As the Denver Broncos enter the upcoming 2020 season with high expectations on both sides of the ball, the Broncos defense will be under the microscope in year two led by head coach Vic Fangio. After getting off to a slow start in 2019, the Broncos defense improved week to week en-route to becoming a top ten unit in several major statistical categories, but can the Broncos defense grow into an even stronger unit in 2020?
In our latest Broncos Mailbag, I answer reader’s questions regarding how the Broncos defense will improve in year two led by Fangio, what the Broncos offensive line will look like come Week 1, and whether or not Jerry Jeudy will start the season as the team’s number two wide receiver.
How does the Broncos defense improve in year two under Vic Fangio and who makes the biggest strides in his defense?
Considering the Broncos 0-4 start last season, it was interesting to see how the defense responded throughout the 2019 season. The Broncos were ranked towards the bottom of the league on third down defensive conversions, rushing yards allowed, takeaways, and sacks during the first four weeks.
Defensively, they would finish 1st in Red Zone TD %, only allowing teams to score on 39.1% of their attempts in the red-zone, and 10th in Points Per Game allowed (19.8), which is impressive considering the youth in their secondary, and the injuries they were forced to overcome.
As the Broncos enter year two led by Fangio, the expectations for improvement will be much higher with the team’s off-season additions. In terms of scheme fit, adding Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Broncos defense provided them with more strength and experience.
Casey will give the Broncos the ability to rush the quarterback from the defensive interior more consistently than they were able to in 2019, and Bouye will provide veteran leadership in combination with Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, for the team’s younger defensive backs.
I believe that Simmons, Bradley Chubb, and Bouye will be players who take the biggest strides in Fangio’s defense in 2020. In 2019, Simmons began to evolve into one of the NFL’s best safeties. Fangio entrusted Simmons to be the defensive captain, requiring him to audible the defense against different formations, and being the voice for Fangio on the field to his teammates. Simmons will look to build off of the career year that he had in 2019, in hopes of securing a long-term contract.
Chubb enters 2020 fully healthy, coming off of an ACL injury last season. He was playing at a consistent level that was beneficial for the Broncos defense through the first four weeks in 2019. If he can pick up where he left off, the Broncos defense will be hard for opposing teams to counter.
Bouye will be a player to keep an eye on for the Broncos because of his playstyle, which aligns schematically with Fangio’s defense. For the Broncos, his length at the CB position will allow him to play comfortably in both off-man and press coverage. Bouye’s understanding of route concepts and football IQ will also put him in a position to succeed if the Broncos pass rush can get to opposing QBs.
What will the starting offensive line look like for the Broncos come Week 1?
I think the Broncos offensive line will be a strong overall unit once the season kicks off. Despite there being several new faces, the projected starting lineup looks promising on paper.
On the interior, Dalton Risner will continue to be the Broncos starting left guard. At the center position, Broncos third-round selection Lloyd Cushenberry III projects to be the team’s starter Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. At right guard, the Broncos off-season addition of Graham Glasgow will help solidify the team’s interior line play.
However, the tackle position will be under the microscope for the Broncos this season. Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson will compete during training camp for the team’s starting left tackle position. For the Broncos, I believe that Bolles will end up winning the job for 2020. Ja’Wuan James will make his return to the Broncos starting lineup at the right tackle position after dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of action a majority of last season.
Overall, I have a strong feeling about what the Broncos can do on their offensive line in 2020. A starting lineup of Bolles, Risner, Cushenberry, Glasgow, and James projects to be a strong unit on paper, but their performances in training camp will dictate whether or not this lineup will help the Broncos be more productive in the run game and pass protection.
Do you think Jerry Jeudy will start out as the team’s number two receiver or will he have to climb the depth chart to earn that spot?
Certainly, the expectations are high for the Broncos first-round pick. Jeudy is projected to be the Broncos number two wide receiver, but he’ll have to come into training camp and earn the spot officially.
Broncos WR coach Zach Azzanni doesn’t hand things out to players in the position room and he makes them earn their place in the rotation. Coach Azzanni has been widely considered as one of the NFL’s top young position coaches, and he’ll be responsible for Jeudy’s continued development.
The number two spot at WR is Jeudy’s to lose coming into the season. He’s a rookie that wasn’t able to experience the traditional NFL off-season after being drafted, missing OTAs due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s expected that he and many other rookies will be behind the learning curve a little bit, but the expectation is that Jeudy will be the team’s WR2 on the depth chart on Week 1.
What do you think would happen if the NFL is forced to stop play after the first two to four games of the season?
This question is widely uncertain right now among league insiders. We’ve just seen the NFL devise a plan for testing before training camp, which starts this week. Players reporting for training camp will have to have two negative tests for COVID-19 before they will be able to enter the team facility at the UC Health Training Center in Englewood, Colorado.
I want football to happen just as much as everybody else, but I do think that the safety of employees, players, coaches, and personnel is the top priority. Back when the NFL schedule was revealed, it was documented that the NFL had developed a potential contingency plan if the season would be delayed or interrupted.
It remains to be seen whether or not the NFL has fully constructed a legitimate contingency plan that addresses the league’s protocols moving forward if they were forced to stop play before or during the season. We’ll keep you updated as best as we can here at Pro Football Network once we hear more as players get closer to reporting.
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