It’s abundantly clear from this game against the Titans that the Broncos still have some kinks to work out. However, for the first game of a unique season with a very young team, they played pretty well. Here are six lessons learned from Monday night:
Lesson 1: Don’t forget the fundamentals
If there is one thing Denver takes away from this game, it’s to focus on the fundamentals. It’s easy for players to get ahead of themselves in the heat of the game, especially in Week 1. Drew Lock and Jerry Jeudy struggled with this the most. Lock dropped three good snaps during the game, simply because his mind was working ahead of his body. At least he was able to scramble for a first down during one of those plays. The quarterback still finished the game with 22 of 33 completed passes for 216 yards. Not bad.
Jeudy dropped two wide-open passes during the game—something the Alabama star never did in college. He wrapped up with four receptions for 56 yards and put his footwork to good use. The upside to these mistakes is that they are easy fixes. As the duo starts to warm up to the new season, those errors will disappear.
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Lesson 2: Every loss produces room for success
The Bronco’s defensive line were the superstars of this game. Even if Denver didn’t win, their D-line did. In my last article, I mentioned how the Titans’ run game would depend on Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell’s performances and how effective they would be in shutting Derrick Henry down. With the loss of Von Miller, Johnson and Jewell took it upon themselves to step up when they were needed most—and they delivered big time.
Henry was held to 116 yards, averaging only 3.7 yards per run on 31 carries. Had the D-line been unable to stop Henry, this game would have been a complete blowout. Jurrell Casey also showed Tennessee what they were missing out on as he tipped both a pass and an extra point kick. Denver’s defensive line will be fine this season without Miller, so long as they continue to play as smart and aggressive as they did Monday night.
Lesson 3: Trust your instincts
The secondary doesn’t deserve even half the praise given to the defensive line—their coverage was too open. Renaldo Hill missed the mark going with a zone defense; he needs to have more faith in his players. Ryan Tannehill was able to complete 29-of-43 passes solely because there was no one around to contest the receiver. Had the secondary gone with man to man coverage, passes completed would’ve easily been cut in half. The unit also suffered a loss with A.J. Bouye’s shoulder injury in the second quarter—he did not return to the game. Renaldo Hill has a lot of work to do with his secondary, starting with trust.
Lesson 4: Denver got lucky
This isn’t a lesson so much as a humble reminder that the final score would have looked a lot different had Titan’s kicker Stephen Gostkowski not missed four kicks. The future Hall of Famer muffed kicks from the 47 and 42, while also having a 44-yarder blocked by defensive end Shelby Harris. He did redeem himself at the end of the game by kicking a 25-yard field goal to win the game. Gostkowski had hip surgery in October of last year and proceeded to be released by the Patriots shortly after. Tennessee’s bad luck with kickers appears to continue into the 2020 season.
Lesson 5: There is a fine line between experimentation and rational coaching
Monday night’s game was the definition of a fourth quarter game. Denver was winning for most of the final frame until Vic Fangio made a bad coaching mistake.
There were two instances where he theoretically “went wrong”. The Broncos handed the ball back to the Titans with three minutes left in the fourth quarter after Lock threw a long ball over the head of DaeSean Hamilton. While letting Lock throw this ball means Vic Fangio is willing to take risks, this was an unnecessary one. They needed to run time off the clock while advancing the ball slowly.
The second mistake came when it was clear Tennessee was going to score a touchdown and run time off the clock. Vic Fangio had all 3 timeouts ready to use, and he expended none of them. I am confident that Denver would have won this game had the offense been given more time to get the ball downfield for a field goal. When it’s all said and done, this loss can easily be pinned on the coaching.
Lesson 6: Experience will come with time
This team is young, and they are sharp. It is clear that this team is ready to grow, and all they need is time. Noah Fant stepped up with five receptions for 81 yards and 1 touchdown. Melvin Gordon III had 15 carries for 78 yards and 1 touchdown. This team has talent.
Lock has the arm—all he needs is practice. Jeudy has the speed—all he needs is play time. Special teams have the ability—all they need is guidance. This game showed us that Denver has the confidence necessary to win a game, all they need now is the experience. Week 2 will bring a lot of the same concerns as this game; the only question is if they’re ready to go.