The Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) are playing the Denver Broncos (5-4) at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday afternoon. In order to preview this Week 10 late game, I reached out to our enemies over at Mile High Report. The jovial Joe Rowles kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at the answers.
1 - Big win over the Cowboys last week! Thanks for that. To what extent do you buy the Broncos’ victory as being a positive sign of things to come as much? Was it more than just a really nice one-off?
Always happy to help. I’d say it really depends on how the Broncos respond going forward, as it was the biggest win of Vic Fangio’s career and arguably since Peyton Manning retired.
To keep the good vibes going, the offensive coaching staff need to continue to lean into what worked against Dallas. That means utilizing the Gordon-Williams combo and dialing up a healthy dose of quick game for Bridgewater, as it plays into Teddy’s strengths and functions as an extension of the running game. It will also limit the banged up offensive line’s exposure to stunts and blitzes, which will expose their individual limitations in pass protection. One concerning part last week’s gameplan is how Pat Shurmur continued to use screens as little more than a white flag in long yardage situations when there’s little element of surprise and the realistic upside is minimal.
On defense things are a little more complicated because Fangio and the defensive coaching staff have had to deal with injuries all year. In Dallas the Broncos capitalized on Tyron Smith’s injury and Dak Prescott shaking off a little rust. Jonathon Cooper’s been a promising seventh round rookie in the extended playing time the last three weeks and definitely looks like a building block, but Terence Steele also struggled mightily in his first game at left tackle. Meanwhile, Stephen Weatherly was good in relief of Malik Reed in part because La’el Collins wasn’t good enough in his first game back since the suspension for substance abuse. Add Ezekiel Elliot’s injury into the mix and Denver’s defense mostly kept the Cowboy’s running game in check, which made it easier to lock up the passing attack.
It isn’t that the new faces filling in for injured veterans are bad, but I suspect the run defense will be a bit of a roller coaster down back half of the year. Now that injuries are beginning to strike the secondary with Bryce Callahan’s season ending injury in the Washington game and Patrick Surtain’s sprained knee in Dallas, it becomes a question of “how much duct tape is left in the roll?”
2 - What’s your confidence level in both Vic Fangio and Teddy Bridgewater? Both short-term and long-term.
The Broncos’ uncertain ownership situation and the timeline for a potential sale means George Paton won’t rush to fire him, but Vic Fangio is coaching for his job. He needs to make the playoffs or there’s going to be a new staff in Denver next year, one of the Broncos’ local insiders has already leaked the initial short list. Believe it or not, the Eagles’ Jonathon Gannon is on it.
As far as Bridgewater is concerned, I think he’s been about as good as I hoped. I’m confident that he’s the best Broncos’ best starting quarterback since Peyton Manning, but only because John Elway turned down a trade for Colin Kaepernick when the quarterback refused a paycut in 2016. Bridgewater isn’t a franchise quarterback in the sense that he’s capable of making up for significant deficiencies in the supporting cast like the best in the league can. He won’t wow you with his arm strength or ability to make ridiculous off platform plays. He’ll also miss reads here and there, which leads to sacks and miscues. With that said, Bridgewater’s an underrated passer. He does a good job making the most of his arm talent and has the poise to hang tough in a pocket when the bodies start flying. When he can get into a rhythm he’ll display very good anticipation and ball placement. I’d say I’m confident Bridgewater could be “the guy before the guy” for this young Broncos team, and he has the perfect mentality to be a valuable mentor if Paton elects to groom a rookie passer in 2022.
3 - What is the Broncos’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
On offense, Shurmur would be wise to go after the second level with a mix of inside zone, duo, and gap concepts with play action passing and quick game. Bridgewater’s very capable of slicing up a team with dink and dunk passing, which should help to help the Broncos line deal with the Eagles front four and set up some shot plays. Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton are dangerous downfield where they both have the frame and catch radius to win contested catches with surprising regularity. On defense, it really depends on Patrick Surtain II. As I write this, his status looks like it could be up in the air. If he’s able to play at or near 100%, the Broncos have a strong pair of boundary corners who can win at the line of scrimmage in man coverage. If he isn’t in the lineup, that goes out the window a bit.
4 - What is the Broncos biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
The Broncos have three backups starting on the offensive line. Calvin Anderson will make his fourth career start and third at left tackle, while Quinn Meinerz will make his second start and first at right guard. What makes matters worse is Meinerz will start between Cameron Felming and Lloyd Cushenberry. The former has issues with stunts and blitzes in pass protection, while the latter lacks the play strength to consistently anchor. If ever there was a game for Jonathon Gannon to bring the hounds, it’s this one.
There’s a litany of questions on defense that teams could find success exploiting. The Broncos pass rush is extremely dependent on the blitz against competent offensive lines while the off ball linebacker duo is making their third starts in orange and blue. Kenny Young was acquired two weeks ago and Baron Browning is a rookie who missed most of OTAs and training camp, so while they looked quite good against Dallas there’s reason to believe a few miscues are inevitable. Bryce Callahan and Patrick Surtain’s injuries leave the secondary in pretty shaky shape, with Nate Hairston the starting nickel and Kyle Fuller outside after he was benched earlier this year.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Broncos season?
I suspect Fangio will try and deploy a variation of the gameplan he used against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in an effort to slow down the Eagles’ run game and force Jalen Hurts to win from the pocket. If Surtain is healthy or Fuller’s up to the task, the defense will do it’s part to win the game. From there it comes down to Shurmur and the Broncos special teams under Tom McMahon. Philly’s secondary is weak enough Teddy Bridgewater and the offense should be able to march downfield a checkdown at a time if the line holds up. While the special teams have been abysmal for the vast majority of the last four years, unless Jalen Reagor can capitalize it won’t cost the Broncos on Sunday. Denver win’s 24-21.
As for the rest of the season, it comes down to divisional play. The Broncos have only played one AFC West foe so far and lost to the Raiders. Everything’s in front if they can stay relatively healthy.