The timing of the Denver Broncos’ lone primetime game this season, which comes on Thursday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns, couldn’t come at a worse time. Denver will have played two games in five days with Week 7’s matchup on the road in Cleveland.
After getting embarrassed by the Las Vegas Raiders 34-24 last Sunday and picking up their third-straight loss, the pressure on the Broncos has been ramped up. Many sickened and frustrated Broncos fans have voiced their dismay at head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
I went as far to call for QBs coach Mike Shula to take over play-calling duties for the offense as a key takeaway from that abysmal performance in Week 6. But the fact of the matter is, Shurmur will be in the booth calling plays as per usual, and Fangio will still bitterly pace the sideline alone and do whatever he likes as the head honcho.
The future of the Broncos' ownership, and coaching staff, is unknown, but for this week’s nationally-televised game, the team needs to stop feeling sorry for itself and get to work. Fangio gave players the day off on Monday, leaving approximately two days for preparation and travel to Cleveland.
If the Broncos have any hope of avoiding further humiliation and dropping below .500, they must pull together and implement the following keys to victory.
Start the Healthy Drew Lock
The 17 hits sustained among the brutal barrage on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last week have taken its toll on the team captain. During his post-game press conference on Sunday, Bridgewater was visibly sore and limping off the podium.
Just two days later, Teddy was observed with a severe limp at practice with an injured ankle/foot after being stepped on by the Raiders. While the extent of his injury is unknown, one thing is abundantly clear: Teddy is not healthy enough to start for the Broncos on TNF in the ‘Dawg Pound.’
In Week 4’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Bridgewater suffered a concussion before clearing protocol in time to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers just seven days later. He’s certainly no stranger to being tough or playing banged up but when his mobility and agility have been hindered to the point of significant pain and limitation, there’s no reason for Bridgewater to start vs. the Browns.
Throwing Teddy out there would be another irresponsible and self-serving move by Fangio because it would put his starting QB and team leader in harm's way.
Fangio and Shurmur need to put their preferences and stubbornness aside and start Lock on Thursday night. I doubt that Lock has prepared with the starting offense in the two walk-through style practices the Broncos have held but I could be wrong as the team practiced indoors leading we in media to speculate about a possible quarterback switch for the week.
Lock’s not the savior, nor is he the answer. He couldn’t beat Bridgewater in an open competition and earn the trust of the team that drafted and developed him. But Lock is an athlete, and this could very well be his last ‘8 Mile-Lose Yourself’ moment as a Broncos QB.
Denver previously activated Brett Rypien a few weeks ago in a move to keep the third-year signal-caller on the team after the Houston Texans attempted to sign him to their active roster. So, while the coaching staff may not like Lock as QB1 this week, it doesn’t matter.
I’m not so sure many players buy into the message current coaches but playing an injured Bridgewater will only make things worse for Denver.
Team Captains Can’t Quit Again
After rewatching last week’s embarrassment against the Raiders, there is just one thing that I can’t seem to shake no matter how many hours and days have passed since. The Broncos players quit on each other, the coaches, and the fans.
One play in particular stands out as case in point was the lack of effort from wideout Courtland Sutton after Bridgewater threw an interception late in the game. Sutton simply made a business decision to not run down the defender, opting to start walking to the miserable Denver sideline.
This is unacceptable, and it’s hard to give Sutton the benefit of the doubt. No, I don’t care that he injured himself against the Steelers last year after Lock through a pick and Sutton tackled the defender.
Tell that to Hall-of-Famer Terrell Davis who suffered a knee injury while tackling a defender after a turnover that ended his professional football career. While hindsight is 20/20, the heart and measure of competing on every play is fundamentally ingrained into players since pee-wee football.
If a team captain is willing to quit during the tough times, what does that say about the locker room that appointed him as a leader? Other teams are certainly picking up on the fact that the Broncos’ players and coaches are circling the drain and quitting on one another.
With seemingly nobody interested in taking control of this squad, why would a captain’s patch on a jersey change a thing?
Don’t Sleep on QB Case Keenum
All the calamity and distractions that came with the Raiders couldn’t stop the Broncos from being whipped on the weekend that Mike Shanahan and Steve Atwater were honored in the Ring of Fame and Hall of Fame, respectively. Now that the Browns have made Keenum, a former Bronco, their starter for Week 7, the narrative for a revenge game is in full play.
Or is Cleveland sending the message that they feel the Broncos are a 'get right' game and easy enough pickings to skip playing Baker Mayfield, giving the starter time to heal and still pick up the win?
In 2018, then-GM John Elway inked Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract and presumed the ‘Minnesota Miracle’ frontman would be Denver's franchise QB. But that was far from the ‘case’ after Keenum threw for 3.890 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and 11 fumbles as the Broncos finished with a 6-10 record.
Almost one-year later to the day after he inked his big free agent deal, Keenum was dealt to Washington along with a seventh-round draft pick while Denver received a sixth-rounder in return.
Since his days in Denver, Keenum has made eight starts for Washington and has only played in two games as a Brown. While this will be his first start in Cleveland, in no way, shape, or form should Fangio’s defense feel entitled to a victory. The 33-year-old veteran is in his 10th NFL season and has played in 71 career games, throwing for 14,420 yards and 75 touchdowns with 47 interceptions.
Meanwhile, the Broncos highest-paid and most-overrated secondary in NFL history has allowed 910 passing yards and five touchdowns over the last three games. The narrative for Keenum to wax his former team will undoubtedly be presented on the telecast.
While some may roll their eyes at the cutesy twist of fate, the NFL is a strange monster that has a funny way of exacting karmic justice.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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