3 Up 3 Down: Fant stars, Fangio comes up short vs. Titans

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) passes as Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris (96) attempts to block in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) passes as Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris (96) attempts to block in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos Week 1 game against the Titans was a tight one and a heartbreaker for Broncos Country. Here are four players that helped their stock and four players that tanked it in the season opener.

Four Up

Noah Fant

Noah Fant showed flashes in his rookie season, especially down the stretch in games against the Texans and Browns, but he also had plenty of struggles, which often plague rookie tight ends.

After one game though, it looks like he’s taken the leap we often see from tight ends in their second season. With Courtland Sutton out with an AC joint sprain, Fant stepped up in a major way and was clearly the Broncos’ best player on the offensive side of the football.

While doing his best Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce impression, Fant racked up five receptions for 81 yards and a score.

Jeremiah Attaochu

Just as Fant stepped up in relief of the injured Sutton on offense, Attaochu stepped up in relief of the injured Von Miller on defense.

He was the Broncos’ best pass rusher throughout the first halfand made sure his presence was felt early when he nearly took down Ryan Tannehill for a would-be strip-sack. Later in the first half, he came up with a huge sack of Tannehill that killed the Titans’ end-of-half drive and forced a Gotskowski field goal attempt, which he missed, of course.

While the pressure created by Attaochu in the second half wasn’t as incessent, he still blew up a few of Tennessee’s plays single-handedly and should have Broncos Country feeling much more confident in the team’s pass rush moving forward this season without Miller.

Special Teams

The Broncos special teams unit, which was often a detriment last season came through in a major way for the team in their Week 1 matchup with the Titans.

Let’s start with the underrated punting upgrade of Sam Martin, which didn’t get nearly enough attention this off-season. Martin improved on Wadman’s punting average by four yards and consistently pinned the Titans back inside their own 20 yard line, and even got them inside their own 10-yard line twice.

Stephen Gostkowski’s first miss was on him entirely, but Shelby Harris came through in a big way by blocking his second field goal attempt. After that, Gostkowski got in his head and missed an extra point attempt and his third field goal attempt of the night, costing his team a total of 10 points.

Michael Ojemudia

One of the most-criticized picks of the Broncos’ 2020 draft was the third-round selection of Michael Ojemudia. At the time of the pick, it was almost unanimously considered a reach, and some criticized it as the one blemish on an otherwise spotless draft from John Elway.

Those critics were silenced Monday night, as Ojemudia not only started in his rookie debut but played incredibly well too. He teamed up with A.J. Bouye to hold Titan’s star A.J. Brown to just one reception in the first half.

Ojemudia also came up with several key breakups and might’ve had the play of the game with a diving interception, had it not been unfortunately called back by a roughing-the-passer penalty.

One thing’s for sure, he’s no Isaac Yiadom, and that’s a very good thing.

Two Down

Bradley Chubb

With Von Miller suffering a season-ending injury in practice, it was incumbent on Bradley Chubb to step up and mitigate how much that would hurt the defense, but instead, he disappointed.

Attaochu, Malik Reed and the defensive line created a lot of pressure on Tannehill, but Chubb’s name was seldom called on Monday night, if at all. Through the entire game, Chubb didn’t make any statistical impact on the game whatsoever. Not a solo or assisted tackle, not a pressure, and not even a batted ball.

Chubb has to play a-whole-lot better through the final 15 games of the season to keep the Broncos’ pass rush fierce. It’s incredibly impressive that they were able to limit Derrick Henry and pressure Tannehill as much as they did without him helping, and it’s unlikely the defense will continue to play at that level if Chubb doesn’t turn it around.

Vic Fangio

Vic Fangio’s defense played well tonight, but he made a couple of head coaching decisions that might have just ended up killing the Broncos in the end.

For starters, there was the fourth-down attempt by the Broncos on the Titan’s one-yard line, with the game tied at seven. Rather than taking the three points, which would’ve been enough to win the game in hindsight, Fangio elected to go for it. The second mistake happened when he let the offense run a tight end shovel pass on the pivotal fourth down.

If that wasn’t bad enough, late in the game, with the Titans driving for what would be the game-winning field goal, Fangio refused to use any of his timeouts to help preserve the clock. As a result, when the Broncos got the ball back, they had 20 seconds left. Not enough time to mount a comeback.