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Mason's Mailbag: Predicting the Broncos' quarterback in 2020

Andrew Mason Avatar
October 17, 2019

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It’s quite simple:

  • 9-7 or better: Joe Flacco
  • 8-8 or 7-9: Flacco, unless Drew Lock starts multiple games late in the 2019 season and the team has a winning record in his starts
  • 6-10: Lock or a veteran from another team
  • 5-11 or worse: If Lock does well in late-season work, he gets the nod. If he struggles, I expect the Broncos would add a placeholder veteran and draft a quarterback early, thus no longer putting all of their eggs for the future in Lock’s basket.

Really, the only way they ride with Lock if they’re 5-11 or worse is if their current two-game winning streak is followed by another catastrophic skid, and then Lock comes in during the final month and leads the Broncos to three wins against a December slate that has four games against teams that are currently .500 or better.

It’s almost never one thing that causes breakdowns like these.

Most of the offensive problems start with the instability at quarterback and in the scheme in general, with four offensive coordinators and five starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning’s retirement. The Broncos have had the weapons, particularly at running back. In 2017, for example, I was astounded at then-coordinator Mike McCoy’s unwillingness to use Jamaal Charles on wheel routes, something he’d done effectively during training camp.

At tight end it has been more of a personnel and circumstance issue, although scheme and quarterbacking were factors. Jeff Heuerman took a while to develop because of injuries and a parade of fringe tight ends walked through. The Broncos could have some stability there if Noah Fant develops, but they need to play to his strengths more while he develops his all-around game.

Offensively I think the worm is turning — and it already has with running backs. This season, the Broncos are one of two teams with a pair of running backs averaging at least 24 receiving yards per game; New England is the other. Phillip Lindsay is on pace for 392 receiving yards; Royce Freeman is on pace for 387. Those season-long totals, if achieved, would rank second and third for Broncos running backs this century.

As for the defensive side, just think of what the Broncos have dealt with at inside linebacker and safety since that magnificent 2015 season.

First, they lost Danny Trevathan and replaced him with Todd Davis. Davis’ skill set is different than that of Trevathan; he’s more of an in-the-box thumper. Meanwhile, fellow inside linebacker Brandon Marshall struggled with injuries from 2016 through 2018. At safety, T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart began feeling the ravages of age. Justin Simmons has been a solid safety, but he’s taken some time to grow and wasn’t always used in a way that meshed with his skill set. Now he is, and you see the results: interceptions in back-to-back games.

In the Broncos’ loss to the Falcons five weeks into the 2016 season, Kyle Shanahan, then Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, exposed the Broncos’ issues in coverage. This resulted in 167 receiving yards between Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Shanahan found the kryptonite for Denver’s superhero defense, and it was never quite the same. Then, under Vance Joseph, schematic issues led to a series of big performances for tight ends. That trend continues for Joseph’s defenses in Arizona; his Cardinals defenses have allowed per-game averages of 7.7 receptions, 99.8 yards and 1.2 touchdowns to opposing tight-end complements.

Sustain long drives, take what the Chiefs defense gives them and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. As I noted Tuesday, the Chiefs are 0-5 with Mahomes as the starter when the opposing team has the football for 35 or more minutes.

I find it hilarious how the uniform talk has traveled from your platform at DenverBroncos.com to here.

How are you enjoying your time at DNVR thus far? How does it compare with the work you’ve done in the past?

— OoO Benny Lava

I learned this long ago: Sometimes, you’ve just got to “play the hits.” It was stunning to me how the uniform chatter always moved the needle on the Broncos’ site in terms of responses and social-media engagement.

(And unlike some other topics, it resulted in fewer Facebook posts with sentiments such as “Mason is an idiot” and so forth. Stuff like that is why I began spending far less time on Facebook, which is a healthy thing.)

I also have a lifelong fascination with the aesthetics of the game — uniforms, end-zone paint designs, banners around the field, etc. — so it’s in my wheelhouse.

As for DNVR, it couldn’t be better. I’ve been able to take angles that are interesting to me, such as the story last September about the Broncos’ last tie, which came against the Packers in Milwaukee in 1987. I love doing pieces like the one I wrote Tuesday, in which I can dive into a specific statistic that could illuminate what is next. We focus on quality, not just quantity, and building connections with and among fans. It’s a family built on shared passion for the sports we love.

Many entities in sports and media are focused on building the widest possible audience, but that support can be an inch deep. But what I’ve learned over the years is that it’s better to cultivate an audience that is engaged and passionate. That’s how you build affinity and loyalty. DNVR gets this. Our audience is as knowledgeable as it is passionate, so we can write, speak and connect with intelligent fans.


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