It’s been tough sledding early in the 2020 season for the Denver Broncos defense, having had to deal with two high-caliber running backs in the first two weeks in Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Pittsburgh’s James Conner.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier in Week 3 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ride into town with a trio of runners in Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and LeSean McCoy.
All three have produced to open the year, but the one guy who seems to be getting a lot of the work lately is Fournette, an old Jaguars foe that has had plenty of success against the Broncos in years past.
This 81-yarder from 2019 is painful to watch because it was ultimately a game the Broncos dropped late, aided by this long run from Fournette.
Now that he’s out of Jacksonville, things are looking up for the former No. 4 overall pick. Under Bruce Arians, Fournette is being utilized in ways he rarely was in Jacksonville.
Fournette the Receiver
Sure, Fournette reeled in 76 passes last season as a Jaguar, but let’s not overhype that number. A lot of them were short screens and quick dump-offs. Rarely was he asked to run any sort of route tree.
That’s changed quickly in Tampa Bay.
Fournette runs this snag route with ease in space, beating the Carolina cornerback inside to show Tom Brady his numbers, leading to the 12-yard completion to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown on the very next play.
On this route, Fournette looks agile, which is something I couldn’t really say about him in the past in Jacksonville.
Same goes for this crossing route out of the backfield in Week 1 against New Orleans.
First off, this is a terrific route combination by Arians, designed to get Fournette or Chris Godwin wide open underneath. Fortunately for Fournette, he finds himself in space quickly, leading to the easy pitch and catch with Brady that chews up a handful of yards against the Saints’ defense.
Fournette the Runner
Make no mistake about Fournette’s style: he’s a downhill thumper that is at his best when he’s lined up in a single-back formation and can get downhill with the football.
We saw that last season in Denver, and we’ve seen that quickly in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t great in pass protection, but the interior of the offensive line with Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, and Alex Cappa excels at run blocking and has really helped Tampa Bay establish some sort of run game.
While this is undoubtedly a pass-first offense with Brady, Mike Evans, Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and more, Arians really wants to lean on his veteran running backs, including Fournette.
Really, I don’t know how you game-plan to stop Fournette on the ground in this offense when they have the weapons and the play-caller to really hurt teams.
You simply can’t load the box against Fournette like you could in Jacksonville, so Denver’s front seven will have to play assignment sound football on Sunday, staying in their rush lanes and swarming to the football when possible with Fournette on the ground.
This group simply can’t sell out against the run though because the cornerbacks are decimated with injuries, and that could be a recipe for disaster with a healthy Evans and Godwin.