Broncos vs. Bucs: 5 Key Matchups to Watch
The Denver Broncos are having a bit of a rocky start to the 2020 NFL season. With losses in their first two games and a rash of injuries to key players plaguing their chances early on, the Broncos seemingly cannot get out of their own way.
Losing Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay, Drew Lock, and several others to injury, is certainly no help to their cause, but even so, the team has been close to victory in each of their first two contests. They just haven't been able to overcome the mental mistakes on the field and questionable coaching decisions in critical situations.
This week, those costly errors could cost them dearly as Tom Brady and the new look Buccaneers come to town.
Arguably the best quarterback that has ever set foot inside the lines, Brady is notorious for feasting upon an opponent's mistakes. Typically speaking, Brady will turn your turnovers into points, exploit defensive weaknesses at will, and torture you with a thousand paper cuts before going for the jugular. It's methodical, lethal, and legendary at times.
With a revamped offense and solid yet unspectacular defense, this Bucs team is widely considered as postseason contenders. A tough test for the third straight game, the Broncos have to play a close to perfect game if they have any hopes of righting the ship.
And Denver has to do so without several of its superstar players.
How do the Broncos walk out of Week 3 with their first victory of the season? Winning these five matchups is a good start.
5: Noah Fant vs. Lavonte David
Where would this Broncos team be if they could figure out a way to keep Noah Fant involved in the game plan for an entire 60-minute game?
Answer: They would probably have at least one mark in the win column.
After an explosive first half against Tennessee, Fant disappeared from the Broncos offensive game plan for the next four consecutive quarters of play before shredding the Steelers in the second half last week. Should he have remained a focus in the passing game, we may be singing a different tune about this team.
With Jeff Driskel starting at quarterback and Sutton sidelined for the remainder of the season, Fant needs to step up in a major way and become the superstar tight end he is capable of.
The problem is, the Bucs have one of the best three-down linebackers in Lavonte David.
With 11 interceptions and 25 pass break-ups over his nine-year career to date, David is athletic enough to cover sideline-to-sideline in both the running and passing game.
Fant's size and athleticism present a huge advantage for the Broncos offense, and they have to keep him as the focus offensively. He has to take pressure off of rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler and present a quality safety valve for the Broncos backup quarterback. And it has to be for a full 60 minutes.
4: Lloyd Cushenberry vs. Vita Vea
After a solid showing against a solid Titans defensive line in Week 1, Cushenberry struggled mightily against a vaunted Steelers front.
Pittsburgh deployed a vast array of lineman against the Broncos' rookie man on the pivot, and he was arguably the worst offensive lineman on the day in Week 2, allowing a handful of pressures (including a sack) in the passing game as well as struggling to gain traction on the ground.
His rookie learning curve is going to take another massive hit against Vea, who is a tremendous run-stopping nose tackle.
Vea possesses a quick first step and incredible power in the running game, having enough strength to anchor at the point of attack as well as knife through gaps. He also has a high motor, though it can be inconsistent if he's on the field for a long period of time.
This is where Cushenberry needs to take advantage.
Vea has a tendency to take plays off at times, leaving him vulnerable against the run. If Cushenberry can attack with his strength and ferocity, he can move Vea aside with ease.
Stopping Vea, as well as Ndamukong Suh, upfront has to be a focus if the Broncos want to sustain any kind of success offensively. And Cushenberry has to improve immediately.
3: Elijah Wilkinson vs. Shaquil Barrett
Speaking of needing to improve, the Broncos weakest link on the offensive line this season has been Wilkinson. Though you could argue that Cushenberry was worse last week, Wilkinson was absolutely atrocious against TJ Watt last week.
Going against Barrett, who led the league with 19.5 sacks in 2019, poses an equally difficult task.
Though not the athlete that Watt is, Broncos fans should all be cognizant of the ability of Barrett to win with speed and bend coming off of the edge.
If there's any area of Wilkinson's game that you can point out his most significant struggles, it's when going against players that have top-end speed off of the snap. Those that can exploit his heavy feet and lesser athleticism.
Barrett could feast against Wilkinson, and this might be the game where the Broncos finally choose to get DeMar Dotson on the field. One can only hope.
2: KJ Hamler vs. Bucs Secondary
Broncos fans got a taste of what Hamler brings to the offense last week against the Steelers. And it was pretty sweet.
Hamler showed off his extreme speed, ability to create separation in his route running, and surprisingly good hands as a receiver.
A couple of miscues, like bumping into Daesean Hamilton in the mesh concept that disrupted the Broncos chance at converting 3rd-&-2 late in the game, kept him from being a major contributor, but he was solid against a quality Steelers defense.
Against a lesser Tampa Bay secondary, Hamler needs to utilize that speed to open up options for everybody else. With Sutton down for the year, this young receiving corps is going to have to grow up fast and take advantage of as many opportunities as they can.
1: Video Above
For a look into our top matchup to watch, check out the video above.