We are heading into Week 4 of the 2019 NFL regular season, and believe it or not, the first quarter of the campaign will already be wrapped up by the time all games are played this week.
The Jacksonville Jaguars travel west (which has historically been unkind to the franchise) to take on a struggling Denver Broncos team. In order to get a better sense of what Jacksonville is dealing with, I spoke to Joe Rowles of Mile High Report — SB Nation’s quintessential Denver Broncos website.
Here is what he had to say:
1. How has Joe Flacco looked early in the season? Has he exceeded or failed to meet your expectations thus far? Also, what are your thoughts on Drew Lock as a long-term option at quarterback (obviously you haven’t been able to see anything from him while he is on IR, but curious what your thoughts are)?
Joe: Going into the season I was cautiously optimistic the Broncos would see something resembling the best version of Flacco. After all, the Rich Scangarello offense is a descendant of the (Gary) Kubiak system Flacco thrived in back in 2014. So far this season, he’s been closer to my hopes than I anticipated. I wouldn’t say he’s the long term answer at quarterback, but after the last three season most in Broncos Country are happy to hover around average at the position.
As far as Drew Lock is concerned, it really depends on how the next five weeks go. The Broncos have a late bye this year, so if they continue to hang around the bottom of the standings I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the 2nd round rookie is pulled of injured reserve and given a shot to seize the starting job. If Elway winds up with a top five pick he’ll want an idea of what he has.
I’ve gotten some ire from readers because I’m nowhere near sold on Lock yet. I watched every 2018 snap I could find last spring three times over, and even through the preseason I saw many of the same mechanical issues that plagued him at Missouri. It’d be nice if the time recovering has helped him iron that out, but we’ll see.
2. What has Vic Fangio brought to the table as a head coach so far? What do you like and what do you want to see improved?
Joe: I love Fangio’s rationale and the steadiness he seems to have brought to the Broncos. After two years of Vance Joseph, a tough coach like Vic is exactly what the team needed. Listening to the guys in the locker room, it sure sounds like the players still believe, whereas last year you could tell there was fraying at the seams.
One thing I do have concerns about is the defensive performance so far. Fangio has a reputation for one of the more complex coverage schemes in the league, and so far Broncos fans haven’t gotten to really taste it. Part of that’s due to injuries, but also I suspect the coach underestimated how lacking his personnel was at a couple of spots. The upcoming game with Jacksonville will be a good test to see how far they’ve come over the last month.
3. Is there any specific matchup(s) you are looking forward to seeing between the Jaguars and Broncos? Which one and why?
Joe: My first love has always been offense, so I’m anxious to see how Denver’s first year coordinator fares against the Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are one of the best cornerback duos in the league, so if Ramsey doesn’t suit up, then the Broncos have to capitalize. I want to see if Scangarello can scheme Emmanuel Sanders or Courtland Sutton favorable looks. Some fans were excited after Denver predictably tore up the Packers rushing defense, but the Jags represent a real test.
On defense I’m nervous. (Gardner) Minshew has uncanny ball placement and D.J. Chark is quickly emerging as one of the unsung stars in the NFL. With Bryce Callahan hurt the Broncos have had a bit of an issue at safety next to Justin Simmons because Kareem Jackson had to move down into the slot, so deep ball shots to Chark and Dede Westbrook could be favorable for Jacksonville. Theoretically (Von) Miller and (Bradley) Chubb should get some pressure, but they’ve been blanked so far.
4. How has the rookie first-round pick Noah Fant fared so far as a Bronco? There were many Jags fans who wanted to see Jacksonville draft him as tight end was (and still is, really) a huge need.
Joe: One of the hardest things to come to grips with when it comes to tight ends is how notoriously difficult the position is for young players. Fant’s essentially learning two NFL positions right now and while he’s flashed really exciting athleticism he’s mixed in some rookie blunders. I’m as high on him as I was when the Broncos drafted him, but he’s kind of drinking from a fire house at the moment.
5. What is your outlook for the rest of the season for the Broncos (record, division standing, playoff chances, etc.).
Joe: I thought the Broncos would hover around 8-8 this season, give or take a couple of wins. Starting out 0-3 has me leaning towards the lower end of that prediction as they kind of lost two of the more winnable games on the schedule. This three game stretch will be really telling. If Denver can eke out two or even three victories, they may yet make something of this season.
Bonus: Score prediction?
Joe: I like the Broncos 21-17. It’s going to be close, but I think Von Miller and Bradley Chubb finally have a breakout performance and Fangio mixes in enough deception to cause Minshew to make a few rookie mistakes.
Thank you to Joe for taking the time to provide thorough answers and insights to my question. You can catch him on Twitter, and to keep up with all things Denver Broncos, hit the follow button for Mile High Report as well.