Column: With so much to fix, Broncos need to leave Connor McGovern alone

Vance Joseph. Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.
Vance Joseph. Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.

Connor McGovern, a John Elway draft pick, is actually panning out and yet Vance Joseph said the team now may replace him with Max Garcia.

Considering how broken the Denver Broncos looked last week in their 34-16 thrashing at the hands of the New York Jets, improving is a smart idea. However, starting with McGovern, the second-best offensive lineman on the team this year through five games, is asinine.

After the blowout loss to the Jets last Sunday, Joseph said they’d look to fix things on the Broncos, but he wasn’t quick to tell the media what they had in mind. On Thursday, he said McGovern and Garcia are in competition at that right guard spot, where McGovern has been the third best guard in the NFL this year per Pro Football Focus.

“We’ve got both guys working at the moment,” Joseph said. “We’ll see who starts.”

Behind Matt Paradis, McGovern has been the highest-performing offensive lineman for the Broncos. If they really want to shake things up on the line, opening up competition at left tackle might be a smart start, as Garett Bolles has struggled all year long.

But, really, there are other, more logical places to start on the offense.

As we brought you on Monday, Bill Musgrave could immediately do two things to improve the offense. First and foremost, he could come closer to balance in the offensive play-calling. Against the Jets, Denver threw 51 times and handed off only 17, that’s a 75-25 split. If the Broncos hand it off more and come to that balance, they’ll keep the opponents guessing what play they’ll call next, giving the Broncos an advantage.

Not only that, but the Broncos have a truly dynamic duo of running backs in rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. Getting the ball in the hands of Denver’s best playmakers must be a goal.

The second thing handing off more would do is set up the play-action pass, which the Broncos are fifth-lowest in the NFL at running. Why is the play-action so important? Case Keenum excels with play-action passing.

These are simple play-calling fixes which could make the Broncos offense much more deadly, exciting and effective.

But, really, if the Broncos want to fix things, they should be starting on the defensive side of the ball.

Denver’s long been a stout run defense, landing in the top-5 of the NFL for five years straight, but after that incredible 323-yard rushing performance from the Jets, the Broncos are now 30th in the NFL.

Some of the big boys up front played very well — Adam Gotsis enjoyed a career game, Derek Wolfe was solid and so on — and where we see the drop-off in running defense was in the second and third levels of the defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bradley Roby’s run defense score (41.5) was the worst on the team, while linebacker Todd Davis (44.5) was right behind him. The list continues with starters Darian Stewart, Brandon Marshall and Von Miller rounding out the worst five on the team in Week 5 against the run.

Denver’s starters and stars simply have to step up and play better. And if they can’t, the Broncos should consider replacing them, as well. Specifically, Davis, who is a team captain this year, but if he’s struggling, Denver could insert rookie Josey Jewell into the lineup. Jewell has been one of the best players on the defense this year; why not get him more playing time?

And in the pass defense department, obviously Roby struggled on Sunday. The problem is, there’s no one to start ahead of him. Veteran backups Tramaine Brock and Adam “Pacman” Jones are banged up and rookie Isaac Yiadom is still learning how to play at a consistent level in the NFL.

However, the Broncos could help their defensive backs by putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, hurrying them to make decisions and at times, forcing them to turn the ball over. With 11 sacks on the season, the Broncos are in a tie for 19th in the NFL; that’s simply not enough with stars like Miller, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray and rookie Bradley Chubb. This was supposed to be the most fearsome pass-rushing team in the NFL, maybe in Broncos history; where has that gone?

Last week, Ray was in on seven pass-rushing snaps while Barrett was in on only two. The problem is that Ray is doing little in terms of generating pressure, with only 1.0 sack and a mere six tackles on the season. And while Chubb has done some good things — 1.5 sacks and 4 QB hits — he’s still too young to play at a consistent level.

Simply, the Broncos are broken and there are many areas of opportunity when it comes to where they can start fixing things. But beginning with McGovern makes it seem like the coaching staff is grasping at straws, hoping something, anything will help.

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