Well, for the second straight year the Denver Broncos fall to 0-3 on the season. This year it comes at the expense of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While already fighting an uphill battle, the Broncos stood no chance against the future Hall of Famer’s new team in this ugly game. As we do every week, here is our Broncos post-game recap and review.
The Broncos dug themselves a hole early in this contest against the Buccaneers. As their first drive came to a halt, Sam Martin and the punting unit came out onto the field to try and flip the field position. However, Pat O’Connor came screaming in, blocked Martin’s punt, and gave Tom Brady the ball at the Broncos 10 yard line. Three plays later, Brady found Godwin for the score and put the Bucs up 7-0.
On the next two Bronco drives, the offense gained one yard. The Bucs blitzed all-day and made sure Jeff Driskel was as uncomfortable as possible from start to finish. Sandwiched in-between the Broncos two three-and-outs, the defense did force a Tampa Bay punt to keep it close.
The Broncos and Bucs would trade field goals to get Denver on the board early in the second quarter. After Denver made it a 10-3 game, Brady led the Bucs on a 12-play 75-yard drive that ended in a Mike Evans touchdown from the 1-yard line. The Bucs kept bringing the heat and forced the Broncos to go three and out after losing five yards on their next drive.
The Buccaneers continued to pile on the Broncos. With a tired defense, Brady had another efficient drive. The former Patriot once again led the Bucs to the 1-yard line and found Evans for another score. With 2:19 left in the first half, Driskel and the Broncos found themselves down by 20 points, 23-3. However, the Bucs didn’t bring much pressure on the final drive and Driskel was able to move the ball. With just 14 seconds left, Driskel found Tim Patrick who ran into the endzone for a score. Heading into halftime the Bucs led the Broncos 23-10.
There wasn’t much scoring to be had by either side in the second half. On the first Broncos possession of the half, they found themselves backed up near their own goal line. Then former Bronco Shaquil Barrett sacked Driskel for the safety. Barrett, the former Colorado State Ram, had two sacks in his Colorado homecoming.
Both teams struggled to move the ball after the safety, resulting in three punts over 10 total plays. Then the Bucs capitalized on another Broncos mistake. Linebacker Lavonte David picked off Driskel, which led to a Tampa Bay field goal.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game, the Broncos benched Jeff Driskel and brought in Brett Rypien for his NFL debut. Rypien was undrafted last year out of Boise State, but spent most of 2019 on the practice squad. All of a sudden, the Broncos had some life as Rypien led the offense on an 11 play drive. Unfortunately, the drive ended with an interception on 4th down in the redzone. Rypien went 8/9 for 53 yards on the final drive but did have the one interception.
The Broncos had no response against the Bucs pass rush in this one which dominated for the entire game. The Broncos will have to move on quickly as they face the 0-3 New York Jets in New York on Thursday night.
As always, let’s jump into my 10 takeaways from the game:
Broncos Had No Answer for the Blitz:
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles had a game plan from the start and rode it to victory Sunday afternoon. He brought pressure nearly every play and made sure Jeff Driskel could never get comfortable. Bowles is known for being an aggressive blitzer, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but the Broncos certainly looked rattled. The only drive that Driskel had an inkling of time, was on the touchdown drive right before halftime. Beyond that, Driskel had to picked up off the turf more often than not. Bowles blitzed everyone too. Linebackers, safeties, corners, defensive line stunts, everything gave Denver trouble on Sunday.
Two Week In a Row That The O-Line Has Been Dominated:
Piggybacking off of our first takeaway, this is now the second week in a row that the offensive line has been shredded. Granted both Pittsburgh and Tampa are blitz heavy teams, but the offensive line didn’t even give us a chance. The Bucs recorded six sacks and 10 QB hits, while the Steelers notched seven sacks and 19 QB hits last week. So over a two-week span the o-line has given up 13 sacks and 29 QB hits. We all knew this would be the weak link on the team, but that’s just unacceptable. Right tackle Elijah Wilkinson has looked terrible. Rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III seems overwhelmed. Free agent signee Graham Glasgow hasn’t been as sharp as I thought he would be. Garett Bolles hasn’t been holding but is giving up sacks. Even Dalton Risner isn’t playing at his best right now. Coach Mike Munchak and the line need to figure it out as soon as possible if the Broncos want to win some games.
The Offense Misses Lock:
Jeff Driskel has played nearly two full games as a Bronco and it’s very clear that he isn’t a stating-caliber quarterback. While he did give Denver a shot to win last week, all of his shortcomings were exposed against the Bucs. The Florida alum can’t identify a blitz and doesn’t seem to know what to do with the ball under pressure. Showcased by taking two sacks for safeties in back-to-back weeks. Head Coach Vic Fangio replaced Driskel with an undrafted second year player making his debut in hopes of sparking the offense, and Rypien did down the stretch. It’s obvious that the Broncos are lost without Lock, and while I hope he returns soon I pray the Broncos don’t rush him back before he’s ready.
Who Starts at QB vs The Jets?:
This leads into our next point, which needs an answer soon. The Broncos play in New York on Thursday night and don’t know who will start at quarterback. There’s three options if you’re the Broncos. You can keep going with Jeff Driskel, and we know what we’re going to get with him at the helm. The Broncos could side with Brett Rypien and give him his first career start. The undrafted Boise State Bronco did admirably on the final drive until he tried to force a pass to Jerry Jeudy. Or, the Broncos could start newcomer Blake Bortles who was signed late last week. While Bortles is probably the best QB of the three, he’ll need to learn the offense in under a week. If he can, and assuming the coaching staff can create specific plays for him, then I would start Bortles. The former first round pick is far from perfect, but I’m curious to see what he has left in the tank and would give the Broncos the best chance to win in my opinion. Regardless of who gets the start, the decision will need to come sooner rather than later.
Pass Rush Is Still an Issue:
I mentioned this in last week’s review, but it still rings true. The Broncos gave Brady way too much time to dissect the coverage yesterday. While they did manage to get two sacks on Brady, they were both coverage sacks. Neither of them were a direct result of a stellar pass rush, but more telling of the coverage downfield. Shelby Harris, who we’ll get to in a second, tallied both sacks. While Chubb continued to improve and made a couple of big plays in this one, there is still a lack of consistent fire from this group. It just shows how much the Broncos miss Von Miller.
That Being Said, Shelby Harris Is a Beast:
I mentioned that Shelby Harris got two sacks in this contest, but he does a little bit of everything for this team. Harris also had a pass deflected, one of his specialties, and four QB hits. He seemed to be everywhere today and showcased his worth in this one. During the offseason, Harris was expected to sign a big contract elsewhere but when the market got quiet for him, he signed a cheap one-year deal to stay in Denver. Harris deserves to get paid and should cash-in after this season.
Another Costly Special Teams Error:
Another common theme through these game recaps is the poor play from the special teams unit. They were terrible in coverage last week vs the Steelers and had another costly error Sunday. Right out of the gates, the punt team allowed a free rusher who blocked the kick and gave the Bucs great field position. It didn’t look like the Bucs did anything special on the play. Special Teams Coach Tom McMahon needs to right the ship for his unit.
Brady is Still Brady:
Yes, he is in a different uniform. Yes, the arm strength might not be the same, Yes, he doesn’t have Bill Belichick. But, he’s still Tom F***ing Brady. The Hall of Famer hung 297 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions on the Broncos. He was able to carve our defense up with limited pressure in his face. It also helps when you have weapons like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski, who came to life with six receptions. Father Time might be creeping up on Brady, but it certainly hasn’t caught him yet.
Injury Free Week:
The biggest silver lining for the Broncos is that it was an injury free week. The only news I have seen reported is that newcomer OLB Anthony Chickillo was a little banged up, but it doesn’t sound serious. Chickillo actually had some great plays, including a sneaky athletic pass break-up down the seam on OJ Howard. While the Broncos have already had a plethora of injuries to key contributors, it was nice not seeing Adam Schefter break our hearts with more injury news Monday. It even sounds like Philip Lindsay might be available for the Jets game *fingers crossed*.
Welp, it turns out that I spoke too soon about the Broncos escaping the injury bug this week. According to Ian Rapoport, DT Jurrell Casey suffered a potentially serious arm injury vs the Bucs. Casey is undergoing tests right now, but the remainder of his 2020 season is in doubt. Chalk this one up as another pro-bowler getting injured for the Broncos in 2020. Is it 2021 yet?
Can The Broncos Get Win No. 1 On Thursday Night?:
It seems like nothing has gone right for the Broncos this season. They’re 0-3 to start 2020 and have seen some of their best and highest paid players go down with injuries. That being said, if there was ever a time to start winning it’s against the New York Jets. The Jets have been a mess all season long and Denver is actually favored to win. I’m not ready to make a Broadway Joe guarantee since it is a short week where we have to travel across the country, but I think Denver get finally put one in the win column. Denver’s defense has talent and should be able to stop the Sam Darnold led attack. The biggest question to me is who starts at QB and can the offense use some of these young weapons to their advantage.
Bonus Takeaway: The South Park Cutouts Are Awesome:
The highlight of the game may have been seeing the entire town of South Park in the south stands. Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny and the whole gang were in attendance and spanned across five sections. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are huge Broncos fans and it was cool seeing their support.