coverage on Cowboys rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams. Carter swipes at the ball, thinking he can make a play here.

Carter's gamble doesn't pay off here.

In this picture, we see that he did not get the ball, and the pass did not fall incomplete. Instead, this play turned out to be an 82-yard touchdown for the Cowboys.

Carter may have thought the pass was incomplete for a moment.

On Monday, I asked Fox how he would advise Carter on what to do if a similar play unfolded in the future:

I don’t really know what the gambler part is, but if you’re referring to the big play 83 (Cowboys WR Terrance Williams) made, just make the tackle. I don’t know. I think he could have played the ball a little bit better and we could have had more safety help than he had. We could have had a better pass rush. I’m not relating it to gambling. We could have executed that play much better.

Carter’s not the only player in the secondary who has to start playing better. After a strong start to the season, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is looking more like the player he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.

In this picture, Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley burns Rodgers-Cromartie near the goal line. For some reason, Rodgers-Cromartie hesitates after Beasley catches the screen pass. This hesitation gives Beasley enough time to scurry into the end zone. Rodgers-Cromartie was too tentative on many plays against the Cowboys.

Playing tentatively will get your burned in the NFL.

In the picture below, Rodgers-Cromartie runs into rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster while he is pursuing Dez Bryant. The play was a 3rd-and-6, but a busted coverage by Rodgers-Cromartie allowed Bryant to get free deep. Bryant’s run-after-the-catch ability turned this into a 79-yard play for the Cowboys.

No. 31 Omar Bolden hustles to prevent another Cowboys touchdown.

Rodgers-Cromartie seemed to have his swagger back earlier this season, but his confidence was clearly shaken against the Cowboys.

Poor tackling has been an issue for the Broncos defense. It’s something Fox talked about during his press conference:

I think there are definitely areas we need to improve in. I think one of our pass rushes, he (Cowboys QB Tony Romo) was standing back there for 10 seconds. In some of our coverages the ball was out immediately. The pass defense is the coordination between the front and the coverage people. And we have new people doing it in new spots; sometimes it doesn’t look as well-oiled as we like. But that’s all what’s fun about this. It’s Game 5 and we came out with a ‘W’ and we go back to work Wednesday.

The secondary isn’t the only area that needs to improve its coverage. The linebackers had plenty of trouble stopping the Cowboys on underneath routes.

After the injury to Woodyard, we saw more snaps for Nate Irving. His strength is sniffing out the run, not defending tight ends in open space. That was evident as Tony Romo began picking on Irving in coverage.

Danny Trevathan is a player known for his athleticism and his ability to make a play on the ball. However, against the Cowboys, he was burned underneath. In the picture below, tight end Jason Witten gets open easily against Trevathan.

Romo loves throwing the slant to Witten.

The second-year linebacker tried to jam Witten at the line of scrimmage, but he failed miserably. This allowed Witten to get open for a 14-yard gain.

Trevathan did make up for his early-game play with a fourth-quarter interception of Romo that helped seal the game for the Broncos.

In most games this year, any points scored late against the Broncos were considered “garbage time” points. That’s true to some degree, but we also see a disconnect at times from this defense. It’s something the Broncos will have to clean up if they want to make it to the Super Bowl.  

 

Summary

The Jaguars aren’t going to be able to put up much of a fight against the Broncos in Week 6. They don’t have the offense to keep up with the Broncos’ high-powered passing game. Their 193.4 passing yards per game ranks 29th in the league, while their 58.4 rushing yards per game ranks 30th. 

Jacksonville also lacks a quality defense and should be abused by Manning early and often. The Jaguars rush defense ranks 32nd in the league, allowing an average of 160.6 rushing yards per game. Their pass defense ranks 11th in the league, allowing 219.2 yards passing per game.

The Broncos may choose to play more backups in the second half after building a big lead. This means we could see more from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. It will be good for the Broncos to get him more experience whenever possible.

We may also see more from rookie Montee Ball. He’s been clearly reduced to third on the depth chart, and he was only on the field for six snaps against the Cowboys in Week 5. This week may be the game where Ball gets to strut his stuff in the second half.

The Broncos defense will be facing Chad Henne in Week 6. Blaine Gabbert is going to miss time with a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 5 against the Rams.

Henne loves to test defenses deep, and the Broncos will have to match up against wide receiver Justin Blackmon downfield. We’ll continue to see Cecil Shorts III targeted on short and underneath routes. The duo will present a decent test for the Broncos secondary on Sunday.

The Broncos should easily put away the Jaguars in Week 6. Scoring 50 points again may not be totally out of the question, but around 35 points seems more reasonable. There will be no need for the Broncos to run up the score this week against a clearly inferior opponent.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand.

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