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Broncos bye-week thoughts: Fangio has had team ready after extended rest

Denver D looking for first, three-and-out in game-opening series. The positive mind of Tim Patrick. Shurmur expected to return Monday.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio wearing the NFL Salute to Service jacket prior to an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Vic Fangio has had the Broncos playing at near-peak performance following a bye week.

In 2019, the 3-6 Broncos were up 20-0 at halftime in their game-after-bye with No. 3 quarterback Brandon Allen against the 7-3 Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. And it should have been at least 23-0 but Allen threw a first-down interception from the Minnesota 17-yard line with 60 seconds left in the half.

The Vikings rallied in the second half to win 27-23 but that was because talent eventually rose, not because Fangio didn’t have his team ready.

Last year, the Broncos were up 18-3 in the fourth quarter at New England in their game-after-bye before Drew Lock, in his return from a shoulder injury, threw picks on consecutive passes in the final 5 ½ minutes. The Broncos held on for an 18-12 win when Cam Newton’s hurry-up series died at the Broncos’ 24 yard line.

That was an odd bye-week situation in 2020 as a COVID-19 outbreak within the Patriots’ locker room forced a rearranged schedule so the Broncos’ bye week was moved up from week 8 to week 5. That gave the Broncos 17 days between games as they had beat the Jets on a Thursday night in their game previous to playing the Patriots.

*The Broncos should have a nice advantage in their game next Sunday against the Chargers, who play Sunday night at home against the Steelers, then have to travel next Saturday to Denver for the AFC West game at Empower Field at Mile High. The Broncos get a full two weeks between games while the Chargers get about 6 days. Bronco players should have fresher legs, plus they are expected to get left tackle Garett Bolles back and maybe his good friend, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.

*The Broncos jumped Green Bay and are now No. 3 in scoring defense, allowing just 18.3 points per game while their offense ranks No. 23 at 20.0 points per game. So it figures the Broncos are 5-5 because they have a good defense but not a very good offense.

Yet, the Denver defense, which has allowed game-opening possession scores in four of the team’s five losses, has not been a great complimentary defense to its offense.

Denver’s D has been on the field first in eight of 10 games. It has yet to create a turnover or force a three-and-out in those game-opening series.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper (53) celebrates breaking up a pass intended for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

It did get Dallas to turn the ball over after four downs thanks to a terrific fourth-and-1 stick by safety Justin Simmons on running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Broncos went on to build a 30-0 lead before settling for a 30-16 victory. It was easily the Denver’s D best start of a game and it came in the Broncos’ most impressive victory.

But in the Broncos’ five losses, their defense has allowed an average of 7.8 plays, 61.2 yards and 3 minutes, 16 seconds of possession on its game-opening series. The defense allowed three touchdowns and a field goal on series No. 1 in those five losses. (See chart).

The Broncos’ offense with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback is built on ball control, not playing from behind. The Denver D, good as it is overall, must be better on the first series.

Denver Defense

Game-opening series:

Gm . Opponent, W-L … Series stats

1. +Giants, W: 6 plays, 39 yards, 2:39, punt

2.  +Jaguars, W: 11 plays, 83 yards, 5:39, TD

3. Jets, W: 4 plays, 16 yards, 2:11, punt

4. Ravens, L: 6 plays, 13 yards, 2:50, punt

5. +Steelers, L: 6 plays, 85 yards, 2:58, TD

6. +Raiders, L: 6 plays, 70 yards, 3:06, TD

7. +Browns, L: 5 plays, 75 yards, 2:40, TD

8. +Washington, W: 9 plays, 56 yards, 5:30, downs

9. +Cowboys, W: 4 plays, 8 yards, 1:26, downs

10. +Eagles, L: 10 plays, 63 yards, 4:47, FG

Average: 6.7 plays, 50.8 yards, 3:23, 3.1 points

Five losses: 7.8 plays, 61.2 yards, 3:16, 4.8 points

+Denver defense on field first.

*Must admit, when the Broncos selected receivers Jerry Jeudy in the first round and KJ Hamler in the second round of the 2020 draft, I thought Tim Patrick was in trouble. At the time, No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton was coming off a Pro Bowl, 1,000-yard season and had yet to tear his ACL. Patrick was coming off a disappointing 2019 season in which injuries limited him to only 16 catches and 218 yards.

At best, Patrick would compete with DaeSean Hamilton for the No. 4 receiver spot in 2020. And Patrick was undrafted in 2017 while Hamilton was a fourth-round pick in 2018.

RELATED: Broncos agree to three-year, $30 million contract extension with receiver Tim Patrick

Yet, Patrick’s team-before-self attitude about his difficult situation seemed to propel him.

"When we drafted Jeudy, I was excited about that because I felt it was something that we needed," Patrick said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS a year ago. "KJ, you can’t pass up on a guy like that -- 4.2 speed -- I was definitely happy about that. It was something that our offense needed.

"When we drafted more receivers, myself-wise I knew how it was going to be. But it was something that our offense needed. We needed a kick with the speed those guys have. … So I’m happy that we got those picks."

In his 25 games since Jeudy and Hamler were drafted 1-2, Patrick has 88 catches for 1,265 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s 3.5 catches and 50.6 yards per game. More importantly, Patrick has stayed healthy while Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler and Hamilton all suffered significant injuries.

It was enough to get him a $10 million a year contract extension this weekend. Steady, reliable and positive-minded wins the day.

*At the risk of ticking off the virus, the Broncos appear to have their COVID-19 crisis under control. Providing there is no issue overnight, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is scheduled to return to Broncos headquarters on Monday, per source. He will join backup quarterback Drew Lock, backup inside linebacker Justin Strnad and cornerback Michael Ojemudia, who have all been cleared from COVID-19 in returning to practice.

Still on COVID reserve are backup offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann and practice-squad linebacker Pita Taumoepenu.

RELATED: What former NFL players are saying about Bridgewater's missed tackle

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive guard Austin Schlottmann (71) takes part in drills during the team's NFL football training camp Saturday, July 28, 2018, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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