At 0-3, the Denver Broncos are a mess right now.
Their defense, led by defensive genius Vic Fangio, has been rightfully ridiculed for not forcing a sack or turnover this season. The Broncos are, somehow, the first team to accomplish that feat. It’s also worth noting that the great Von Miller — who also doesn’t have a single quarterback hit in 94.9 percent of the defensive snaps — has been missing in action, too.
Let’s, however, put the defense on the back burner because it still hasn’t played poorly and hasn’t been the primary reason the Broncos have lost.
No. That would be the offense, which complements a strong run game led by one of my favorite running backs (the hard-charging Phillip Lindsay) with one of the league’s least-impressive passing games.
I know, I know. With Joe Flacco at the helm, big shock. But one of the first Things I Noticed while reviewing an interesting spate of Week 3 games were the Broncos’ passing issues, which will be amplified this Sunday against a jacked-up Jacksonville Jaguars defense that’s coming off a killer performance in a 20-7 Thursday night win over Tennessee.
As I detailed in the video above — produced by my main man Ron Schiltz — the Broncos have reason to fear the Jaguars’ D, which was downright menacing against the Titans, racking up an insane nine sacks and 13 quarterback hits against a far-too-passive Marcus Mariota.
The effort was led by stud Calais Campbell, who notched three sacks and five quarterback hits in the single-best performance by a defensive lineman this year. That’s something considering the way Green Bay’s Preston Smith (the NFC Defensive Player of the Week) has been playing.
And considering the way Smith and the Packers terrorized Broncos right tackle Elijah Wilkinson and his fellow O-linemen this past week, it’s hard to see Denver blocking a front led by Campbell — a Denver native who is already talking about looking forward to his second pro game in the Mile High City — especially if Flacco doesn’t stop holding onto the ball.
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“There was definitely a few of those where he held onto it for a long time,” Fangio said after the Broncos’ most recent loss. “There’s only so much time you can hold it back there, and Joe’s got to do a better job of getting it out quicker.”
So yes, Flacco better heed Fangio’s words and Denver better jump out to an early lead against Jacksonville. Otherwise, the Jaguars’ fearsome D-line could tee off on an overmatched front (and QB) that has surrendered the sixth-most sacks in the league (11).
2. The heir to Cam’s throne?
Let’s hear it for the Carolina Panthers! Now this is the team we thought could contend for the NFC South title.
Granted, they beat the fledgling Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But their 38-20 win was a complete performance, one led by a speedy defense that did an outstanding job corralling the elusive Kyler Murray (eight sacks) and a superb performance by backup quarterback Kyle Allen, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns.
Allen was more than “functional” in place of Cam Newton on Sunday. He was decisive, he threw in rhythm and he made some downright killer, big-boy throws.
Check these out, folks:
Allen was making throws on the move, off his back foot, in tight coverage … and I’m just saying, if he continues to make throws like this over the coming weeks, and the Panthers keep winning, there are going to be calls to keep him in the mix even when Newton heals from a mid-foot sprain, especially because Allen apparently doesn’t lack cool or confidence.
“He’s real confident in who he is as a football player,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said recently. “He’s got a lot of swag, which is kind of interesting when you watch him, and he’s been able to back that up. He did it in high school, he did it in college, and the two times he’s played for us, he’s played pretty well.”
We’ll see if he can keep it going this weekend against the Texans, who rank 23rd in pass defense and have notched only one interception through three games.
3. Carson Wentz’s kryptonite?
One of Matt Patricia’s favorite ways to frustrate an offense as head coach of the Detroit Lions is to rush just three men and drop eight into coverage. It’s something the New England Patriots, where he was defensive coordinator from 2012-2017, liked to do in recent years, and Patricia has continued that trend.
It was noticeable late in the Lions’ surprising 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles when the Lions, who led by three, dropped eight men into coverage with successful results, as quarterback Carson Wentz went 1-for-4 for 5 yards and a 6-yard fourth-down scramble that fell 2 yards short of the marker.
Patricia loves to drop eight, especially when the goal is to take away the deep routes, play bend-but-don’t break and allow the clock to run. It will be fascinating to see if he tries it in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, who I’m convinced could regularly complete passes against 12-man defenses, let alone 11.
Furthermore, I’ll be keeping an eye on whether Wentz faces more three-man rushes on Thursday night against an aggressive Green Bay defense that rushed two or three at a 13.5 percent clip in 2018 — the fifth-most in the league — under Mike Pettine.
4. Play this fearless tight end in fantasy this week
Another revelation in 2019 has been Seattle tight end Will Dissly, who has been killing it to such a degree that the Seahawks traded tight end Nick Vannett — a third-round pick in 2016 who is coming off a career season — to the tight end-needy Steelers for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Dissly, a fourth-round pick a year ago, has caught 12 of 14 targets for 124 yards this year, and he does his best work in the red zone, where he can use his size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds), toughness and feel for finding open space to win in close quarters. It’s no coincidence that all three of his touchdowns this year have come in the red area. His fearlessness when he knows he’s gonna take a lick stands out. Here are five plays that show that:
Don’t bet on Dissly’s strong run ending anytime soon. Seattle’s next opponent is Arizona, which has gotten pillaged by tight ends in all three games it has played this season as Carolina’s Greg Olsen (six catches, 75 yards, two touchdowns), Detroit’s rookie T.J. Hockenson (six catches, 131 yards and touchdown) and Baltimore's Mark Andrews (eight catches, 112 yards, one touchdown) all found room to roam.
For more film analysis over the course of the week, check out my Snapchat (Terez_Paylor).
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