Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- The curious case of the Broncos – Denver surrenders the third fewest points per game but they are stuck in some sort of twisted alternate reality on offense, scoring just 14.3 points per game (the fewest in the league).
- The Ravens play at a slow pace with elevated rush rates behind heavy personnel alignments (like, almost 100% of their snaps over the past three games have come from either 21- or 12-personnel), and four different ball carriers are expected to see work while no pass-catcher outside of Mark Andrews is expected to see more than 65-70% of the offensive snaps.
- Lamar Jackson + Mark Andrews is always GPP-viable for the upside the pairing provides, but it’s more likely that no player returns GPP-viability than it is for that pairing to hit here. Basically, consider Jackson + Andrews or consider fading this one.
- I’m writing this one up early in the week before the first practice reports are released (early Wednesday morning) so check in on the injury reports from each team as the week progresses. That said, the primary unknowns currently appear to be Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler from the Broncos, each of whom is unlikely to sway the likeliest scenarios laid out below.
How denver Will Try To Win ::
Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett has truly been one of the worst game planners and managers this season, somehow riding a top-five defense backward through time to a 3-8 record. Typically, teams with elite defenses are able to play at slower paces with elevated rush rates, but the ineptitude of the Denver offense has forced Hackett into the eighth fastest first half pace of play, tenth fastest situation neutral pace of play, and second fastest pace of play when trailing by seven or more points. Furthermore, poor offensive line play and the season ending injury to electric running back Javonte Williams have forced additional pressure on a Denver pass offense that has struggled to adapt to a quarterback that doesn’t like throwing into pressure, with wide receivers that struggle to separate. We also finally saw emotions boil over last week, with defensive tackle Mike Purcell yelling at quarterback Russell Wilson as he came off the field in an embarrassing loss. Not only that, but reports have surfaced pretty much all season regarding Russell Wilson’s leadership, or lack thereof. Former Seattle teammates bashed the quarterback for his recluse-like leadership, which has come to light once again in Denver with the quarterback reportedly “losing the locker room.” Yea, not great, Bob.
Eight. That’s the number of backs that have seen offensive snaps for the Broncos this season. To say their run game has been tumultuous is a vast understatement, quite honestly. The team started the season with high hopes behind a backfield tandem in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon but has been left with a backfield consisting of three practice squad elevations after Williams suffered a season-ending injury and Melvin Gordon fumbled his way off the roster. Mike Boone, who started the season third on the depth chart, hit the injured reserve after Week 7. Chase Edmonds was brought in from Miami and promptly hit the injured reserve with an ankle injury, leaving the team with practice squad signee Latavius Murray, fullback Andrew Beck, practice squad signee Marlon Mack, and Devine Ozigbo, who was signed to the active roster prior to Week 12 only to be waived on Monday following the game. In the embarrassing 23-10 loss to the Panthers, Murray played a whopping 82% snap rate, carrying 13 times for 92 yards and catching his only target for six yards. Expect another hefty yet inefficient workload for the veteran back this week considering the state of the Denver backfield, charged with overcoming a poor run-blocking offensive line against the third-ranked rush defense by yards allowed per carry. Murray has never been known as a high-target running back, but at least the Broncos have filtered 85 targets to the position this season, tied for the sixth most in the league. The pure rushing matchup yields a below average 4.29 net-adjusted line yards metric and 3.94 average yards per carry.
Earlier in the season, I theorized that Russ’ struggles through the air could be a case of his pass-catchers failing to separate, considering Russ has been graced with athletic pass-catchers that generate their own separation throughout his career. It’s probably still too early to tell if that is a contributing factor to this offense’s struggles, but it seems to be holding water. Courtland Sutton currently ranks 78th in the league in average separation at target and 63rd in the league in average cushion. Jerry Jeudy currently ranks 94th in the league in average separation at target and 66th in average cushion. K.J. Hamler does not have the requisite snaps or routes run to qualify but has been equally as bad, while Kendall Hinton and Greg Dulcich lead the team in both metrics. It’s actually quite remarkable that Denver pass-catchers have a combined two games over 100-yards receiving, which came via Jeudy in Week 1 and Sutton in Week 2. The Denver pass-catching corps is also banged up as Jeudy and Hamler have been out of the lineup since Week 8 (Jeudy hurt his ankle after one snap in Week 10 following the team’s Week 9 bye). We don’t yet know the respective statuses of Jeudy and Hamler, who would each likely re-enter the starting lineup should they return from extended absences, but it appears likely we see Kendall Hinton see another game of increased involvement either way considering the lack of depth at the position. The team has primarily shifted to a heavy-based offense through the injuries at wide receiver, with Greg Dulcich, Eric Tomlinson, and Eric Saubert combining to form an offense based out of 12-personnel over the previous three weeks. All Denver pass-catchers have struggled against man coverage this season, a coverage scheme the Ravens play at an above-average rate behind a defensive front that now blitzes at a below average rate, instead electing to generate organic pressure up front utilizing a hybrid 4-3 front.