Scouting the Opponent is a weekly preview series looking ahead to the Titans upcoming matchup.
The Denver Broncos are the official winners of the 2020 Offseason Championship. This time last year, it was the same story for the Cleveland Browns: a team ready to turn over the reigns to their second-year quarterback in his first full season as the starter. With new receiving weapons and a new offensive coordinator, the Browns were going to explode onto the scene and take the NFL by storm.
In Week 1 of 2019, the Browns were hit with the hard truth: Offseason Champs doesn’t mean much once the ball is kicked off and the actual season begins. The Titans dismantled the Browns 43-13.
The Broncos now carry the burden of the offseason hypetrain. Second-year quarterback Drew Lock has been pegged as this year’s breakout star after the Broncos drafted Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first and second rounds, respectively. Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant have breakout potential after flashing immensely last season, and the working theory is that this year, the Broncos will put it all together and emerge as a playoff contender.
For the first few weeks of the season, we’ll have to rely on last season’s stats until we have a clearer representation of 2020 performance.
Midseason quarterback changes for both teams and a new offensive coordinator for the Broncos makes our stat comparison largely irrelevant this week. We do have Weighted DVOA as opposed to traditional DVOA, which gradually assigns more and more importance to the most recent games on the schedule and less importance to the earlier games on the schedule. Until we have 2020 stats to compare, this is all we’ve got:
|3rd||Weighted Offense DVOA||26th|
|20th||Weighted Defense DVOA||13th|
|5th||Rush DVOA – Offense||20th|
|6th||Pass DVOA – Offense||27th|
|11th||Rush DVOA – Defense||15th|
|22nd||Pass DVOA – Defense||14th|
Using these numbers to gauge the on-paper matchup, it looks fairly even overall, with the Titans a bit better on offense and the Broncos a bit better on defense.
Coaches and Personnel
Note: For the earlier part of the schedule, this section will focus on staff changes and roster moves. Once the season is well underway, this will focus more on matchups and key players to watch.
Head Coach Vic Fangio enters his second season at helm of the Broncos after leading the team to a 7-9 record his first year. Fangio spent many years with the Bears and 49ers as a defensive coordinator following a long college coaching career before taking the head job in Denver.
Vangio brought over his secondary coach from Chicago, Ed Donatell, as Denver’s defensive coordinator last season. This year, Fangio hired recently fired Giants head coach Pat Shurmur as a replacement for offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who was fired himself from his post in Denver in January. Shurmur brings over quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, son of NFL legend Don Shula, from their time together in New York.
Lock headlines the Broncos offensive unit with big expectations. As mentioned above, Lock is equipped with a dangerous set of receiving weapons as well as explosive tight end Noah Fant. Hamler has been dealing with a soft tissue injury for a few weeks; his status is questionable.
Tim Patrick will probably start at wide receiver one one side, with Sutton on the other and Jeudy in the slot. With Shurmur at the helm, expect to see mostly 11 personnel (3WR, 1RB, 1TE) on the field.
Denver signed Melvin Gordon to a two-year, $16M contract in free agency. He’s expected to have a large role in the offense, while Phillip Lindsay remains one of the more dynamic change of pace backs in the league. Both guys are a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, and Pat Shurmur likes to involve his running backs in the passing game.
On defense, Von Miller’s injury is obviously the most noteworthy news item heading into this game. Miller’s surgery will likely cost him the season, leaving a recovering Bradley Chubb and an inexperienced Malik Reed to man the edges. Reed was an undrafted rookie free agent last year who started eight games after Chubb went down, picking up two sacks.
The Broncos have some turnover here, losing longtime veteran Derek Wolfe. Of course, Jurrell Casey was acquired for a 7th-round pick in the offseason, and he’ll be a strong force inside next to Shelby Harris and Mike Purcell as the replacement, both as “the vet” and as a force on the inside.
For more detail on the offensive and defensive line personnel, be sure to read Ryan Watson’s detailed breakdown in this week’s In the Trenches.
In the secondary, the Broncos return Kareem Jackson in his second season with the team after a long career in Houston. Now a safety in Denver, Jackson played cornerback for Titans secondary coach Anthony Midget and head coach Mike Vrabel in Houston, where Shane Bowen and Pat O’Hara were also on staff, alongside Titans center Ben Jones, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, and recently signed outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
The Broncos have a rising star next to Jackson in safety Justin Simmons. Rounding out their secondary is A.J. Bouye, acquired via trade from Jacksonville in the offseason, and Bryce Callahan, signed in free agency last year after playing for Fangio and Donatell in Chicago and moving with them to Denver.
Yet again I must stress the difficulty in writing an article of this nature before any games have been played. I’ve looked at plays from last season, particularly the Broncos-Titans Week 6 matchup to see how the Broncos might defend the Titans, as well as Lock’s five starts to close out the year and Shurmur’s offensive history as a playcaller with the Giants and the Vikings to preview how the Broncos offense might look.
Due to the NFL’s strict copyright policy which they have chosen to enforce against our website, I unfortunately will not be including any GIFs here. If you’d like to see some of the plays I’m referencing, I will include links to view them on Twitter. Or you can try to find them if you have a subscription to NFL Gamepass.
Titans Offense vs Broncos Defense
This is a revenge game of sorts for Arthur Smith and the Titans, who were shut out in the final game of the Marcus Mariota era in Tennessee. Derrick Henry had his worst outing of the season, rushing 15 times for just 28 yards. They allowed 7 sacks, punted 9 times, and converted 2 of 16 third and fourth downs.
That Titans team that couldn’t move the ball on a stout Broncos defense was a vastly different group from the one Denver will see Monday night.