The Denver Broncos continued their winning ways with a 51-48 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5. This week, they go back home to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Denver’s 5-0 start marks the sixth time in franchise history they’ve began the season undefeated after five weeks. The win over the Cowboys was Denver’s 16th regular-season win, which extends their franchise record. The win was also the team’s eighth straight road win, which sets a new team mark.
The Broncos enter their Week 6 game as the biggest favorite in NFL history, and they should be able to beat the Jaguars easily on Sunday.
The Broncos offense is nearly unstoppable, and they should be able to torch the Jaguars' 10th-ranked pass defense. Jacksonville allows an average of 219.2 yards passing per game. Peyton Manning could double that number on Sunday.
We could see the Broncos replace their starters early in the third quarter if they have a big lead over Jacksonville. This would lead to more playing time for backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. We may also see more from reserve running backs like Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.
The Jaguars’ rush defense ranks 32nd in the league. They allow an average of 160.6 yards rushing per game. This presents a real opportunity for Denver to showcase their ground game. Knowshon Moreno could have a big game as the team’s starter.
Denver’s run defense ranks first in the league after five weeks of strong play. They only allow an average of 69.6 rushing yards per game. This week, they’ll face Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The seasoned veteran is no longer the player he used to be and is likely to struggle against the league’s top run defense.
Against the pass, the Broncos are not as strong. The Broncos pass defense ranks 32nd in the league, allowing an average of 347.0 yards per game. This is due to poor play from the secondary when opponents are attempting to make a comeback after falling behind to Manning and company.
The Jaguars’ passing attack got a shot in the arm with the return of wide receiver Justin Blackmon last week. He had been suspended the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Blackmon shined his first week back, catching eight passes for 136 yards and one touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in Week 5.
Chad Henne will be the starting quarterback for the Jaguars this week, as Blaine Gabbert misses time with a hamstring injury. Henne has good chemistry with receivers like Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. He may actually be an upgrade over Gabbert.
The Broncos’ pass defense should get All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey back this week. Bailey has missed every game this year due to a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. We’ll see if his return can cut down on the number of big plays the Broncos’ secondary has allowed.
Broncos head coach John Fox talked on Wednesday about not letting the team get complacent while playing a winless team.
"Well, I think you’re in this long enough—whether you’re a player or a coach—and we’ve got enough veteran leadership in there that understands that we don’t look at records. We don’t look at point spreads. Again, I’ve been on both sides of that. In fact in ’98 we had a [13-0] Broncos team that was 15-point favorites coming into the [New York] Giants stadium. They left with a loss. So this team has beaten us I think four out of the last five times we’ve played, the last three in a row. So there is nobody here taking anybody lightly. This is pro football. Everybody gets paid, and everybody has pride in what they put out there on the field."
Let’s take a look at how the Denver Broncos will attack the Jacksonville Jaguars on both sides of the ball.
When the Broncos Run the Ball
The Jaguars struggle at every level defensively. They have a defensive line that can be pushed around, and their linebackers struggle to clean up.
The Broncos could run the ball down the throat of the Jaguars, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Knowshon Moreno is running with more energy than ever before. He’s taken advantage of the opportunity given to him as the team’s starting running back.
On Wednesday, Broncos head coach John Fox talked about Moreno’s improved play being due to mental growth. “Well, I think he’s just matured. I think, hopefully, we all get better the more we do it. In his case, that has definitely been the case. He’s done a terrific job.”
For the season, Moreno has 65 carries for 331 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He’s averaging a career-best 5.1 yards per carry, and Moreno does a good job fighting for extra yards after contact.
Moreno is running with a ton of heart. His fire is infectious, and the team is feeding off his energy after a tough run. There’s a good chance Moreno could have his first 100-yard game this week.
In the picture below we see the Broncos in the pistol formation. The run play is designed to go in between the tackles. Moreno is contacted at the line of scrimmage, but he fights and charges ahead for a gain of 16 yards.
Moreno is the lead back, and Ronnie Hillman is providing the team with an exciting change-of-pace back. Hillman has more quickness and burst than Moreno. His speed is evident in space where he can get to the second level of the defense in the blink of an eye.
In the picture below, we see Hillman use his inside/out ability. He takes the run between the tackles, but shows great burst bouncing outside at the linebacker level. The play gains 17 yards, as Hillman takes the ball right to the goal line.
The big question mark at the running back position continues to be rookie Montee Ball. His two fumbles earlier this season have really cost him playing time. In the game against the Cowboys, we only saw Ball on the field for six snaps.
With a big lead against the Jaguars, the team may decide to see what Ball can do with a larger role. With his nose for the end zone, we might even see him score the first touchdown of his pro career.
When the Broncos Pass the Ball
Statistically, the Jaguars' pass defense is strong. However, the numbers on the surface are lying. The Jaguars are so bad against the run that most teams just choose to hammer them with the ground game.
Opponents also build big leads against the Jaguars early, and they see no reason to run up the score. This game against the Broncos will be the biggest test the Jaguars’ pass defense will face all season long. It’s a test they will fail.
It’s unlikely that we see Peyton Manning for this entire game. In fact, Manning’s day may be over by halftime. Before he’s shut down for the day, Manning may still pass for over 300 yards and two or three touchdowns.
Against the Cowboys, we saw a new wrinkle for the passing game. When in scoring position, the Broncos used a shovel pass to tight end Julius Thomas. The play can be seen in the picture below.
Against the Jaguars, we should not see many trick plays. Instead, we’ll see standard formations and routes from the Broncos.
In the picture below, we see Manning watching the safety in the middle of the field. He knows that if the safety steps toward the line of scrimmage, Eric Decker will then be open on the fade route.
After Manning has backed off the defense with the fade route, it’s time to run the fade-stop.
In the picture below, we see a rare single coverage look on Demaryius Thomas. Manning knows where to put the ball, as Thomas pushes up the field, showing a go route. Thomas stops his route short, and then, he easily catches the pass cleanly.
When they’re near the goal line, we should see a trademark jerk route from Wes Welker. In the picture below, we see Welker in a stack formation behind Decker.
When the ball is snapped, Decker goes to the back of the end zone. Welker cuts to the right pylon, but once the defender swivels his hips, Welker pivots on a dime and heads toward the middle of the field.
Welker secures the catch for the touchdown, knowing he’s going to take a big hit. This play is virtually unstoppable.
Once Manning’s day is done, we could see Osweiler get a significant amount of playing time. Osweiler has a big arm, and he’s willing to challenge the defense vertically. He’s also an athletic quarterback who can keep plays alive with his feet, while keeping his eyes downfield.
When the Jaguars Run the Ball
The Jaguars won’t have much of a chance to get their ground game started on Sunday. Veteran Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t the same player he used to be, but he can still grind out some tough yards.
On Wednesday, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton talked about how dangerous Jones-Drew is on the field.
"He’s very dangerous because you know what he’s capable of. He’s won a rushing title in this league. He’s been in numerous Pro Bowls. We’ll approach this game just like we approach every game, like they’re 5-0, we’re 5-0. Records don’t matter. That’s the thing about the NFL, you have to show up every week regardless of who you’re playing against."
In the picture below, we see that Jones-Drew can still get to the corner and run through arm tackles. This 20-yard gain is the longest run of the season for Jones-Drew.
That play was out of the shotgun formation, with a belly option mixed in at the beginning. The Jaguars will use that style of play when they are behind and playing mostly from the shotgun.
Early in the game, we should see a more traditional running formation. In the picture below, the Jaguars are in an “I” formation. Jones-Drew is set to run the football up the gut to punish the defense.
The play goes for a no gain because the blocking up front doesn’t make a hole for Jones-Drew to run through. Safety Antoine Bethea also runs down the line of scrimmage to stop Jones-Drew from the side. For the Broncos that player will be Duke Ihenacho.
When the Jaguars Pass the Ball
The Jaguars are going to be passing a lot against the Broncos. Their rushing attack should be shut down by the Broncos’ top-ranked run defense. They should also fall behind early, forcing them to throw the ball in an attempt to come back.
Blackmon returned to the field last week, and he made a huge impact for the Jaguars. In the picture below, we see a busted coverage which allows Blackmon to run free down the seam.
He’s a huge target with speed to challenge a defense vertically. Blackmon is also a good target in the red zone.
On Wednesday Fox talked about how Blackmon’s return aids the Jaguars.
“He’s an impact player. [WR Cecil] Shorts is their leading receiver. They’ve got athleticism at the tight end position and running back position—and they’ve done that through a lot of injuries. They had another major injury last week with [Luke] Joeckel going out at left tackle. I think [Head Coach] Gus Bradley has done a terrific job. I know they’re going to get sick and tired of hearing the same things I’m getting sick and tired of hearing. So we know we’ll get a feisty group come here and we better show up.”
Blackmon isn’t their only weapon at the wide receiver position. Shorts has transformed into quite a pro during his career. His game is all about quickness and run after the catch ability.
In this picture, we see Shorts run a drag route at the back of the end zone. Henne changes the play when he sees the back of the end zone wide-open. Shorts is able to easily beat his man and get into position to score.
The Broncos’ pass defense ranks as the worst in the league. On Sunday, they get a chance to prove their better than the numbers indicate.
This is not going to be a close contest. Perhaps, the Broncos won’t cover the spread, but they should win by around 20 points.
Denver will likely shut down Jones-Drew and the ground game. This will force the Jaguars to move the ball through the air.
When the Broncos build a lead, their defense will be able to pin their ears back and go after the passer on every play. This could be a long day for Henne.
Jacksonville will use the shotgun formation to allow Henne to get away from the rush. If he gets time, then expect him to target downfield threats like Blackmon and Shorts.
Henne can throw deep and will come out swinging against the Broncos. The defense will be challenged deep, and they need to do a better job defending the pass than they have in recent weeks.
Offensively, we’ll see Manning do whatever he wants to do. The ball should be spread somewhat evenly to all targets. Demaryius Thomas, Decker, Welker and Julius Thomas may all get into the end zone on Sunday.
Once the lead is established, the Broncos may turn the reins of their offense over to the running backs. Moreno should start off hot, then give way to Hillman and Ball.
This is an easy win for the Broncos. Many diehard fans may start to tune out once this becomes a huge blowout.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.