Vic Fangio Expected to Elevate Broncos’ D, But Joe Flacco and the Offense Will Struggle

The new Denver head coach is a brilliant defensive schemer, but the offense will lag behind the expected strides from the defense.
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The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Denver Broncos, who finished 6-10 and third in the AFC West last year.

The defense takes a big (but not final) step forward.First-time head coach Vic Fangio is football’s best defensive schemer. His system is predicated on two-deep safety pre-snap looks that morph into grey hybrid coverages with both man and zone principles. His calls, with all their wrinkles, are difficult for a QB to process and an offensive play-caller to anticipate. High-level linebacker play, particularly on passing downs, can propel Fangio’s scheme into the top stratosphere, but the Broncos, unfortunately, are average here. Six-year veteran Todd Davis and 2018 fourth-rounder Josey Jewell have sharpened their pass-defense acumen, but both are more oriented to stop the run.

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb becomes football’s best edge-rushing tandem. That is, if they weren’t already. Miller predominantly works off the weak side and Chubb off the strong side. And less sexy than their pass rushing but still important: they have the athleticism to play in space on first and second down, which Fangio’s scheme will ask them to do against certain slot formations.

Chris Harris becomes a traveling No. 1 corner. Known for his mastery in the slot, Harris gets his wish to travel with the opposing team’s top receiver. Fangio normally doesn’t employ corners this way, but Harris is far and away Denver’s top cover artist. Aided by the scheme’s natural safety help outside, both men have more cracks at interceptions. As for Harris’s old nickel slot duties, they fall to Bryce Callahan, who thrived in that role under Fangio in Chicago.

Joe Flacco struggles. The 12-year veteran quarterback is not an ideal fit for new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s system, which is predicated on outside zone runs that also propagate crafty mutli-level route combinations. However, with functional mobility and a still-lively arm, Flacco can run the system. Here’s the problem: besides having a ho-hum receiving corps, he’s behind an offensive line that features 30-year-old left guard Ronald Leary coming off an Achilles injury, 2016 fifth-rounder Connor McGovern still settling in at center, rookie second-round pick Dalton Risner at right guard and a costly right tackle, Ja’Wuan James, who constantly needs help in pass protection.

BOTTOM LINE: Team Czar John Elway believes the Broncos are contenders—why else would Denver acquire a 34-year-old QB and hire a 60-year-old head coach?—but the roster simply has too many soft spots.

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