The 2020 NFL season has been a tough one for the Broncos. On top of suffering two close losses that broke hearts in the Mile High City, it feels like they’ve lost every key player on the team to injury. It will be hard to bounce back from those losses, but it’s possible with a win this week. Here are three things the depleted Broncos have to do to steal a win against the Buccaneers in Week 3.
Lean on Melvin Gordon
For many members of Broncos Country, it felt like football season in Denver ended when Drew Lock was tackled from behind by Bud Dupree. Lock fumbled the ball and injured his throwing shoulder on the Broncos’ second drive against the Steelers. Now, with Jeff Driskel under center, Denver will have to lean on their run game to stay afloat.
Fortunately for them, they’ve already found quite a bit of success moving the ball on the ground. In Week 1 against the Titans, Phillip Lindsay suffered a turf toe injury that will sideline him in the near future, but free-agent acquisition Melvin Gordon has done a terrific job of stepping up in his place. Gordon averaged more than five yards per carry and rushed for 70 yards against a Steelers defense that held Saquon Barkley to just six rushing yards on 15 attempts in Week 1. Additionally, Royce Freeman looked good against the Steelers, totaling 20 yards on three attempts.
If the Broncos want to win their matchup with the Buccaneers in Week 3 with Driskel at quarterback, they can’t rely on him for all of their offense. That means the run game needs to take on a bigger role in the offense, which is easier said than done now that Denver’s passing game is much less of a threat to opposing defenses. This was reflected against the Steelers, when Gordon averaged nearly 10 yards per carry with Lock in the lineup, before finishing the game with fewer than four yards per carry.
The Broncos must contain the Buccaneers electric receiving core
The Broncos lost their Week 2 matchup with the Steelers in large part because Pittsburgh’s loaded receiving core was able to take advantage of the Broncos inexperienced, rookie-led cornerback group. Michael Ojemudia played well for a majority of the game’s snaps but found himself on the wrong end of all three Steeler touchdowns.
That can’t be the story again, as one of the biggest keys for the Broncos to beat the Buccaneers in Week 3 is to contain an even more talented receiving core that features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Scotty Miller. Even the tight end group of Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate is scary.
Even if the Broncos are able to get the ground game rolling with Gordon, and Driskel has a fine game, they won’t be putting up many points. That makes it vital for the secondary to eliminate the Buccaneers’ big plays through the air, in an effort to keep their beaten-up offense in a close, low-scoring game.
Make Tom Brady uncomfortable
Tom Brady might not be at the height of his powers like he was two or three years ago, but he’s still one of the smartest and most deadly quarterbacks around, and he’ll kill you with a million paper cuts if you give him the chance to do so. That’s why the Broncos can’t allow him to operate from a clean pocket like they allowed Ben Roethlisberger to.
Against the Steelers, the Broncos pressured Roethlisberger nine times but sacked him only once, and hit him just three times. Those unimpressive numbers are made even less impressive when you take into account that Pittsburgh was starting two backups on the right side of their offensive line, which Denver should’ve been able to take advantage of.
Creating pressure will be difficult now that the defense is without Von Miller, Dre’Mont Jones, and DeMarcus Walker, but the team should still be able to at least create some pressure with the personnel they have available. Jurrell Casey and Shelby Harris are two of the best interior pass rushers in the league, and although he hasn’t played like it so far in 2020, Bradley Chubb finished with 12 sacks in his last fully healthy season. They’ll have to do better this week.