PFF Preview: Offensive line, pass rush must play better in Green Bay

Sep 9, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman (28) carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in two decades, the Broncos have started the season 0-2.

Now they’re be tasked with traveling to one of the league’s most hostile environments, to face one of its best defenses and quarterbacks to avoid dropping to 0-3, and practically out of playoff contention.

Let’s take a look at three numbers, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, that will have a huge say in how Sunday’s game pans out.

Tough sledding in Lambeau

The Broncos have opened their season with a tough defensive slate. Last week, they played Pro Football Focus’ ninth-highest graded defense, but will now head to Green Day to play an even better unit in Lambeau.

The Packers are currently graded as the third-best defense by PFF, ranking only behind the Rams and the Patriots.

The Cheeseheads’ defense is led by their young group of cornerbacks and a talented pass rush boosted by the offseason acquisitions of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Both the Packers’ pass-rushing grade and coverage grade rank among the league’s top five.

That being said, the Broncos should be able to attack Green Bay on the ground, as their team tackling grade ranks third-worst in the NFL and their team run-defense ranks in the bottom ten.

Broncos’ running backs held back by line

Not only are the Packers bad at stopping the run, but the Broncos have one of the best running games in the league.

As a team, the Broncos have earned the league’s seventh-highest team rushing grade, but even more impressive is how well both Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay are performing individually. Through two games, Freeman and Lindsay earned the league’s seventh and 11th highest individual rushing grade respectively (Min. 20 attempts).

They also have each earned a top 15 “elusive” rating, and a top 25 “breakaway percentage” and overall grade, with Freeman leading the way in each category (Min. 20 attempts).

In contrast to their dominant running backs, the Broncos have one of the league’s very worst run-blocking units. Their team grade of 47.8 ranks above only Jacksonville (47.7) and Miami (44.6).

As is the case with the running back’s individual performances being even more impressive than their performance as a unit, the offensive line’s individual grades are even more disastrous than their outlook as a unit.

Three of the Broncos offensive linemen, Elijah Wilkinson, Garrett Bolles and Ronald Leary, rank among the ten worst run blockers at their respective positions, with Leary landing in the bottom five, and Connor McGovern just missing the mark with the 11th-worst run-blocking grade among centers.

Denver’s pass rushing woes

While the Broncos’ ground game is already on a roll, the same can’t be said for their pass rush, which is currently the only NFL team yet to record a sack.

The Broncos don’t even have a single player ranked above 57 in pass-rushing productivity (Min. 5 pass rushes). Meanwhile, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb abysmally rank 92nd and 82nd in pass-rush productivity (Min. 40 pass rushes) and are the 78th and 42nd highest-graded pass rushers (Among DL and LB, Min. 100 snaps).

Though, they have a perfect opportunity to get back on track against the Packers and their suspect offensive front.

As a team, the Packers have allowed the most sacks and 11th-most pressures in the league, and are tied for the fifth-worst pass-blocking efficiency, a metric that compares the number of pressures and sacks to the number of dropbacks.

Green Bay has its fair share of problems individually on the line, as well, outside of Bryan Bulaga, who ranks as the fourth-most efficient and tenth-highest graded tackle. Each of the other four Packer linemen rank in the bottom 15 for pass-blocking efficiency at their position, with left tackle David Bakhtiari landing in the bottom five.

The Broncos face the Packers at 11 a.m. MT on Sunday, Sept. 22.