For many, their last visit to Mile High Stadium will feel like a lifetime ago and for many others, the long wait will have to continue. 5,700 fans will be granted entry into Mile High Stadium this Sunday evening as the NFL and its teams continue to cope with life from a safe, social distance.
The Broncos home opener against the Tennessee Titans was played in front of nobody – Well… kinda. Less than 500 supporters were in the stands last time, accompanied by thousands of fan cardboard cut outs that helped bring a bit of life (well, just colour actually) to the stands and this time round Broncos Country will be able to bring the noise – albeit a fraction of what they’re famous for.
As for the actual football, well it will certainly be an interesting one and a game that I suspect many neutral fans will be keeping an eye on. Tom Brady and the 1-1 Tampa Bay Bucs come to Denver to take on a depleted but not fully defeated Broncos team. A disastrous week two in Pittsburgh on the injury front has left the Broncos reeling as they are to be without starting Quarterback Drew Lock for a number of weeks. Courtland Sutton, the team’s leading receiver last season, is done for the season after suffering an ACL tear on Sunday past. The long list of injuries is definitely one to cause concern but as everybody knows, life in the National Football League will always go on and it is each team’s duty to keep up or get left behind. The next man up mantra has never been as important as it has now.
Perhaps suffering the most, this young and inexperienced offence is now facing an uphill battle that they definitely will not have prepared for this offseason. Backup QB Jeff Driskel entered Sunday’s game and took over from Lock and managed to lead the offense on several scoring drives. His final stat line for the day was: 18/34 for 256 yards. He threw two touchdowns on the day – One to Fant and the other to Gordon and he also had an interception but all round he managed to steady the ship and kept the offense moving.
On Tuesday it was then announced that the Broncos are to bring in Blake Bortles on a one year deal and that he will serve as Driskel’s back up for the rest of the season. That, however, won’t take place until next week as Bortles looks to clear the Covid-19 testing protocols before being able to join up with his new teammates in Denver. Consequently Driskel will start at home against the Bucs this week with Brett Rypien being elevated from the practice squad to serve as his back-up for the week. This is definitely a safer tactic than last week when running back Royce Freeman was serving as the emergency back-up QB with Driskel in as the starter.
Noah Fant will continue to assume an integral role within the offense, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns so far this season as he stays on course with his form from last season. The Bucs defense have only allowed 6 catches for 80 yards to Tight Ends to start the season so Fant may find himself being targeted to begin with, but I expect to see him come out on top of most of his match ups.
It’s extremely likely we’ll see a much more simplified game plan this week to accommodate for Driskel’s limited time with the starters in practice up to this point – so don’t be too disheartened if the offense doesn’t put on the flashiest of performances. I expect the backfield to be utilised in all facets this week, running, receiving from screens and staying home a lot of the time to block for Driskel and give him as much time as possible in the pocket.
The defense welcome a particularly new challenge to Mile High this week. A Tom Brady offense that doesn’t yet have its clear identity or calibre that it did when he was in New England. The Bucs are still trying to iron out some of the kinks that have caused them issues over the first couple of weeks and the Broncos will be hoping they can disrupt their rhythm even more so.
Brady has been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball at times this season and thus provides the perfect opportunity for the Broncos to get after him and get after the ball. Simply put, the longer the ball is out of the hands of the Bucs offense and Brady the better the chances are of a Broncos win. Time of possession is going to be a defining stat to the outcome of this game and it is imperative that the Broncos work hard to control it in their favour.
It is also vitally important that the defense stick with the game until the very end. We saw last week when the Panthers narrowed the gap at the end of the game how a tired and unfocused defense caused them the game when Leonard Fournette took home a 46 yard touchdown run to seal the deal and ice the game. Any sort of similar lapse in concentration from the Broncos and they will be punished accordingly.
The Broncos Season
It may seem dramatically early to start claiming that the Broncos season is on the line, but when you’re 0-2 and have a mixed stretch of fixtures coming up – some winnable, some tougher – It is crucial that wins start appearing on the board sooner rather than later because if not, the season will very likely get out of hand and at that point it becomes too late to salvage anything from it. Yes the injuries are a hindrance and yes the offence is still young but this is where good players earn their stripes. It’s time for the leaders to step up and take control and lead this team to victory before its too late.