In what could prove a season-defining win, the Denver Broncos concocted a formula capable of dismantling the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9. If Vic Fangio’s team can replicate their performance, many teams hereafter may face the same fate as America’s Team.
Throughout the previous four weeks, Denver had an identity problem, incapable of playing consistent complementary football — leading to four consecutive defeats with their season on life support. Now, after the 30-16 mauling of Dallas, the Broncos’ season has a pulse. The three-time Super Bowl champs sit at 5-4, the same record as current AFC #7 seed, New England. Meanwhile, the #3-6 seeds (Los Angeles, Buffalo, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh) have a record of 5-3.
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Running to a New Identity
The Broncos’ are yet to discuss the playoffs, and wisely so, but guard Dalton Risner gave Broncos Country reason for hope when discussing the team’s newfound identity.
“You saw an identity on Sunday that you probably haven’t seen all year,” Risner said, Nov. 8. “That’s the identity we would like to assume. We would like to assume the role of we’re going to maul you down the field in the run game, we’re going to rush for 150 plus, we’re going to play action when it’s needed and throw it to Tim Patrick, Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy.
“That’s the identity we would like to have I’d imagine. I don’t speak for Coach Shurmur, but offensive lineman identity — that’s what my guys in my room — that’s what we would like. I don’t know. I think that our identity as an offense is coming together more and more as we go throughout the year. I think we’re continuing to mesh better.”
After a strong start to the season, Teddy Bridgewater — much like his team — struggled during the Broncos’ losing streak. Though the former New Orleans Saint had his redemptive moment in Arlington during Week 9, going 19-for-28 for 249 yards and a touchdown.
“Teddy [Bridgewater] is getting more comfortable,” Risner said. “We know Teddy can drop back and pass. We know we have amazing wide receivers with a lot of length. Having Jerry back is huge. We also know we can run the ball. Not saying it’s easy as an offensive line, but when you’ve got [RB Javonte] Williams and [Melvin] Gordon back there — 33 and 25 — it’s pretty fun blocking, man. I’d say our identity is slowly becoming that we can run the football, but you’ve also got to protect the pass because we’ve got some dogs at the wide receiver position.”
Risner: Broncos ‘Can Beat Anybody’
The return of stud wideout Jerry Jeudy a fortnight ago has indeed helped the cause, but Risner believes there’s more to it. The Washington and Dallas wins have been born out of an ability to complement their brethren’s play across every phase.
“I think just working well with each other,” he told reporters. “We worked really well as a team on Sunday, and this is a team game. You can look back and say the defense had some great games that we lost. You can look back and say the offense has some pretty good games that we still lost, but we’ve worked as a team this Sunday.”
Slow starts against the Raiders and Steelers in Weeks 5 and 6 respectively hurt the Broncos. Now with the AFC more competitive than any time in recent memory, Denver cannot afford to stall out of the blocks anymore.
“We’ve got to come out and do what we did against the Cowboys to every team this season. We have to come out hot. We’ve got to get stops early. We’ve got to score points early. I was really impressed with our offense yesterday with converting on third down. It’s been a big thing for our offense this year — maybe not converting on third down when we need to, but we converted a lot of third downs. Then we got in the red zone, and we weren’t settling for a lot of field goals. Yeah, we kicked a few, but we punched it in when we needed to.
“[Getting] all those phases moving forward; punching it in when you’re in the red zone, not settling for field goals, doing better on third down, and starting the game early. I think those are some key factors in us going forward. [When] you beat a team like that who’ve won six in a row [and are at the] top of the NFL, a lot of people would say — now that we beat them, they might not say that, but before we beat the Cowboys, people were saying that. We can beat anybody, and we’ve known that we could do that. We’ve just got to make sure we do.”
The operative word being ‘we.’ If Denver is to do anything of note, it will be done together, of that there is no doubt.
Follow Patrick Djordjevic on Twitter: @Patdjordjevic