3 Up 3 Down: Garett Bolles holding back the Broncos

Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) reacts on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High.
Sep 15, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) reacts on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What a heartbreaker.

It’s hard to remember a time when a loss so early in the season hurt so much as a Broncos’ fan.

Against the Bears, the Broncos snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and are now in the cellar of the AFC West, facing their first 0-2 start since the ’90s, with a matchup against the Packers in Lambeau on the horizon.

With the Broncos trending down, let’s take a look at three players sinking with them, and three headed in the right direction.

3 Up

Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders was undeniably the star of the game for the Broncos. It’s hard to remember a player looking this fast and explosive, especially on their cuts, this soon after tearing their Achilles.

The Bears had no answer for the veteran Broncos receiver, as he hauled in 11 passes for 98 yards, a score and a 2-point conversion.

If Sanders continues to play at this level and Sutton can play the way he did in Week 1, the Broncos’ receiving corps will be the best they’ve been in a long time.

Lindsay-Freeman tandem

The lone part of this Broncos’ organization that may be living up to the offseason hype is the backfield spearheaded by Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay.

The two running backs may have been the two best players on the field for the Broncos outside of Emmanuel Sanders, even against the vaunted Windy City defense.

Lindsay got 17 touches, gaining 66 yards, while Freeman touched the ball 16 times and accounted for 102 yards. As a duo, they combined for nearly half of the Broncos’ total offensive production.

Most impressive, though, was Freeman’s work in the passing game. Before Sunday, the former Oregon Duck had rarely been used in the passing game, but against the Bears, he was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.

Joe Flacco

The goalline interception was an absolute killer, and he missed on a few other throws (especially on the right side of the field), but Sunday was still a good day for Joe Flacco.

Flacco was flawless in terms of completion percentage until the final 9:44 of the first half. Even then, that incompletion was forced by a hit while Flacco was releasing the ball.

He finished the game just short of 300 yards, throwing for a touchdown and an interception while completing 70 percent of his passes. Flacco also led the two-minute warning at the end of the game that put Denver in position to win it.

3 Down

Garrett Bolles:

The Broncos are trapped with Garrett Bolles at left tackle, or at least they are until Ja’wuan James returns from his knee injury.

At this point, benching Bolles has to be seriously considered. If James was at right tackle, freeing Elijah Wilkinson up as a reserve, there’s a good chance Bolles would already be out of the lineup following this game.

The telecast showed Bolles commit at least six holdings. Of those six, four were called and two were accepted.

However, with the Broncos already down a tackle, they’d have to insert reserve tackle Jake Rodgers into the lineup, and even with Bolles’ consistent mental errors, it’s unlikely that would be an upgrade.

Defensive Front

This whole offseason, the dreams of Broncos fans were filled with visions of a somehow even better pass rush, with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb each clearing double-digit sack totals with ease, while Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe get their fair share from the interior.

So far, that hasn’t been the case, as the Broncos are one of just four teams without a sack this season.

Not only has the pass rush been ineffective, but the run defense hasn’t been stellar either. Just one week removed from giving up almost 100 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to the Raiders, the line allowed the Bears to tote the ball for 153 yards and a score, averaging over five yards per carry.

Noah Fant

It’s way too soon to sound the alarm on the Noah Fant pick, but through two games, the returns haven’t been great.

After a dismal blocking effort in Week 1, Fant wasn’t much improved against Chicago. He allowed the first sack of the game to Khalil Mack, though it isn’t surprising that he lost that matchup on the island.

What’s more surprising (and disappointing) is how ineffective Fant has been as a run blocker. On multiple plays Sunday, he was unable to hold his block and set Lindsay or Freeman free on the run.

Also surprising, is how much more effective Jeff Heuerman was, further bringing the 2019 first-round pick into question.