Broncos 2018 first quarter review

Case Keenum took care of business against Washington. Credit: Keith Allison

We are already four weeks into the 2018 NFL Season! Can you believe it?

A quarter of the way through the season and it feels like Broncos Country has mixed emotions about the state of the team, which is fair because the Broncos have offered a bag of mixed performances.

Without going into too much detail, let’s break down the good and the bad from this season so far, and make some comparisons to where the Broncos were at this point last season.

The Good

By far, the best thing the Broncos have going for them is their running game, led by rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. They have been a dynamic duo slashing through defenses and breaking tackles.

Freeman is listed as the starter but these two have split carries almost evenly thus far — Freeman with 44 carries and Lindsay with 45. Freeman is averaging just under 5 yards per carry at 4.98, while Lindsay is averaging an amazing 5.93 yards per carry — the only team averaging more YPC than Denver (5.6) is the Dallas Cowboys (5.8).

Veteran Devontae Booker has become almost irrelevant, only seeing the field in mostly a pass blocking role.

Their production is a combination of their own abilities and a vastly improved offensive line when it comes to run blocking. The line — made up of Garret Bolles, Ron Leary, Matt Paradis, Connor McGovern, and Jared Veldheer (and recently Billy Turner) — has been able to create great lanes for the runnings backs to fly through.

Guys like McGovern are able to push their defender back from the line of scrimmage and even make plays downfield as they continue to block into the second level.

The other pleasant surprise has been the overall contribution of this year’s rookie class. Including Freeman and Lindsay, we’ve seen consistent field time from players like Courtland Sutton, Josey Jewell, and Bradley Chubb, with other rookies like DaeSean Hamilton and Isaac Yiadom seeing some playing time as well.

They may not be making the same impact as Freeman and Lindsay, but being on the field consistently will bode well for these rookies as they gain experience and will look to take on more prominent roles as the year progresses and into next season.

The Bad

Let’s start with the obvious: Case Keenum. The Broncos desperately needed a quarterback that could just manage the game, not turn the ball over, and make plays when it mattered. So far, Keenum has been an overall disappointment.

Although he was able to lead his team to come-from-behind wins in the first two games of the season, he hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since week one and has thrown a total of six interceptions and lost a fumble.

John Elway brought him in because of his accuracy, decision making, and ability to throw outside of the pocket. He’s currently averaging a 61.7 completion percentage, consistently throws into double coverage, and seems to stay in the pocket too long as it collapses around him.

To be fair, Bolles seems to have regressed from last year and is constantly getting beat around the edge, giving Keenum very little time to get the ball out of his hands.

Also, the two Broncos losses have come against two very good teams that will probably be in the playoffs this year and it’s encouraging that even with Keenum’s struggles, they have been in a position to win.

The other critical area in which the Broncos are struggling is the secondary: the No Fly Zone just isn’t what it used to be. It is most likely a combination of missing a shutdown corner opposite Chris Harris Jr, a lack of decent secondary depth, and subpar coaching.

As much of a headache former Bronco Aqib Talib was at times, there is no doubt his talent is sorely missed on this team right now.

Bradley Roby is an admirable replacement but isn’t on the same level as Talib as a starting corner in the NFL.

Injuries have also really hurt the secondary, especially when it comes to covering tight ends and running backs.

Su’a Cravens was brought in via trade during the offseason to improve this area and he showed promise in his short preseason performance but he is currently on injured reserve and won’t return to the field until week nine at the earliest.

Don’t be surprised though if the Broncos elect to hold him out until after their week 10 bye.

Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods hasn’t been all that impressive either, as he continued to play soft zone coverage when the Broncos were clearly better playing man-to-man.

He seems to be making good adjustments only to go back to what wasn’t working. In last week’s loss to the Chiefs, the Broncos defense shut down All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce by putting a cornerback on him in the first half. Then in the second half when they went back to using a linebacker or safety, Kelce had no trouble finding open space.

The coaching overall has been frustrating. Play calling on both offense and defense is inconsistent and clock management has had some head-scratching moments.

Head coach Vance Joseph has been saying a lot of the right things this season but the proof says he’s probably still a little in over his head.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was promoted from quarterbacks coach and has implemented a playbook that, when it works, has had the Broncos offense moving up and down the field with ease until they get to the red zone.

The Broncos have only scored a touchdown on 54 per cent of their trips to the red zone, with an unacceptable 33 per cent on the road.

They are in the bottom half of the league in red zone scoring attempts per game (2.8), red zone touchdowns per game (1.5), and red zone scoring percentage. Only one of Keenum’s three touchdowns has come in the red zone this year.

Comparison to 2017

We all want to forget last season and pretend it never happened because this was the time of year where everything fell apart for the Broncos. They had a promising start, winning their first two games at home, then went on the road and lost to the Buffalo Bills.

They were able to come back home and beat the Oakland Raiders in a low scoring affair before going into their week four bye. Then the wheels came off as the Broncos ended up going on an eight-game losing streak.

So how does this year’s team compare?

At this point last year, starting quarterback Trevor Siemian had thrown for seven touchdowns and only four interceptions. He was nothing special but he was getting the job done.

As of right now, Keenum has three touchdowns and six interceptions. Far from special and could potentially have cost the Broncos a win or two.

There’s reason to be optimistic though. In 2017, Keenum, then playing for the Minnesota Vikings, took some time to find his groove and get his team on track. In his first four games, he only had four touchdown passes — three of which came in one game. Then he went on to throw at least one touchdown in 10 out of the next 11 games, with multiple touchdowns in six of those.

Keenum also had one of the NFL’s best defenses and a good running game to lean on. The Broncos already have one of the better running games in the league even with Keenum performing poorly, so if they can plug up some holes on defense it could provide enough support to help Keenum feel more comfortable.

Keenum also has a great rapport with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and can rely on him in tight spots. Courtland Sutton is proving that his size and strength will allow him to either catch most balls thrown his way or force the defender into a pass interference call.

The running game is also vastly improved from last year. Through the first four games of 2017 the Broncos leading rusher, CJ Anderson, had a total of 294 yards rushing and one touchdown.

The team as a whole had 572 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns (one from Siemian). This year, the Broncos have 593 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground.

Remember, this is with a very limited passing game right now, something that wasn’t as big of an issue at this point in time last season.

Lastly, the Broncos have young players that are already contributing this year, which wasn’t the case at all last year. Bolles was the only rookie starting consistently in 2017, while this year the Broncos have at least five rookies contributing on a consistent basis.

Conclusion

Overall, being at 2-2 right now isn’t as bad as it might seem. The Broncos could easily be 3-1 if a few plays would have gone their way. They could also easily be 0-4 if they didn’t have the resilience to fight their way back in the first two games.

That kind of stuff will come as the season progresses, as long as the Broncos find a way to plug the leaks now before it’s too late.

A win against the New York Jets on Sunday will be a good indicator that this team can rebound, which it needs to show it can do after a physically and emotionally exhausting game Monday night.

Keenum has pulled off bigger miracles than this in college at Houston and last season in Minnesota, so Broncos Country should let off of the panic button for now.

About Kade Rucker 16 Articles
Kade is one of our local contributors, offering opinions on all things Broncos from Parker, Colorado.

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