The Denver Broncos are confronting some uncomfortable truths in the wake of the team's lopsided 43-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. While the injury-decimated defense largely received passing marks for holding Patrick Mahomes to a stunning 0-for-8 on third down, the current issues of the Broncos' sputtering offense are what has fans most concerned.
QB Drew Lock has already taken responsibility for his own part in the Broncos' Week 7 offensive struggles, offering up a resolved vow to play much better moving forward. If the Broncos' young leader is willing to stand up to be counted, perhaps his cast of young, talented offensive teammates will have to be prepared to follow suit.
When No. 1 wide receiver Courtland Sutton was lost for the year with an ACL tear, first-round rookie Jerry Jeudy was expected to fill the void. Through the first six games of the season, the former Alabama standout has caught 19 passes for a total of 286 yards, which, all said, isn't a bad early return.
However, Jeudy's ability in college to change games has only really shown up once for Denver via a gorgeous, contested-catch that he snatched from the arms of Jets' cornerback Pierre Desir in Week 4, which saw him score his first touchdown as a pro.
As Mile High Huddle reported, head coach Vic Fangio gave a six-game appraisal of Jeudy and it left the 21-year-old plenty room for improvement.
“He’s been up and down," Fangio said on Monday. "I thought yesterday was a good example. He has some plays that he’d like to do over, both from a mental standpoint and execution standpoint.”
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Jeudy was targeted only four times in Sunday’s defeat, making a pair of catches for 20 yards with no touchdowns. It’s been a downward trend, especially when juxtaposed against the first three weeks of the season where Denver’s multiple QBs looked his way 24 times combined and Jeudy made 13 snags.
Worryingly, over the last three weeks, the rookie's targets have dwindled significantly to 13 combined, with Jeudy hauling in only six of them. Some explanation for Jeudy’s declining influence within the offense can be attributed to the emergence of receiver Tim Patrick and the difficulties of switching back to Lock as the starter.
Lock re-entered the lineup in Week 6, helping to lead the Broncos to an 18-12 upset win over the New England Patriots. In 2020, based on the eye test, Jeudy has indeed been "up and down", the 'down' of which was only punctuated further by his failure to make a significant impact on Sunday.
Fangio emphasized the importance of developing his rookie wideout as he pointed to the upsides of Jeudy's performances to date.
“He also had some very good plays yesterday and I think that’s probably a way you could describe his season to this point,” Fangio observed. “I do think the arrow is up on him. We like him, he’s going to be a really good player for us, we just need to eliminate some of those negative plays.”
For Jeudy, it’s now a process of turning all his promise into production, but that process has been made all the more difficult by Lock’s own youthful inconsistencies. Right now, Lock needs to get some answers from his supporting cast rather quickly so he can stop pressing and making costly turnovers.
Fangio sent a not-so-subtle message to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as the Broncos prepare for the Week 7 home bout vs. the Los Angeles Chargers. As much as Lock needs to improve, the Broncos' passing philosophy must crystallize and that process could be helped tremendously by getting the talented and dynamic Jeudy more involved in the offense.
Not every route needs to be vertical for Jeudy. If the Broncos make a philosophical commitment to getting Jeudy the ball in the short-to-intermediate passing game (ever heard of a slant, Coach Shurmur?), that could be the recipe to not only getting the first-rounder rolling but also hastening the development of this floundering aerial attack.