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5 Questions with Mile High Report: How can the Jaguars attack the Broncos?

Syndication: The Record Chris Pedota, via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Jacksonville Jaguars, coming off of an embarrassing loss to a less than stellar Houston Texans team, looks to rebound in the home opener against the Denver Broncos this week. The game is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday and will be broadcast on CBS.

To help us learn more about Denver, we spoke with Joe Rowles, senior writer at Mile High Report — SB Nation’s fantastic website for in-depth coverage of the Broncos.

What does Teddy Bridgwater bring to the table at quarterback? How can Jacksonville’s offense attack Denver’s defense? Joe fills us in on these questions and more.

1. Did you expect Teddy Bridgewater to beat out Drew Lock for the starting quarterback role for the Denver Broncos? How would you grade Bridgewater’s opening week performance against the New York Giants?

Joe: There was a moment after the Minnesota Vikings (preseason) game where I thought perhaps Drew Lock had made a big enough jump off his 2020 performance to win the job based on future growth, but outside of that I’ve thought Bridgewater was a much better fit in the (offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur offense and we saw that in the New York Giants game. Teddy did a masterful job manipulating the pocket to keep himself alive when Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and New York’s edge rushers made their way into the backfield. More than anything else he did last week, that’s what impressed me most. I’d give his performance an B+ and hope he can keep it going this Sunday.

2. With wide receiver Jerry Jeudy out for a while with a high ankle sprain, who are the players you expect to step up for Denver’s offense and why?

Joe: Losing Jeudy is going to hurt the Broncos on offense, as he was on his way to blossoming into the true go-to guy. Last week Shurmur went with more 12 personnel (two tight ends) after the injury and with only three proven receivers on the roster, it’d make a ton of sense to continue with that strategy. The Broncos quietly have one of the better tight end rooms in the league with Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam and former Jaguar Eric Saubert. All three are capable receivers and both Fant and Okwuegbunam also pose as mismatch weapons.

If we’re looking at the receiver who benefits most from Jeudy’s absence, it’s surely K.J. Hamler. He only played 24 offensive snaps last week and caught three of his four targets for 41 yards. Everyone in Broncos Country is talking about the dropped touchdown and I get it, but his combination of elite athleticism and separation quickness will make him a vital tertiary receiver for Bridgewater against man coverage.

3. Against the Giants, the Broncos seemed to split up carries fairly evenly between Melvin Gordon (11 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown) and rookie Javonte Williams (14 carries, 45 yards). Should the Jaguars expect more of the same, and how can the defense slow down the rushing attack?

Joe: Truth be told, I’m eager to see if the Broncos can actually get their ground game going as it was stuck in neutral for most of the game against the Giants. Outside of Gordon’s 70-yard touchdown on the Broncos’ penultimate drive, the Broncos’ backfield averaged just over three yards per carry. I do expect Gordon and Williams to split the backfield duties pretty evenly, as the coaching staff looks comfortable with the rookie in every situation. Gordon did look a bit better as a pass protector, so we may see more third down splits go to the veteran.

Given (Jaguars defensive coordinator) Joe Cullen’s preference for single high looks, it’s going to be interesting to see how Shurmur dials up the rushing attack. When you factor in the seven carries out of 13 personnel (three tight ends, one receiver) to close the game, the Broncos used two-plus tight ends on just about 53 percent of their offensive snaps in Week One. That kind of heavy personnel invites opponents to load the box which makes it harder to find room on the ground, but it could create easy one-on-one looks for Courtland Sutton, K.J. Hamler or Tim Patrick.

4. Are there any players on Denver’s defense who may be flying under the radar, but can make a difference? Who should Jaguars fans be keeping an eye out for on Sunday?

Joe: Before the season ends, I suspect Dre’Mont Jones will be generating Pro Bowl hype. He has a very good burst off the snap and combines it with quick hands and an expansive pass rush repertoire. While undersized, he does a good job keeping his frame clean to play gap and half, shedding in time to muck up the backfield. Down blocks and double teams can give him some issues, but devoting too much attention his way will only free up Von Miller or one of the other players in the front.

The other player who isn’t getting enough love for his performance against the Giants is Josey Jewell. Pop on the tape and he doesn’t look all too different from what he showed last season when he and Alexander Johnson paired to make one of the best coverage linebacker duos in the NFL. He wins with savvy and did a nice job reading up quickly enough to chase down Kadarius Toney on a swing pass and knifing into the backfield to tackle Saquon Barkley. He’s quick enough to get depth on his drops, too, which showed up in the second half when Daniel Jones tried to work the middle of the field.

5. Jacksonville struggled offensively against the Houston Texans to start the 2021 season. What is the best way for Trevor Lawrence and company to attack the Denver defense and try to find success moving the ball?

Joe: I think it’s going to be tough, as I suspect the Broncos defense will wind up as one of the best in football. It’s built around a two-high shell with the safeties spinning at the snap, which makes it tough for the quarterback as the pre-snap and post-snap read will often blur. This can create issues for a passer utilizing play-action as well if his back is turned to the defense.

If Denver’s front is capable of turning it on like last weekend, I doubt James Robinson will get a lot of traction on the ground. Personally I hope the Jags take the bait and run too often into what looks like a light box in an attempt to protect Trevor Lawrence from a scary pass rush. The Giants finished last week with three rushing yards before contact by Pro Football Focus’ charting, and Barkley averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Jacksonville’s best course of action is to treat the short passing game like an extension of the run game, only that still exposes a young quarterback to a complex defensive system built on subterfuge.

After the touchdown Patrick Surtain II gave up, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Jags try to dial up a deep crosser or two as that can stress the communication of the Vic Fangio defense. It’d also be a way to test a rookie cornerback making his first start after Ronald Darby landed on injured reserve. Health is going to be a big part of the equation for Denver, as Bradley Chubb missed the Giants game, while Shelby Harris and Shamar Stephen have dealt with ailments this week. When the Giants could extend drives, Von Miller and Malik Reed eventually gave way to Jonathon Cooper and Andre Mintze, a rookie seventh-round pick and undrafted free agent. They were manning the edges on both of New York’s touchdown.

Bonus: Score prediction?

I think the Broncos win this one walking away if Patrick Surtain II is as good as I expect. Maybe 30-10?

Thank you to Joe for the excellent analysis on what to expect from the Broncos this weekend. You can follow Joe on Twitter, and to keep up with Denver news, follow Mile High Report as well.