After Drew Lock’s shoulder injury took him out of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos relied heavily on backup quarterback Jeff Driskel to keep the team afloat against one of the better teams in the NFL. Driskel kept the Broncos’ offense in the game, but he wound up falling short of earning the victory.
In Week 3, Driskel will be starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first start for the Broncos. While he’s still a young quarterback, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will have to rely on him to keep the offense going, despite being without wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who’s set to miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
As for Driskel, his performance against Pittsburgh was admirable, but there is still plenty of room for improvement from the third-year quarterback, who signed with the Broncos this offseason after playing for both the Bengals and Lions. Against the Steelers, Driskel was able to throw for two touchdowns, but the pass rush got to him all too often, and it resulted in six sacks for the Pittsburgh defense. How can Driskel help turn the ship around against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 3?
Get the ball out quick
After taking six sacks against the Steelers, it was apparent that Driskel had issues with his timing and connecting with the core group of receivers. Specifically, on the final play of the game for the Broncos, Driskel had receiver Tim Patrick and running back Melvin Gordon open in the middle of the field for a conversion, but held on to the ball just a bit too long and took a sack to essentially end the game. Against Tampa Bay, who feature pass rusher’s Jason Pierre-Paul and former Bronco Shaq Barrett, it’s going to be just as crucial for Driskel to get the ball out to his receivers in a timely manner.
If the Denver offensive line shows the same struggles they had against Pittsburgh, Driskel could be in for a long day. With an average pocket time of 2.4 seconds against the Steelers, Driskel will need to be sharp on pre-snap reads and find his open receivers. Having receivers like Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler can truly benefit Driskel, as they both have a remarkable ability to create space quickly against their opposition.
Can Driskel exploit the Tampa Bay secondary?
The Tampa Bay defense is much more stingy against the run than the pass, and if Driskel is going to have early success against them, it will have to be through the air. Tampa Bay has allowed 264.5 passing yards per game through the first two weeks but is only allowing 84.5 rushing yards to their opponents. Denver has had some success running the ball, but they need to get the passing game rolling against the Tampa Bay secondary. With the weapons he has around him, Driskel should exploit what the Buccaneers give him.
The Broncos will still be without starting running back Phillip Lindsay, so Gordon will take the majority of the carries. Gordon had some big runs against a stout Steelers defense, and it will be crucial for him to continue that style of running to help Driskel feel more confident in the offense. If the Broncos rushing attack can produce early, it may help to open things up in the passing game for Driskel.
Getting the ball to Noah Fant could help Driskel
One of the brightest spots of this Broncos offense has been the second-year tight end, Noah Fant. Against Pittsburgh, Driskel connected with the Iowa product for the Broncos’ first touchdown, followed by a two-point conversion and a substantial 22-yard pass completion to keep the Broncos in the game late. For a backup quarterback, having a young up-and-coming tight end like Fant, who is matched up primarily against linebackers and safeties, is a great way for a QB to feel comfortable in an offensive system. Fant has been the Broncos’ most valuable receiving asset through the first two weeks, posting a OVM scores of 57.81 against the Titans and 41.05 against the Steelers.
With an intriguing star like Fant, Driskel should look to him early and often. Through the first two weeks, Fant has gotten looks in the first half of games but has faded into the background at times as he is asked to do other things within the offense, such as stay home to block. If Driskel and the Broncos offense want to indeed have a chance at taking down the Bucs, they must feed Fant, as then even just the threat of him on the field will open more opportunities up for this offense.
Projecting Jeff Driskel’s performance against Tampa Bay
With an offense that is struggling with injuries, it can be hard to find the positives for Denver. However, Driskel’s performance against Pittsburgh showed that he could keep the offense afloat against good competition. Driskel needs to have more faith in his reads and get his timing down with his young receivers to avoid taking a plethora of sacks. The Buccaneers have a weakness in their secondary, and with the weapons around him, Driskel should look to exploit them through the air, especially if the run game falters.
If Driskel can get the ball to his receivers quickly, it will help the Broncos sustain drives and wear out the defense. The biggest key for Driskel to exhaust all avenues against the Buccaneers’ defensive front is to utilize his legs and athleticism to extend plays. Taking unnecessary sacks will only give Brady more time and a shorter field to work with, which could spell an 0-3 start for the Broncos.