JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post on the Broncos' matchup with the Jaguars at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado, Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
Question: The Broncos are 0-3 under first-year Head Coach Vic Fangio. This surely isn't what Broncos fans or the franchise expected. Assess the season thus far, and how do the Broncos feel about themselves as they prepare for the Jaguars?
Answer: The realistic section of the Broncos' fan base expected 2019 to be a type of transition year. But 0-3 and struggles offensively and defensively? Yikes, not quite. Taking it game by game, the Broncos were a no-show in the first half at Oakland Raiders (Week 1), couldn't stop the Chicago Bears on fourth-and-15 and lost at the buzzer (Week 2) and spotted the Green Bay Packers 14 points off takeaways (Week 3). Teams like the Broncos, much like the Jaguars at this point, simply can't overcome back-breaking mistakes. It's natural for the locker room and coaching staff to question what the heck is going on, but it's right in front of them; they haven't cracked 20 points on offense and have no takeaways or sacks on defense.
Q:The Broncos' offense appears to be struggling with quarterback Joe Flacco. What's your assessment, and is the Drew Lock era soon at hand?
A: Acquired for a fourth-round pick from Baltimore, Flacco is completing a high percentage of his passes (69.1) but is averaging only seven yards per attempt. That clearly states the Broncos are having trouble pushing the football vertically. If I'm Fangio and offensive coordinator Rich Scangrello, the concerning part about Flacco so far is his lack of pocket awareness. Of the 11 times he has been sacked this year, I've booked him for four of them because he held onto the football too long. And now he has a big problem in the Jaguars' resurgent pass rush. As for Lock, the calls for him would have started this week were he not on injured reserve (thumb). He's eligible to begin practicing in two weeks.
Q:Perhaps the biggest surprise about the Broncos is that what is perceived to be a talented defense is struggling with a defensive-minded head coach in Vic Fangio. What's your assessment of the defense and is all lost on that side?
A: All isn't lost, but their pass rush sure is missing. I figured the Broncos would be offensively-challenged early in the season because of the new faces and young faces, but also thought Vic's defense would be able to steal a game in the early going. Semi-shockingly, that hasn't happened. The no sacks jump off the page, but edge rusher Von Miller has one pressure in three games. He needs to pick it up. Not having any takeaways isn't as surprising when you dig into the Broncos' games. They haven't led that often and they have been leaky enough on first and second downs that several third downs have been run or pass options for opponents.
Q:What's the formula for this Broncos team to be successful? When it wins – or gives itself a chance to win – how will it look? When is it at its most dangerous?
A: I think I've figured out the formula they want to use but haven't yet gotten around to it. This offense is from the Mike Shanahan School: run, run, run, play-action/deep shot. They rushed 38 times against Green Bay and held the ball for more than 35 minutes but only scored 16 points. Building that early lead was going to play into the Miller/Bradley Chubb pass rush and the secondary of Chris Harris, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons producing takeaways. I do think this can be a dangerous team when it gets a lead, but we haven't seen it yet.
Q:How do you see the next few weeks of the season playing out? They're a play or two away from being 1-2, so it's probably not time to panic, but can this team win a few games to save its season? Or is this a long year in Fangio's first season?
A: I had the Broncos going 7-9 this year; that isn't looking very good. Sunday is a critical game against the Jaguars. Win and are the Broncos going to make a run up the division standings? Probably not. But it would give a lot of their young players – and I believe even Fangio – a needed jolt of confidence and momentum going into games against the Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs in Weeks 5-7. Lose to the Jaguars and – whooo boy – it's not going to be pretty here. Much of the verbal slings and arrows after the Green Bay game were pointed toward General Manager John Elway and that will only intensify.