ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos lost their opening game of the season, but they have a chance to balance their record on Sunday. 

The Broncos will host the Washington Commanders (1-0) in Week 2, with kickoff scheduled for 2:25 p.m. on CBS. 

Here’s how the Broncos can leave with a win…

Supplement the running game

Daron Payne is one of the league’s top defensive tackles. He’s a disruptive force in the run game and the passing game. The Cardinals—who don’t have a great offensive line, for what it’s worth—couldn’t stop him even when they double-teamed him last week. The scariest part is that Payne wasn’t even the best part of the Commanders’ defensive front last week; Montez Sweat had 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles, and Jonathan Allen had a sack, three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. After Week 1, the Commanders’ run defense is ranked third in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and their overall defense is ranked fourth.

So, what do the Broncos do? Whatever it takes to reduce the opportunities for the Commanders’ defensive front.

Step one is limiting the number of runs. The Broncos passed on about 62% of their offensive plays in Week 1, which was the 11th-most in the league. That percentage should climb even higher this week because of their opponent. Russell Wilson was clinical when throwing the ball underneath and finding that sort of success in the quick game will be crucial in supplementing the running game. The Commanders’ defensive backs pressed forward in Week 1 thanks to a pass rush that prevented deep throws. Screens and throws to the flats were ineffective.

But the Broncos can’t punt on the running game altogether. Given that Washington’s strength is in the dead center of the line, the Broncos should try to get the ball to the outside. Sweeps and tosses are probably their best bet. An even better bet would be if they can run to the edge that Sweat isn’t defending more often than not. (If former No. 2 overall pick Chase Young returns to the field this week, then both edges could be tough to penetrate.)

When the Broncos run the ball, Sean Payton should be creative in how he dresses his plays. Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy loves to freeze linebackers with jet sweep motions, and Payton should steal that page out of his book this week. An early jet sweep or two to Marvin Mims could provide a spark, and it could also keep Washington linebackers on their heels whenever the Broncos fake the jet sweep later in the game. Two of the Cardinals best runs against the Commanders came on back-to-back plays, when they aligned a receiver in the backfield. They faked a run one way before getting the ball to their speedster, taking advantage of an aggressive defense in overpursuing in the wrong direction.

The Broncos will have to run the ball up the middle to keep the Washington defense honest. Pounding the rock on a couple of 2nd & shorts is a good idea. Even a bad play might be enough to move the sticks. And the worst-case scenario is a 3rd & 5 on the next play.

Move the pocket

The Commanders’ pass rush is one of the best in the league, thanks to their stud defensive line.

The Broncos can negate the pass rush by moving the pocket with sprint-outs and bootlegs. We should see a heavy dose of both on Sunday. Last week, the Cardinals posted a 94 passer rating on play-action throws and a 66 rating on non-play-action throws.

The Broncos were at their best in Week 1 when Russell Wilson was working underneath routes and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. Building off of that success should be the game plan this week, since quick throws can negate the pass rush.

The bad news is that the Commanders defended passes much differently than the Raiders in Week 1. While the Raiders sat back to prevent deep balls, Washington pressed its corners at the line of scrimmage. The idea was to make sure the ball couldn’t come out quickly, since the Commanders trusted their pass rush to get to the quarterback before a deep route could develop.

The Commanders could stick with the same base strategy—cornerback Kendall Fuller is one of the best in the league at pouncing on short passes—or they could see Russell Wilson as a deep threat and back off. Just because they dared Josh Dobbs to throw deep, doesn’t mean they’ll dare Wilson the same way.

If the Washington secondary sits back, the Broncos should be able to build off of their Week 1 quick game. If not, connecting on a couple of play-action deep balls will be crucial to winning the game.

Help Damarri

Second-year cornerback Damarri Mathis is coming off one of the worst performances of his young career. He gave up nine catches on 10 targets, including two touchdowns.

The Broncos need to ensure Mathis isn’t put in the same position. Luckily, protecting the 24-year-old could come with some other perks.

The Broncos ranked 28th in zone coverage usage in Week 1, in part because they wanted to lock Pat Surtain onto Davante Adams as often as possible. The Commanders have a few good receivers—including Terry McLaurin, who is coming off of three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons—but none of them require the Surtain Island treatment.

As Surtain said on the DNVR Broncos Podcast this week, playing zone coverage allows cornerbacks to keep their eyes on the quarterback and hunt interceptions. Commanders quarterback Sam Howell should give them plenty of opportunities to generate turnovers.

Howell, a fifth-round pick in 2022, made his second career start last week. At one point, he tried to roll out of the pocket with the ball in one hand and was strip-sacked for a touchdown. He fumbled the ball out of bounds later in the game, and just about had a third fumble but the ball came out after he’d slid to the ground. He only threw one interception, but at least one other ball hit a defender in both hands.

Howell loves to hit tight windows, especially 10-15 yards downfield. He also loves the middle of the field, where he found 14 of his 19 completions last week, which means the linebackers should have plenty of opportunities, too.

By playing more zone coverages, the Broncos can help Mathis out, limit big plays, confuse the second-year quarterback and allow their defenders to capitalize on bad throws.

Keep Howell in the pocket

You might not want to hear this after the Broncos couldn’t find a sack in Week 1, but this isn’t the game to tell the edge rushers to pin their ears back.

Howell wants to break the pocket and find plays. He primarily escapes to find plays in the passing game, but he’s a capable runner, too. He scrambled in for a touchdown against the Cardinals.

The Broncos’s edge rushers should emphasize keeping Howell in the pocket, where he’s less comfortable. They should also keep a spy on Howell. Alex Singleton is the easy choice to play spy, but if the Broncos want to get second-round linebacker Drew Sanders some reps, this could be an opportunity. Sanders was at his best when playing as a spy at Arkansas, and the job requires more physical tools than mental, making it easier to trust the 21-year-old. Still, it’s tough to take Singleton off the field for a rookie.

The pass rushing will largely be left to Zach Allen and DJ Jones from the interior of the defense. The Commanders’ line is a weak point, so those two should be able to generate pressure. Interior rushers produced three of the Cardinals’ six sacks against Washington last week.

Limit penalties

Two teams were called for more penalties than the Broncos last week.

Six teams were called for more penalty yards.

Four of the Broncos penalties gave the Raiders a free first down.

None of that can happen again.


Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm

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