There may be many Denver Broncos fans out there with 'the sky is falling' attitude, but there is still reason for optimism. This isn’t a playoff-contending team, and that has been made clear.
Despite that and being 0-2, there are some positives with this Broncos team that show they are a better team than they were last year. That may be hard to see since they are 0-2 compared to starting 2-0 last year, before going 6-10.
The record and stats may not show it, but this is a better team. They are facing a tough schedule with a rookie head coach and a rookie offensive coordinator.
There are a lot of new and moving pieces on the Broncos, so some struggles were to be expected. So despite the worse record, and being worse in some statistical areas, how are the Broncos better?
For all of the 2018 season, the Broncos averaged 119.6 rush yards allowed per game. Through two games this year they are allowing 125.5 rush yards per game. So statistically, they are not looking like a better team, but there are few big variables for that. One of them is the new scheme, and the other is Todd Davis hasn’t seen the field yet.
Davis is a very good run defender, and not having him out there leaves a void in the middle of the defense against the run, and teams are exploiting it. Despite that, and despite allowing more yards, the run defense is looking better than it did last year.
Other players are looking a lot better against the run than they did a year ago. Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis are looking better than they did last year. On top of that, Bradley Chubb looks so much better against the run than he did last year.
The biggest reason that the Broncos are looking better is the quick reactions from those in the secondary. The defensive backs are quick to come up, and look a lot more willing, for the most part, to stick their nose in there in run defense.
Missing one of their best run defenders and giving up 5.9 yards more speaks to how much the others have stepped it up. The gameplan and coaching plays a part in it as well.
This is simple and doesn’t need much scrutiny. The previous staff coached like making any sort of adjustment would kill them.
The previous regime would see things not work, and continue to stick with it. What adjustments they did make seemed to shoot themselves in the foot as they’d make the wrong move.
The new coaching staff doesn’t have that issue. It hasn’t been perfect from Vic Fangio and company, but when they see something isn’t working, they make an adjustment to try and resolve it. They’ve changed their play-calling, changed what they ask from players, and even have made some formation changes. Adjustments aren’t something so scary for this staff.
Before you say the Broncos are falling to adjust by benching Garett Bolles, there is one issue with that. There is no other left tackle option on the Broncos' roster.
There is no left tackle option on the open market. What tackles there are available for trade will cost more in draft assets than the Broncos can really afford to give up. Simply put, Denver has no other options.
Athletic Threat At TE
The Broncos' tight ends a year ago were extremely unathletic. This caused the team many problems in the passing game as they had no real threat down the seam.
While Noah Fant has struggled, there is a difference in how teams are defending the offense because of his athleticism. Even this year there is a difference between when Fant is on the field and when the less-athletic tight ends are out there.
Teams at least have some fear of Fant and that is opening up other areas for the offense.
This is similar to having an athlete at tight end. Jewell isn’t an athlete by any means, and that was very clear a year ago.
He struggled in man or zone coverage last year, and made slow reads and seemed to second guess his instincts. It was made obvious he really doesn’t have the athleticism for the NFL game.
This year he looks like a whole new player. The Broncos still have an issue at linebacker, especially with Corey Nelson seeing the field with Todd Davis hurt. Those issues, though, are not because of Jewell.
The passing defense has its issues, but Jewell has looked more than reliable in the middle zone, and has even taken receivers out of the play in man coverage. Looking quicker, smarter and more trusting in what he sees, we've seen a major difference in his play.
Receivers Stepping It Up
Last year the Broncos had a limited Courtland Sutton, an Emmanuel Sanders that looked good and Demaryius Thomas being solid. That trio put out some good play, but there were plenty of issues that the Broncos needed to fix. Denver started by moving on from Thomas which got more playing time for Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton.
This year, Sanders is looking even better than he did before, and a new-look Sutton is making plays. Sutton had issues with his route running, but his routes look a lot better this year than they did a year ago. He has taken a big step forward and looks like more than just a boundary receiver.
Hamilton is doing a good job of getting separation and leads the Broncos by averaging 3.8 yards of separation for each route ran. He has been targeted 10 times (fourth-most on the team) this season, but only has hauled in four catches.
Outside of a bad drop in the endzone vs. Oakland, the other five incompletions were tipped at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback being hit as he threw, or were badly thrown passes. Hamilton's time is coming as he is the savviest route runner on the squad.
Improved Quarterback Play
There were a lot of debates during the offseason as to whether Joe Flacco really was an upgrade over Case Keenum, and so far after two games, it is clear that he is. He is getting the ball out faster than Case Keenum, and forcing defenses to cover every aspect of the field.
Flacco also has the nickname Joe Cool, because the game doesn’t get too big for him. He is able to keep his head in the game and help his team. This was shown with a near late comeback vs the Chicago Bears, and trying to come back vs. Oakland.
When it comes down to it, he has been able to push the ball and keep the offense focused. There is an issue of poor execution around him.
Coaching, Culture & Never Giving Up
Under Vance Joseph, the Broncos were facing mutiny in the locker room. They had an eight-game losing streak in 2017 before losing six out of seven in 2018. Time and time again the coaches would make dumb coaching decisions, played players incorrectly and did things that rubbed certain veterans the wrong way.
As a result of all the issues, the Broncos started to lose discipline. They got a bad culture where it became acceptable not only to lose but to give up on games.
Players got lazy, stopped playing at 100%, and just aimed to coast through the regular season. Denver needed a change with someone who would turn the ship around, which led them to Vic Fangio.
In the two games so far, there has been more fight in the Broncos than we saw last year. The players have bought into what Fangio and the coaches are wanting to do, and there is a culture change.
This isn’t a team that will just lay down anymore. Of course, that's hard to say when just looking at their 0-2 record, but you have to look at the film and really see a difference.
This Broncos team has flashed some moments that reveal them to be so much better than the team they were a year ago. If this squad can stop shooting themselves in the foot with the mistakes they have made, they could turn this season around and walk away with a good record.
There is plenty of evidence of Denver being a better team, but can they show it in the W/L column and on the stat sheet? That'll be the key to salvaging this season.