On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Denver Broncos. To help preview a few topics from the Broncos’ perspective, we reached out to Joe Rowles from Mile High Report and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “The Broncos have sent Joe Flacco to the bench with a neck injury, and will start Brandon Allen, a former 6th round pick who has never taken a regular season snap in the NFL. I wish I could ask you how he did in the preseason for Denver, but I see that he was claimed off waivers. Is anyone even remotely excited to what Allen can offer, or is there anything interesting that you can tell us about him?”
Joe: “Brandon Allen is a bit of a mystery because NFL Gamepass doesn’t leave Preseason tape up during the regular season, but everything I’ve read about him suggests his mobility is a big asset that could be a factor going forward. The Broncos’ offense under Rich Scangarello is a direct descendant of the Kyle Shanahan tree, so outside zone and boot action are key parts. Unfortunately Joe Flacco’s looked like a turtle running through peanut butter this year and his ball placement suffered badly on the move.
Another reason for some optimism with Allen is he worked with Sean McVay in the Rams offense, another system related to the Broncos’ current one. While he didn’t play a lot, he should be very familiar with the concepts Denver tries to execute this weekend. He’s also going to be well versed in play action concepts, which should help Denver. Last week was really the first time Denver went to run fakes with any regularity and there were certainly opportunities for plays if the quarterback pulled the trigger.”
Chris: “Tell us about the strength and weakness of the Broncos’ offensive line.”
Joe: “Dalton Risner has been as good as most hoped for. The 41st overall pick in the draft has a very bright future and Vic Fangio recently said he’ll be a 10+ year player so long as everything works out for him. The Broncos love to use him on pulling concepts where he can lead the way off the right side. They’ll do this out of shotgun and under center.
I’d say the next best linemen is Connor McGovern, who’s closer to solid than good. The former guard’s shotgun snaps have been a little shaky here and there, but he offers mobility and works as a powerlifter during the offseason. He works well in tandem with Risner and Ronald Leary, though I’m a bit nervous about his matchups against the Browns’ interior line.
After that, the Broncos’ line gets a bit scary in a hurry. Leary has had his moments but is probably a stopgap guard this year. Elijah Wilkinson was forced into action because of injuries to Ja’Wuan James. His technique looks sound and I suspect he’ll be a decent swing tackle and average guard if the opportunity comes, but he’s overmatched against elite athletes on the edge.
The biggest issue, of course is Garett Bolles. The 2017 first round pick is only playing because James injury has prevented the Broncos’ coaching staff from benching him for Wilkinson. He’ll make an occasional athletic play run blocking, but his technique and propensity for holds is well known at this point.
There is a very real fear Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett will blow the game open.”
Chris: “Overall, the Broncos have seemed to play pretty well defensively this year, but what would you point out as the team’s area of weakness on that side of the ball?”
Joe: “After Von Miller the pass rush dries up quickly. Derek Wolfe and Malik Reed have flashed in places, but are benefiting directly from all of the attention 58 earns. The interior rush comes and goes with Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Dre’Mont Jones, and De’Marcus Walker.
There’s also been some concern about the secondary across from Chris Harris Jr., but so far Davontae Harris and Duke Dawson have looked alright in coverage.”
Chris: “Noah Fant was Denver’s top draft pick at No. 20 overall. How has the rookie tight end performed with half a season under his belt?”
Joe: “Fant has performed right around where I expected him to. He’s gotten some flak as a first round pick, and does have a couple of bad drops. He’s also breaking open on plays where Flacco didn’t see him.
Early on I thought his blocking was a significant issue, but it’s steadily improved. Against the Colts, the coaching staff used him to drag coverage on Courtland Sutton’s big play, so even when he doesn’t have the ball he’s contributing.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Joe: “Everyone probably knows about Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. If not I’m sure they will after the game because the game plan is probably going to be very run-heavy. One other name to know on offense would be DaeSean Hamilton. He earned all of one target last week, but has consistently played 60-66% of the Broncos snaps and he has been getting open out of 11 personnel groups. With a quarterback willing to let it fly, I expect him to have some opportunities.
On defense the Broncos’ secret superstar is Justin Simmons, who has played at an All-Pro level for most of the year. With the way Vic Fangio mixes coverage shells, I expect him and Kareem Jackson to keep Baker Mayfield guessing.”
Thanks again to Joe for taking the time to answer my questions.