The Broncos’ longshot path to the playoffs got much tougher this week, with their matchup with the Patriots being postponed, which allowed Cam Newton, and potentially Stephon Gillmore to re-enter the fold.
Here is what the Broncos now must do on offense and defense to beat the Patriots and save their season.
Denver’s offensive line must play better
The Broncos offense hasn’t even come close to resembling the high-octane, bright red Ferrari we were all promised this off-season, and while injuries are certainly a large piece of the puzzle as to why, the offensive line might be an even bigger reason.
They easily rank at the bottom of the league in ESPN’s pass-block win-rate metric and their run-block win-rate metric, which calculates how often blockers are ‘winning’ their blocking assignment depending on if the play is a run or a pass.
Updated offense win rates after Sunday. Horizontal is pass block. Vertical is run block. Up and right are good. ESPN model based on tracking data via NextGen Stats. pic.twitter.com/2AgZ5L5JtN
— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) October 12, 2020
Pro Football Focus also ranks the Broncos the fourth-least efficient pass-blocking offensive line in the league, as the Broncos have allowed 50 total pressures (tied for 12th-most), 12 quarterback hits (tied for 10th-most), and five sacks (tied for 16th-most) on just 159 dropbacks (seventh-fewest).
There’s no way your offense can be successful when your quarterback is either Jeff Driskel or Brett Rypien and you’re not giving them enough time survey the field. According to Pro Football Focus, both Driskel and Rypien had to get rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds after the snap on average.
The offensive line play improved a lot when Drew Lock entered the lineup last season, and the Broncos will be hoping that trend holds this week against the Patriots.
Denver should crowd the line to stop New England’s offense
It does appear like Cam Newton will suit up for Sunday’s game, and while that certainly makes the Patriots offense much tougher to stop, it doesn’t make it any less predictable. With or without Newton, the Patriots haven’t had any vertical element to their offense, as they’ve relied on running the ball with either Newton or their crowded backfield, and short passes.
In fact, New England has had less production on deep passes than just about every other team in the league. Newton has thrown just six passes further than 20 yards this season, completing four of them for 128 yards. His deep throw rate of 6.6 percent is tied for the fifth-lowest among all quarterbacks this season and his passer rating on those deep attempts is tied with Nick Mullens for the lowest among quarterbacks with a deep throw rate of 6.6 percent or less, and 14th among all quarterbacks with at least three deep attempts.
Meanwhile, New England’s run game and short-passing game has been incredibly productive. Their ground attack ranks as the third-most efficient in the league according to Football Outsiders’ marvelous DVOA metric, and Newton has scored four rushing touchdowns. On non-deep passes, he is 58-for-85 for 586 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.9, which ranks eighth among all quarterbacks.