BRONCOS

Broncos will be thinking playoffs if they can top streaking Vikings

Nov 19, 2023, 2:14 PM

The Denver Broncos are on a roll. After beating the Buffalo Bills on the road in Week 10, the Broncos return home with a three-game win streak. They’ve got another primetime showdown, this time against the Minnesota Vikings.

Can the Broncos keep their win streak going, especially against a team with a five-game win streak? With one more win, the playoffs become more of a possibility for this team.

How will the Broncos attack the Vikings on both sides of the ball? Let’s take a look.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

It’s been a breath of fresh air to see the Broncos run the ball as early and often as they do. I’ve been saying since before the start of the regular season, and it’s nice to finally see it come to fruition on the football field. It’s no surprise the Broncos are winning with the formula of running the ball as their primary focus.

The question becomes; can RB Javonte Williams hold up with such a large workload? Williams looks more like his old self, although he’s not quite back to 100 percent. He’s over a year removed from the knee surgery that cut his 2022 season short, and the Broncos are using him like the bell cow back he was drafted to be. In the win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9, Williams had a whopping 27 carries. In the win over the Bills, Williams had 20 carries. That’s 48 carries in two weeks, which is effectively double the number of carries Williams received in the first two games of the season (25).

Williams is a tough back, but even the toughest in this league wears down. The Broncos need to get ahead of any potential wear and tear by using RB Samaje Perine more. Perine is getting used sparingly, although the team does trust him more than undrafted rookie RB Jaleel McLaughlin late in games. Since Perine is a big back like Williams, it only makes sense to give him more work as a between-the-tackles runner. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield too, and I believe he needs a larger role now voluntarily before the team is forced to feature him more if Williams is banged up.

The key to victory continues to be on the shoulders of Williams. He can carry a lot, but some help from Perine (and a dash of McLaughlin) would go a long way.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

Wilson is running what his coaches are asking him to do, but HC Sean Payton isn’t asking him to do much. That’s okay, and nobody should be upset because the team is winning. In fact, they’ve figured out how to win together over the course of this season. That means Wilson must be efficient and effective with short-to-intermediate passing and quality reads in the red zone. Wilson is doing just that, and his numbers reflect the precision he’s playing with.

A big reason why the passing game can be efficient and effective is the play of WR Courtland Sutton. While the Broncos aren’t filling the air with footballs during this win streak, when Wilson does throw, he’s looking for Sutton as his primary read. We’ve waited years for Sutton to look like his pre-injury self, and this season is the closest we’ve gotten to a younger Sutton. His big body makes him a great target, but his ‘my ball’ mentality is what makes Sutton special. He’s made catches that few can make over the last couple of weeks as he goes all out to make the play for his quarterback and his team.

Jerry Jeudy continues to do little on a weekly basis. He did draw a key pass-interference penalty at the end of the game against the Bills, but other than that you don’t see much from him. Perhaps that changes this week, or perhaps this is actually the week we get to see rookie WR Marvin Mims Jr. He’s playing more snaps on offense (in addition to standing out as a return man), but Mims told me this week he’s staying patient when it comes to getting more targets. Well, Broncos fans should be impatiently waiting to see Mims do more because he could be the team’s best wide receiver if only given the chance.

The Broncos may not need to air it out against the Vikings. They’ll try to throw the kitchen sink at Wilson, but the veteran should be cool under pressure. That’s good news for the Broncos, and it’s bad news for the Vikings.

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When the Vikings Run the Ball

On Saturday, the news was revealed that Alexander Mattison was going to play in Week 11 against the Broncos. He was in the league’s concussion protocol, but Mattison is cleared to play and that’s a boost for the Vikings’ offense. Mattison has had an up-and-down season, but he’s a natural runner who understands the wide-zone scheme.

The Vikings also can use Ty Chandler in the rushing attack. Chandler’s Week 10 performance against the New Orleans Saints (15 carries, 45 yards) was the best of his career so far, and he’s got 23 carries for 87 yards so far in 2023. Williams was his college teammate who was the “thunder” for the North Carolina Tarheels, while Chandler (and Michael Carter) provided the “lightning” on the football field. Chandler is a speed back who can rip off big plays if he gets a small crease.

In addition to Mattison and Chandler, the Vikings new starting QB Josh Dobbs will take off to run when he sees fit. Dobbs is a smart player who will take what a defense gives him. They will design some runs for Dobbs, but don’t be surprised if he rushes 4-7 times on his own. The Broncos coverage can come into play against the Vikings, but the front seven will need to have their attention on Dobbs as a rusher.

Mattison is going to play, but he’s been inconsistent this year and coming back from injury it’s going to be tough to project what he can do. Chandler has the speed to be a concern, but the Broncos can limit what the Vikings do on the ground.

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When the Vikings Pass the Ball

The Vikings new quarterback has taken the league by storm. A literal rocket scientist (aerospace engineering was his major in college) Dobbs is a great story, but he’s not a great quarterback. He’s bounced around to quite a few teams, mainly playing sparingly as a backup in various stops. Dobbs is smart, he’s athletic, but I don’t think we’re watching the next Geno Smith.

Instead, we’re watching a quarterback who has made himself a lot of money by running what he’s supposed to – mostly with the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year. The Vikings made the trade for Dobbs before the trade deadline a couple of weeks ago, and he’s done a good job leading the way over the last two games. Dobbs will not be rattled under pressure, so the Broncos should implement a ‘mush rush’ technique against Dobbs to keep him in the pocket.

Justin Jefferson was on track to play, but on Saturday we learned he was going to miss another game due to the hamstring injury that knocked him out of action in Week 5. With Jefferson, the Vikings were 1-4 and now have won five in a row without him. Regardless of the early season woes, the Vikings would be much more dangerous with him out there. Now, rookie first-round WR Jordan Addison should get featured more when the Vikings pass. Add in TE T.J. Hockenson, plus WR K.J. Osborn, and you can see how Dobbs has better weapons than some think. We’ll assume Broncos CB Pat Surtain will be on Addison, but Hockenson will be tough to defend and Osborn is a slippery receiver after the catch.

Jefferson versus Surtain would have been fun. However, the Vikings have plenty of other receivers, backs, and tight ends who could be productive targets against the Broncos on Sunday.

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