By Bob Morris
DENVER (247SPORTS)– Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders has one of my favorite sayings about Week 1 of the NFL — he refers to it as ‘National Jump to Conclusions Week’.
All over the NFL, instant reactions to what happened in the first week roll out. For teams other than the Broncos, these can range from Joe Flacco experiencing a career renaissance, to Ryan Fitzpatrickbeing the real answer as Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback, to the New York Jets looking like a serious challenger for the AFC East title.
The Broncos didn’t have a lot of superlatives attached to them by pundits, but they do have some that are attached to them by fans, some who are still thinking too much about the 2017 season. I reviewed multiple Broncos plays from the opener and determined that a few of the reactions some fans have made are overreacting to issues, perceived or not, but a few are the correct assessments.
Let’s examine some of these ‘early jumps to conclusions’ and how they measure up to what really happened.
Conclusion: Keenum is Siemian all over again
Siemian’s issue was him mostly locking onto his first read, no matter the situation. If his first read wasn’t open, he held the ball too long and took sacks. In other words, he was timid.
Keenum’s issues with interceptions was because he thought too much about making a bigger play when he had better options. In other words, he was greedy.
The first pick was a result of miscommunication between Keenum and Demaryius Thomas, so the receiver shares in the blame. The second pick saw Royce Freeman open and Keenum didn’t see him, because he looking at all options down the field — not focusing on one option, but several that were covered well.
When he noticed Freeman, the pocked collapsed and he couldn’t safely get the ball to him. So when he stepped out of the pocket, he tried forcing the ball to Jake Butt, when Keenum needed to head to the sidelines and throw the ball away.
And the third pick resulted from Keenum expecting Tim Patrick to break away from a defender toward the end zone, but the defender stayed with Patrick. Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders was wide open, but when Keenum went to him, Bradley McDougald saw the play develop and was there to get the pick.
But Keenum took time to go through his reads on most plays — the only time he went to his first read was when the play call was for a quick throw. On those plays, he got results. And his touchdown pass to Thomas was excellent — Keenum needed to be precise with his throw and he was.
Certainly Keenum can’t throw three interceptions every game. But it’s not happening because he’s like Siemian — in fact, it’s for reasons opposite of what Siemian is. And it’s easier to fix those mistakes by remembering not to expect the big play on every down.
Conclusion: Roby got picked apart in coverage.
Furthermore, Chris Harris, Jr. gave up a touchdown pass, too, when Tyler Lockett got away from him. More on this play later, but if you’re going to roast Roby for the TD he conceded, you have to do the same to Harris.
But in neither case does one play tell the whole story. On most defensive snaps, Roby and Harris were great in coverage. Doug Baldwin was a non-factor before he got hurt, Lockett was mostly quiet aside from his touchdown, and Marshall’s overall production was limited, too.
Getting back to the Harris play, the real issue isn’t with the cornerbacks — it’s with the safeties. Darian Stewart had plenty of good plays, but plenty of moments when he whiffed in coverage or didn’t provide help.
Justin Simmons had these issues, too — he failed to provide help on the Lockett touchdown. And his poor tackling effort allowed tight end Will Dissly to take a 20-yard reception and turn it into a 66-yard gain.
In other words, the safeties are the ones that deserve more of the criticism, both in terms of coverage and tackling. Roby did give up a touchdown, but that happens even to the best of cornerbacks. Better to judge Roby by his overall play, not by a single play.
Conclusion: The tight ends will be a liability
Reality: In this case, there’s a lot of truth that the tight ends need to do a better job of blocking — though Jeff Heuerman was solid throughout the game. He did miss a couple of blocks, but on others, plays, he did his job well and opened holes in the running game.
Jake Butt is another story, but some perspective is needed. First, if you check most college scouting reports, Butt wasn’t considered a good blocker then. Second, he missed his entire rookie season because of his recovery from ACL surgery, so he’s behind on his development.
He does need to improve in that department, but some patience will be required because blocking wasn’t his strength coming out of college. At this point, he’s probably more comparable to where Julius Thomas was early in his career — and as we know, blocking was never an area in which Thomas excelled.
As a pass-catcher, though, Butt showed he can get results — were it not for a defender catching up to him, Butt may have scored his first touchdown. And Heuerman got open on more than one occasion, so he can an effective receiver, too.
The tight ends aren’t going to dominate, but the potential for better results in the passing game is there. And if Heuerman can keep improving as a blocker, and Butt can do the same, the tight end picture will look better by the end of the season.
Conclusion: Miller is on his way to 30 sacks
Reality: Let’s make one thing clear: Von Miller is a dominant player, no matter how you slice it. The addition of Bradley Chubb and the return of a healthy Derek Wolfe will increase Miller’s opportunities for sacks and pressures.
However, keep in mind that the Seahawks had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last year and there are still players on that line who shouldn’t be starting. There will be teams that will have better offensive lines and will be more effective in containing the pass rush.
That doesn’t mean Miller won’t get any sacks, but it does mean you shouldn’t expect Miller to get three sacks every game. The season record holder, Michael Strahan, finished with 22.5 sacks, so reaching 30 sacks is much harder than it seems.
You can, however, expect Miller to remain a dominant player and, perhaps, claim that Defensive Player of the Year award that has eluded him in the past. The additions of Chubb and the return of a healthy Wolfe mean teams can’t focus solely on Miller. And if other players step up as pass rushing threats, a 20-sack campaign for Miller is definitely within reach.
Some Things You Can Conclude
• First, going back to the point about Miller — you can expect the Broncos to have a dominant pass rush again. Even against the best offensive lines, the Broncos have plenty of players who can create problems for linemen.
Chubb and Wolfe are part of that, plus Shaquil Barrett returning to a rotational role takes some pressure off him. And don’t forget that DeMarcus Walker, who was inactive against Seattle, can add to the pass rushing when he’s active.
• Second, the offensive line isn’t likely to dominate every team, but it will be much better than last year. In 2017, the issues at left guard and right tackle, combined with Garett Bolles’ inexperience, meant that teams with average pass rushes looked dominant, while dominant pass rushes had a field day. That shouldn’t be an issue this year.
Though the O-linemen weren’t perfect, they held up against Seattle’s average pass rush on the majority of plays. Bolles has shown improvement, Jared Veldheer looks comfortable at right tackle and Connor McGovern has made strides.
Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis were solid and, as the line plays together more, they should only get better. It should mean average pass rushes can’t disrupt the game and, while dominant pass rushes will get pressures and sacks, they should be negated enough to give Keenum a chance to throw.
• Third, it’s pretty clear Emmanuel Sanders is going to have a bounce-back season. His route running was great against Seattle and he adjusted well on multiple targets to come away with receptions. Let’s not forget that Sanders battled injuries last season, so getting healthy was a big step toward improvement.
Of course, it helps that Sanders has a better quarterback, too. He and Keenum are developing a rapport and it’s possible Sanders could be in line for his best season as a Bronco.