The Denver Broncos only have one big weakness as New York Jets come to town
Heading into their Week 3 matchup against the New York Jets, Vic Fangio’s undefeated Denver Broncos have played extremely well-rounded football through two games. They own the fourth-best point differential in the NFL (+24) and rank near the top of the league in almost every facet of the game both offensively and defensively.
Check out some of Denver’s offensive ranks:
- Points per drive: 2.63 (8th)
- Offensive EPA (estimated points added): +36.3 (2nd)
- Turnovers: 1 (2nd-fewest)
- Net yards per pass attempt: 7.4 (10th)
- Yards per rush attempt: 4.5 (12th)
- Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade: 69.6 (5th)
- Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade: 67.5 (11th)
- Pro Football Focus receiving grade: 78.2 (4th)
- Pro Football Focus rushing grade: 72.7 (13th)
- Pro Football Focus passing grade: 80.2 (9th)
The offense led by Teddy Bridgewater has shown no holes. Bridgewater is playing some of the most explosive football of his career while the offensive line and skill positions have also been playing at a high level.
Defensively, the Broncos have been even more impressive – save for one area:
- Points allowed per drive: 1.17 (4th)
- Defensive EPA: -1.1 (9th)
- Takeaways: 3 (10th)
- Net yards per pass attempt allowed: 5.0 (4th)
- Yards per rush attempt allowed: 3.8 (11th)
- Pro Football Focus tackling grade: 66.5 (6th)
- Pro Football Focus coverage grade: 72.5 (4th)
- Pro Football Focus run-defense grade: 72.9 (6th)
- Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade: 63.6 (27th)
Just one hole stands out for Denver on either side of the football: the pass rush.
The Broncos are tied for last in the NFL in quarterback hits (6) while ranking 29th in pressure rate (17.8%) and 25th in sack rate (4.1%). They have only three sacks across 70 opposing pass attempts.
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This is a surprising weakness for Fangio’s defense. With a healthy Von Miller back in the fray, the pass rush is probably the last facet of the game that you would guess to be Denver’s biggest issue.
But it is – although it’s not Miller’s fault at all. He has been in peak form. Miller ranks third among edge rushers in sacks (3.0) and total pressures (11).
The problem is that Miller is the only thing the Broncos’ pass rush has going for it. Denver has gotten absolutely no pass-rushing impact out of the rest of its defenders.
Miller is responsible for all three of the Broncos’ sacks and four of their six quarterback hits. His teammates have combined for zero sacks and two quarterback hits.
The Broncos suffered an unfortunate loss in Week 1 that placed them in this predicament. Miller’s partner in crime on the edge, Bradley Chubb, went down with an ankle injury just 19 snaps into the season opener. Chubb underwent surgery and could be back in seven to eight weeks.
Without Chubb, the Broncos have gotten extraordinarily bad production out of their edge rushers beyond Miller. Edge rushers Malik Reed, Jonathon Cooper, and Andre Mintze have combined for two pressures on 91 pass-rush snaps this season, giving them an atrocious combined pressure rate of 2.2%.
That is less than a quarter of the 2020 league average for edge rushers (9.7%).
Reed is tied for 151st in the NFL with two pressures despite playing a total of 54 pass-rush snaps, ranking 50th. Cooper and Mintze have zero pressures apiece over a combined total of 37 pass-rush snaps.
Denver’s interior pass rush is also lackluster. The Broncos’ interior defensive linemen have combined for a pressure rate of 5.0% with nine pressures on 180 rushes, ranking 26th out of 32 interior defensive line units. Dre’Mont Jones leads the group with four pressures, ranking second on the team behind Miller. That total ranks 74th in the NFL.
Topping it all off, the Broncos have not supplemented their pass rushers with strong blitzing, either. Denver’s linebackers and defensive backs have combined for only two pressures so far, tied for fourth-fewest in the league.
Altogether, no team in the NFL has a worse arsenal of pass rushers beyond its best player. The Broncos’ pass rushers outside of Miller have combined for a 4.6% pressure rate, which is the worst rate in the league when removing the production of every team’s top pass rusher (according to total pressures).
The Jets must dominate Denver’s brutal pass rush
Here’s the bottom line for the Jets: outside of Miller, the Broncos’ pass rush is abysmal, and they need to make sure it stays that way on Sunday.
Miller is going to do his damage. It is inevitable. He is a future Hall-of-Famer and still playing like it.
But at the other four offensive line spots, the Jets have an opportunity to string together a clean pass-protection performance in front of Zach Wilson. Giving Wilson good protection is absolutely necessary if the team is going to eke out an upset win on the road against a team with superior talent.
Right tackle Morgan Moses will be tasked with blocking Miller, who plays the vast majority of his snaps at left outside linebacker. The Jets will likely give Moses some tight end help to deal with Miller.
New York needs to dominate its one-on-one matchups elsewhere. The interior trio of Alijah Vera-Tucker, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten will battle Denver’s defensive tackle unit led by Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, and Mike Purcell. Left tackle George Fant will take on Chubb’s struggling replacements at right outside linebacker, Malik Reed and Jonathon Cooper.
If the Jets can lock down the other four spots, they will set the table nicely for Wilson to succeed. That would allow them to neutralize the damage of Miller’s victories. Since Miller would be the only consistent source of pressure, the Jets could design their offense around moving Wilson away from Miller and towards the well-protected side of the line.
This is the one area on the football field where the Broncos are extremely vulnerable heading into Week 3. The Jets must fully exploit this weakness if they are to have any chance of pulling off the upset.