Much to the consternation of the fan base, the Denver Broncos appear to have as many problems utilizing athletic tight ends as they do defending against them.
Week 5's failure to work tight end Noah Fant into the offense until the fourth quarter is a problem. It will continue to hound offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's unit until the veteran coach works out a solution.
“Last week, we used Noah quite a bit in the chip game," Shurmur explained on Thursday. "The matchups that we were trying to exploit last week were outside versus their corners. I think that’s the way you approach it when you play the Steelers. There are other games when that’s not the case. We’ve thrown [him] touchdown passes already."
Shurmur hears the complaints of Broncos Country as they've been filtered through the media at Dove Valley.
"The production that you all are wondering about comes in bunches," Shurmur said. "It’s a long season, and the matchups are different every week. They just have to keep grinding, and then they’ll come their way... Each matchup is different. They just have to keep playing and keep improving. Even though we talk about Noah, Noah is a young player. Noah is a young player that’s making great improvements as he plays through this thing.”
The Broncos are well versed on how an athletic tight end can dictate to a defense. Las Vegas Raiders' Pro Bowler Darren Waller has put Vic Fangio's defense to the figurative sword frequently.
“He’s a wide receiver in a tight end body. He’s big enough to play tight end, do the blocking that they asked him to do, and be a regular tight end,” Fangio said on Wednesday. “He’s talented enough and fast enough to run wide receiver routes. He’s a special talent, and one of the special players in this league.”
It's a certainty that the Raiders won’t be leaving it until the final frame, as the Broncos did with Fant in Pittsburgh, to involve Waller in their passing game. Granted, Fant is yet to move into Waller’s upper echelon, but the longer the Broncos leave their former first-round tight end's immense physical talents on an unturned page in the playbook, the more doomed the offense will be.
Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remains adamant that Fant is being featured in the weekly game plans, but the trouble is, Shurmur's tactics are seeing Fant deployed more as a blocker instead of as a weapon in the passing attack. That being said, Bridgewater still stresses the importance of sticking to the script, implying that Fant is not getting frustrated by being relegated to blocking duties... yet.
“I think Noah has been great about just the way the game plans have been going,” Bridgewater said on Wednesday. “In this league and on any week, a different guy can be the guy. That’s something that we continue to tell Noah. Last week, we needed him to chip in protection a little bit to help the Steelers pass rush. This week he might get 12 targets. You never know how the league plays out and how each week plays out.”
Broncos Country will be keeping its fingers crossed that the game plan opens up for Fant this week vs. the Raiders. Considering Shurmur's track record of not scheming to his players' strengths and asserting his studs into the game plan, just don't count on it.
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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