JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 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 Denver Broncos' matchup with the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
- Q: The Broncos are 1-0 entering Sunday. How do the Broncos feel about themselves – and their season – as they prepare for the Jaguars? Is this a team you feel should contend?
- A: This group should feel good about winning the opener because it erased the narrative of the last two Septembers, when Head Coach Vic Fangio's first two seasons were over before they got out of the blocks with starts of 0-4 and 0-3. Fangio zigged when much of the league zagged last month in that he played most of his starters in at least one preseason game. I think those reps helped them against the New York Giants Sunday; the Broncos looked crisp and took the lead for good right before halftime on their way to a 27-13 victory. I picked them third in the AFC West behind Kansas City (it was quarterback Patrick Mahomes) and the Los Angeles Chargers (they have quarterback Justin Herbert), but that doesn't mean the Broncos can't compete for a playoff spot. They want to build their winning foundation around a running game (Melvin Gordon/Javonte Williams) that sets up the play-action pass to get a lead and then lean on their defense, which is led by the NFL's highest-paid secondary.
- Q: Assess the Broncos at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is starting. Can he prove this season he's the guy and does he look like a quarterback that can get the Broncos to the postseason?
- A: Bridgewater could end up being one of the NFL's biggest non-rookie bargains this year. Carolina wanted so little to do with him in April it agreed to pay $7 million of his $10 million restructured contract; thus he carries only a $3 million cap hit for the Broncos. I wasn't surprised he won the job over Drew Lock because he's what a defensive-minded head coach like Fangio wants -- no frills, all efficiency. His numbers against the Giants (28 of 36 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions) proved Fangio right for at least one week, but Bridgewater is a guy who makes plays after being flushed outside or being forced to climb the pocket. A free agent next March, Bridgewater may be linked to Fangio. The schedule sets for Bridgewater and the Broncos to start 3-0, which would fuel talk of ending a five-year playoff drought.
- Q: Aside from quarterback, what do the Broncos want to do offensively? How do they play when they're at their best on this side of the ball?
- A: They want to lean on Gordon and Williams to anchor the run game. Even though they were paying Gordon $8 million this season, the Broncos traded up in the second round for Williams and he is already trusted in all situations. They played 33 snaps apiece against the Giants. In the pass game, the Broncos have invested draft resources on tight end Noah Fant (first round) and receivers Courtland Sutton and KJ Hamler (second round). First-round receiver Jerry Jeudy sustained a high ankle sprain on Sunday and is out. You'll see Bridgewater run some boot-leg action and where they have really been productive is on shallow crossing routes.
- Q: Where is this team defensively? Is this a playoff-level defense under Fangio?
- A: On paper, the Broncos' defense should have entered the season ranked in the top five. New general manager George Paton signed cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, drafted cornerback Pat Surtain II ninth overall and made sure outside linebacker Von Miller, defensive end Shelby Harris and safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson remained in the fold. Fangio's best defenses in San Francisco and Chicago took the ball away; the Broncos didn't have any success there in his first two years. Where they will really thrive is if they can stop the run. The Giants rushed for only 60 yards and 20 carries on Sunday, which put third-year Giants quarterback Daniel Jones into third-and-long situations, which plays right into Fangio's scheme of disguising his coverages and making you guess where the pass rushers are going to come from. Miller's play against the Giants was very encouraging; in his first regular-season game since December 2019, he had two sacks and several other disruptive plays.
- 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 at its most dangerous?
- A: Like most teams, the Broncos are ultra-dangerous when they have a lead because of Miller and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (who missed Week 1 with an ankle injury) and the secondary. Fangio feels comfortable playing dime on a regular basis (four corners/two safeties) and putting Surtain on tight ends, a big ask for a rookie who only played outside corner at Alabama. Offensively, for lack of a better phrase, their goal should be to not screw it up. Convert on third down. Touchdowns in the red zone. And no takeaways.
- Q: What's a successful season for the Broncos this season? Is this playoffs or bust?
- A: For Fangio, 13-20 as the Broncos' head coach, it is at least a winning record or bust. Probably the same for Bridgewater. But Paton was hired in January to replace John Elway and is armed with a six-year contract. That's why a game like Sunday's against the Jaguars is so important. The Broncos are over .500 for the first time since October 2018 and feel the recent drafts and free-agent additions have positioned them to in not catch Kansas City in the AFC West, string enough wins together to play interesting football in November and December. Making the playoffs as a wild card team would represent success.
WEEK 2 · Sun 09/19 · 1:00 PM EDT