Denver Broncos Weekly Update: NFL Week 3 & NFL Week 4 Preview

Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field before a game against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field September 2020

In this week’s Denver Broncos news update, let’s look back at week 3 action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well as look ahead to NFL Week 4, with the team traveling to MetLife Stadium — the field the San Francisco 49ers, perhaps the only team more injured in the league, blamed for their injury woes — to face the hapless New York Jets. Finally, let’s wrap up with a few season-long storylines to keep an eye on in other Broncos news, including who’ll play at quarterback — will it be Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, or the newly signed Blake Bortles? — special teams, and draft positioning, as well as what that might mean for NFL betting.

NFL Week 3 Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, Denver Broncos 10

After looking competitive in the first two weeks, the Denver Broncos looked lifeless and flat in NFL Week 3 action against the Buccaneers, falling badly in a 28-10 blowout that was worse than the final score might indicate. Not only did they fail to cover the NFL betting lines of Buccaneers -6 and total of 43, but their season record fell to 2-1 ATS with two unders (Week 1 and Week 3). They’re 0-3 on the season, and injuries and question marks continue to pile up — and now they face a week 4 matchup against the Jets on the same MetLife Stadium field where the San Francisco 49ers were decimated by injuries in the last two weeks. The only good news right now might be that the Jets may be nearly equally injury-plagued, especially on the offensive line.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel, starting in place of the injured Drew Lock, looked out of sync. Outside of a few plays, he did not look like an NFL-caliber quarterback, taking a costly sack for a safety in the third quarterback before later throwing a back-breaking pick when it looked as if the Broncos might finally get some offense going. When coach Vic Fangio yanked Driskel and subbed in Brett Rypien, they showed some actual signs of life — Rypien completed his first eight passes and looked sharp and poised in the pocket — before Rypien threw a pick in the end zone. While Fangio cited protection issues as the reason for the switch, Rypien looked better than Driskel, and while his interception was unfortunate, he was able to move the offense. Some fans are already calling for Rypien to get the start in NFL Week 4.

NFL Week 4 Preview: Denver Broncos at New York Jets

Royce Freeman #28 of the Denver Broncos against the New York Jet at MetLife Stadium October, 2018

In a matchup of winless and injury-ridden teams in NFL Week 4, someone has to win in the Thursday night matchup between these two teams. Early online sports betting favors the Broncos -3 with a total of 40.5, though lines may change as each sportsbook casino gets updated injury news for each team. Let’s look at a few keys for each team.

Denver Broncos key matchups

In familiar Denver Broncos news, the offensive line continues to be a problem. Officially, coach Vic Fangio benched quarterback Jeff Driskel because of protection issues; Driskel had been sacked five times (including for a safety) and hit repeatedly. Despite not playing in week 1, nor completing the game in week 3, Driskel has taken the third most sacks in the league this year with 11. The defensive line, which was supposed to be a strength, has similarly struggled — and has notched only four sacks and 16 quarterback hits through three weeks. If the team wants to avoid falling to 0-4 in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, they’ll have to do a better job of getting to New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.

Other key matchups, unfortunately, include draft positioning and the injury report. Only one team has ever made the playoffs from an 0-3 start, and the Broncos aren’t about to become the second. Instead, they need to spend the rest of the season looking to the future — which means giving young players game experience and seeing what needs they still need to address in next spring’s draft. While this week’s game against the Jets is winnable, as is their Week 6 home game against the Miami Dolphins, it’s very likely the Broncos will enter their Week 8 bye 2-5. Those online sports betting fans who took the over on NFL betting lines for a 7-win season or bet on a playoff berth, probably need to accept this isn’t their year.

New York Jets key matchups

For the host New York Jets, NFL Week 4 keys against the Denver Broncos are remarkably similar: The Jets have had many of the same injury and line issues and Jets’ fans have already accepted this is a lost season. As a result, if the Jets want to snag their first win of the season, they’ll need to focus on a few key areas. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Limiting mistakes. Both teams have given the ball away five times in three games and those turnovers have played a role in their respective 0-3 starts. If the Broncos can force some takeaways, that will be huge; they went 4-2 last season when winning the turnover battle but have yet to win the turnover battle this season.
  • Getting Darnold into a rhythm. The Jets are still trying to determine if Sam Darnold is the franchise quarterback they traded up to draft in 2018. Part of the difficulty of that evaluation is how rarely he, his line, and his receivers have all been healthy. As a result, the Jets need to start with a healthy dose of play action and confidence-building screens to get Darnold going; the Broncos, meanwhile, will need to focus on shaking up Darnold, who has historically played poorly under pressure.
  • Establishing the run game. Both teams are near the bottom of the league in rushing yards currently, in part because they’ve been playing from behind so often. Without the threat of a run game, however, play action isn’t effective — and Darnold needs all the help he can get. The Jets need to focus on getting 37-year-old RB Frank Gore going — because with Le’veon Bell still expected out for a few more weeks, he’s the Jets’ only real runner. For the opposition, stuffing the line early and often is key, as is forcing Darnold — who’s current 28.8 QBR is second-worst in the league — to beat them with his arm.
  • Keeping it competitive. The Jets have been blown out in three consecutive weeks. While there are no moral victories in the NFL, even just keeping it close through three quarters would go a long way. For the Orange Crush, avoiding a slow start would be a welcome change (they were down 17-3 at half against the Steelers and 23-10 in NFL Week 3 against the Buccaneers). 

Big picture storylines to watch

Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos against the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field September 2020

In a matchup of cellar-dwellers, let’s take a look at a few of the big-picture storylines to watch both in week 4 and for the rest of the season in Denver Broncos news.

Tanking for Trevor

While both the Denver Broncos and New York Jets believe they have their franchise quarterbacks of the future in Drew Lock and Sam Darnold, respectively, fans of each franchise have openly speculated about a future with presumptive number one pick Trevor Lawrence at the helm. Given that both teams have looked rather hapless this season, could this NFL Week 4 matchup prove to be a tie-breaker for the number one pick in next spring’s draft?

Which quarterback starts?

While it’s clear that Drew Lock won’t start — there’s hope he might be back earlier than expected, which is why the Broncos didn’t place him on injured reserve, though he still definitely won’t be back by Thursday’s game — it’s not clear who will. Will Fangio turn to Brett Rypien, who looked promising until the late pick in the fourth quarter in week 3 against the Buccaneers? Does he return to Jeff Driskel, who had been starting in Lock’s place? Or is the recently signed Blake Bortles ready to start? While Bortles has only been with the team a few days, one of his best career games was against the New York Jets two seasons ago, when he thrashed the Jets for a career-high 388 yards. The Broncos could sorely use an offensive explosion right now. Of course, given Rypien completed his first eight passes Sunday, he’s the only one of the three healthy signal-callers who has shown any chemistry with the receivers they currently have available. In NFL Week 3, Rypien opened with consecutive passes to, in order: Tim Patrick (on only his second target of the game), KJ Hamler, Patrick again, Jerry Jeudy, Jeudy again, Diontae Spencer (on his only target of the game), Patrick a third time, and Melvin Gordon. That kind of clear distribution is important, and while Rypien’s inexperience showed (between the sack and a fumble the Broncos recovered and the pick), that ability to find an open receiver and get the ball out quickly puts more stress on a defense. Denver could sorely use that right now.

Special teams

Special teams miscues were again a problem in week 3, starting with the blocked punt on the very first drive of the game. If the Broncos’ currently anemic offense weren’t a big enough problem, giving the Buccaneers a short field to start the game wasn’t a great start to Sunday’s loss. Could special teams coordinator Tom McMahon be on the hot seat by the Week 8 bye? Special teams’ mistakes have cost the team dearly so far and have played a not insignificant role in their 0-3 start — remember their first two losses were both close games. Special teams must play better in NFL Week 4 against the New York Jets.

Draft position

With an 0-3 start and in a tough AFC West, the Denver Broncos may not yet be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (NFL betting odds for a Broncos playoff berth, which started the season at +150, are now averaging +450), but they won’t be in the postseason. Though favored against the Jets (current NFL betting lines favor the Broncos -3), a top draft pick is likely. By ESPN’s FPI, the Broncos are currently projected for a 5-11 season and the 4th pick in next spring’s draft.

X