BRONCOS

Porous defense is one of many things that doomed the Broncos

Sep 18, 2023, 5:51 AM

The Denver Broncos are 0-2 to begin the 2023 season after losing to the Washington Commanders by a score of 35-33. Things were supposed to be different under HC Sean Payton, but the team keeps coming up short in close games.

Now that they’re 0-2, the Broncos’ chances of making the playoffs are increasingly slim. When the season began, I thought the Broncos would push for a Wild Card spot. Now, after two losses at home, I think that hope is dashed.
After the game, Payton acknowledged what 0-2 means.

“I get it, and I get that we’re going to write and talk about it. I can’t change that we’re 0-2, but I can certainly change how we approach the next game and prepare to play the third game. That’s all we can do.” Payton said.

Here are three observations from the Broncos loss to the Commanders in Week 2.

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Please Sir, Can I Have Some More (Mims)?

The Broncos showed you glimpses of what rookie WR Marvin Mims Jr could be in the first half against the Commanders. He was targeted two times by QB Russell Wilson, and Mims turned those into huge plays. By halftime, Mims had two catches for 113 yards and one touchdown. While some were looking for WR Jerry Jeudy to provide some explosiveness to the passing game, it was Mims who did that instead.

Last week, Mims also got two targets, but it only amounted to two catches for nine yards. He did more with his targets, and I was excited about what he could do with more work as the game went on.

That didn’t happen. Instead of earning more targets, Mims was blanked in the second half against the Commanders. Things were working with Mims, and then the Broncos mysteriously just went away from him.

Payton was asked why Mims did not get more work after his two big catches early in the game.

“Yes, some of it’s coverage driven, and some of it is just based on what we’re in. We ended up in a couple different personnel groupings. Part of that is coincidence, I would say. We had a number of guys we were trying to get the ball to, and we’ll keep doing that.” Payton said.

***

A Loss of Energy

After the first half, the energy changed for the Broncos defense. They had the Commanders’ offense on the ropes for most of the first half, and Denver was getting after QB Sam Howell early and often. Howell has a gun-slinger mentality, and he wants to make a big play. He’ll hold onto the ball waiting for receivers to get open downfield, and that created opportunities for the Broncos defense.

After the team had zero sacks against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, it was good to see pressure that led to production against Howell. The Broncos were without EDGE Frank Clark on Sunday, but guys like Randy Gregory and Jonathon Cooper were coming through on passing downs.

Commanders’ OC Eric Bieniemy wanted to attack the Broncos through the air, but it wasn’t working as effectively as desired. The Broncos secondary has issues covering players (see how Damarri Mathis is constantly targeted), and Washington was quick to go to that game plan. The Broncos pass-rushers brought a ton of energy in the first half, but that didn’t last after halftime.

Cooper noticed a change of energy in the second half.

“I just feel like the energy kind of went down. I do not know if we just were not clicking the same way we were in the first quarter and the first half. Truth be told, that does not win games. It is not just the first quarter. The game is not won in the first quarter. We have to learn how to continue to play with that energy, continue to play off each other and get better.” Cooper said.

***

Can’t Stop Screens

Howell passed the ball a whopping 30 times in the first half. As aforementioned, that strategy did not work against the Broncos. However, Howell finished the game with only 39 passing attempts. The Commanders went away from the passing game, and instead chose to run the ball down the Broncos’ throats.

In addition to a rushing attack led by RB Brian Robinson, the Commanders also used screen passes for a few of the nine times Howell passed in the third and fourth quarters. These screen passes slowed down the rush that had been hounding Howell early in the contest, and the receivers were able to maneuver through the Broncos’ defense to move the chains – many times with ease.

We’re seeing Mathis targeted on a weekly basis, something that will continue with his poor play. However, Howell was also not afraid of going after CB Pat Surtain. Howell had success against Surtain – not much, but it was startling to see a young passer be so bold against such a great player.

Surtain knows what led to the Commanders gaining momentum in the second half.

“It was getting the run game going, the screen game going too. Obviously all passing downs—we couldn’t get the stops that we needed. You know as a defense, collectively, we’re pretty frustrated by it because coming into this year we set ourselves a high standard and we feel like we ended that today. Because [during] crucial moments down the field, we expect to get stops and get the ball back to our offense. It was just tough being out there and just not getting things done when we needed to.” Surtain said.

***

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