The Denver Broncos entered Week 11 coming off of two embarrassing and demoralizing defeats, with pretty much every major outlet across the NFL media landscape predicting a third-straight loss. With a lackluster offense that had been held back by inefficient quarterback play and an offensive line that couldn’t block a runny nose, as well as a defense that was getting gassed in the second half of multiple games due to costly turnovers on top of the offensive struggles, the Broncos were quickly becoming a laughing stock of failure within the NFL.
It was easy to see the Miami Dolphins, winners of five straight games and playing a ridiculously high level of defensive football, come into the Mile High City and dominate a team that was searching for answers all over the field.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as the Broncos shocked the league with a much needed 20-13 victory.
It wasn’t always pretty and was far from perfect, but the Broncos finally got into a sense of complementary football. Denver’s offense finally got the ball rolling over the course of the entire game.
The Broncos' defense stunned a rookie quarterback into his worst outing as a professional, and the special teams coverage units didn’t commit any major errors against one of the best return units in football. It was a truly complete game that resulted in a victory.
If only this performance was one that we could trust moving forward.
What did we learn from the Broncos fourth victory of the season?
Lock Shows Resilience
One could argue that Drew Lock’s performance over the past three weeks has been the largest detriment to the Broncos' offense as a whole. Last week, he didn’t even complete 50% of his passes in that embarrassing performance against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Making things worse was Lock's penchant for throwing off of his back foot, his inability to sight-adjust through his progressions, and a complete lack of trust in his offensive line to create clean pockets in front of him.
But against Miami, Lock flipped the switch and looked like a competent NFL quarterback, making key throws all over the field. His footwork within the pocket was great, he stepped into his throws increasing his accuracy, and he even got things going with his legs when he needed to.
Lock finished the day 18-of-30 for 270 yards and a poorly timed interception, but his grasp of the offense as a whole, as well as his situational awareness, allowed the Broncos to keep drives alive. The biggest takeaway was that his mechanics were solid for the majority of the game, and that allowed him to make several nice throws down the field.
Though the stat sheet isn’t exactly indicative of what Lock was actually able to achieve on Sunday, this was a major step for him in his audition to be the team's long-term quarterback of the future. There were a few plays that Lock would like to have back, including an errant throw to KJ Hamler down the right sideline on a slot fade that was almost certainly going to be a touchdown, but for the most part, the embattled QB made the plays necessary of an NFL quarterback.
Let’s hope he builds on this. Lock showed resilience in the face of mounting adversity and a good foundation for improvement and sustainable success.
A Ferocious Pass Rush is Possible
After seeing the Broncos being completely unable to generate any semblance of a pass rush against the Raiders last week, Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed went off against the Dolphins' offensive line, especially in the first half.
Coming into the game, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had only been sacked five total times in his previous four games. The Broncos eclipsed that total in the first three quarters alone, sacking the rookie six times on the evening and eventually knocking him out of the game with an apparent injury.
Chubb — who has had massive struggles of late — answered the call to action in the first half, blowing up the Dolphins' O-line with a sack and multiple pressures. Reed notched his sixth sack of the season as well.
All in all, the Broncos were able to generate pressure at will, most noticeably with their four-man pressure schemes; an area that they had struggled with for the majority of the season heretofore.
O-Line 'Pulls' its Head Out
In what is most certainly a breath of fresh air, the Broncos' offense was finally able to get their rushing attack going against the Dolphins. Rather than being stubborn with his inside zone running game, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur found a new wrinkle by using LG Dalton Risner and LT Garett Bolles as pulling linemen going towards the right side of the offensive line.
This paved the way for multiple gash plays off of RT Demar Dotson, who pinned down on the Dolphins' defensive linemen, opening massive holes for Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon to run through.
Denver finally got its rushing attack going on a consistent basis, and Gordon and Lindsay were able to rip off multiple plays of 20-plus yards while following a pulling offensive lineman. The Broncos rushed for 189 yards as a team, with Gordon and Lindsay both breaking the 80-yard mark on the day.
When the Broncos ran their inside zone schemes, the Dolphins were able to plug gaps with ease. Those pulling offensive linemen, especially when running towards the right side of the line, were the biggest reason the Broncos were able to have success running the ball.
We need to see more of that on a consistent basis.
Turnovers Still an Issue
Denver managed to scrape its way to a victory on Sunday, but the game should have ended in a blowout. Two key turnovers, a theme that has haunted the Broncos all season long, could have drastically cost the team.
Lock threw yet another interception, this time staring down Tim Patrick over the middle of the field, leading to Xavien Howard’s sixth interception of the season. The Dolphins were able to convert that short field into their lone touchdown of the day — though a terrible pass interference against A.J. Bouye would help as well — opening up a 7-0 Dolphins lead. It was a terrible decision from Lock, and one that had many Broncos fans shaking their heads once again.
Then, with the Broncos marching towards the end zone to extend their seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter, Gordon coughed the ball up at the 2-yard line, erasing a sure-fire scoring opportunity and allowing the Dolphins a chance to tie the game late.
That’s a 10-point swing at the very least. Denver could have won this game 27-6 if not for those costly turnovers.
Ball security has been one of the biggest issues for the Broncos this season, as the team leads the NFL with 23 total giveaways. The Broncos, as a whole, have to find a way to secure the football. Plain and simple.