ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — This represented the season of green lights. Everything would fall into place. Like a bright morning sun and a table at your favorite breakfast place. But instead of biscuits and gravy, you received biscuits and gravel.
The Broncos are saddled with a 1-5 record, need a telescope to see playoff contenders, and remain winless at home.
“They have to win this week, right?” one media member asked under the glaring sun during Thursday’s open media viewing period of practice.
The answer? Not necessarily. The Broncos have beaten a one-win Chicago team. That’s it. And while the Packers rank as a disappointment, they are 2-3. So, how do the Broncos claim their first victory in Denver before the Chiefs roll into town next week aiming for their 17th straight win over their once rival. It starts with slowing the run and showing no Love to the Packers quarterback.
Life after Aaron Rodgers has followed the script of most teams when a legend exits. The Packers rank 28th in yards (281.6), 27th in rushing (81.6/Aaron Jones has been hurt) and 21st in passing. After a terrific opener against the Bears, Jordan Love looks more like a backup than the future. Over the past three games, he has thrown six interceptions with two touchdowns. He is completing an alarming 55% of his passes and has absorbed 10 sacks.
It is obvious when watching that the Packers trust Love about as much as I do my pet bulldog with a steak dangling in front of his face. Their passing attack relies on short tosses and plays behind the line of scrimmage. Against the Raiders, he struggled to throw the ball down field, a pattern this season. He is 6-for-26 on passes of 20 yards or more. It sets up as a game for star safety Justin Simmons to record his latest interception.
Though not himself this year because of a lingering groin injury, the three-time All-Pro intercepted Patrick Mahomes last week when Jonathon Cooper hit his arm. Simmons boasts 28 career interceptions, fourth most by a Broncos player in his first eight seasons. He ranks as the only NFL player with at least four picks in each of the last four years.
The losing has worn on him, with Simmons admitting this week it never gets easier, only worse. It has created trade speculation around his name with teams like the Eagles and Steelers needing secondary help. Several Broncos players could be targets with the latest report suggesting that the Colts are among the teams talking to Denver about receiver Jerry Jeudy.
A win wouldn’t ease the sting of the horrible start but would help.
Simmons respects Love’s athleticism and arm strength. But this is the time to end the madness and give Broncos Country – the ones not rooting for the highest draft pick – something to feel good about.
“It is important. And I am not just saying that, especially with the losses we have,” Simmons said. “It’s at home. I know it’s been tough. We really want to give the fans a home win and I am looking forward to doing that on Sunday.”
Many have been rolling their eyes at this team for weeks, in large part, because of the defense. However, while the Broncos rank last in yards allowed and points per game (33.3), the group has shown improvement. Linebacker Alex Singleton and Cornerback Pat Surtain II credited smoother play calls and better communication. It no longer looks like half the team is playing zone defense with the other half in man.
“You know, he simplified the calls some. Makes us fly around,” Surtain explained of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. “Just being in the right positions and the right time and making plays. When you know what you’re doing on the defensive side of the ball, that’s what helps guys fly around and be more confident. Just shortening up the play calls helped a lot.”
And it is reflected in the red zone jump. Once last, the Broncos have moved to 19th after holding the Jets and Chiefs to one touchdown in 10 trips inside the 20 over the last two weeks.
Can Simmons produce the pick that allows the Broncos to pick themselves off the mat? Love figures to give him that chance in the second half.