The Lions face off against the Denver Broncos this week and it’s always interesting to take a look at a team that isn’t faced all that often. With all of the injuries and struggles the Lions are currently enduring, we’ve already given a less than optimistic take to our SB Nation sister site in Denver. In return, we asked a few questions of Mile High Report’s Joe Rowles about how their team has been doing in 2019 and what Lions fans can expect to see this weekend when these two teams match up for the first time since Calvin Johnson and Peyton Manning were retired.
1. There’s been a running narrative that Von Miller has struggled more this season than he has in the past. How much truth is there in that, and with Taylor Decker’s consistently strong play over the second half of the season do you see the Broncos finding more creative ways to get after David Blough at QB?
While Miller’s sack total is down and he’s definitely playing through pain this year, he’s also notched 46 pass pressures per Sports Info Solution’s charting. He’s been the Broncos’ one reliable pass rusher in every game this season and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday.
Because of the injuries across the rest of the line, (head coach Vic) Fangio has had to mix in more designed pressure looks than I think he’d like to try and get after the passer in key situations. He’ll do this in one of two ways on Sunday. There are plays where he’ll bring extra rushers, and then there are times he’ll drop one of the edge players and bring four, usually with Alexander Johnson or Will Parks out of the slot.
2. The Lions defense is banged up all over and has given new life to struggling quarterbacks. What would you consider a successful day from the Broncos passing attack and what could Detroit do to try to slow them down?
Pie in the sky, I’d love for Drew Lock to put up the numbers he did against the Houston Texans a couple of weeks ago. Even with the Lions’ decimated that may be asking a lot from a rookie passer now that there’s film on him though. It’s kind of vague, but I want to see him making his way through progressions and putting the ball in spots for his receivers to make the most of their targets.
3. I’m not going to pretend to be anything other than a huge Justin Simmons stan, but most fans outside of the Broncos fan base aren’t as familiar with him, either as a prospect or as a pro player. I’d consider him the single biggest Pro Bowl snub, so can you talk a bit about what has made him so special and why the league is sleeping on him?
I wrote a scouting report on Justin Simmons last summer, and the things that really had me amped for the Fangio hire is how versatile he is. In the Vance Joseph defense he was able to move down and play corner in 2018 and was a standout player coming up to fill against the run, play in the box, and in robber coverage. What held him back in the past was his lapses and his inconsistencies in deep coverage, but under Fangio that’s really come on.
It’s going to be interesting to see if Simmons’ responsibilities change now that Kareem Jackson is done for the year. With Trey Marshall starting next to him there will be more on him to make everyone around him right in coverage. I believe he’s up for it. It may be because I wear orange shades, but I do believe he’s been the best safety in football this season and I don’t think it’s all that close.
4. Both of our teams drafted Iowa tight ends. While T.J. Hockenson started off hot and then cooled for various reasons, Fant started off a bit cooler then picked up mid season. What have the Broncos been doing with Fant to improve his production and what do the Lions need to do to keep him in check?
One big thing the Broncos have done to get chunk plays from Fant the last two weeks is a delayed route. He’ll start the play looking like he’s going to block only to leak out after his defender’s left him.
Rich Scangarello has come under fire at times for trying to get Fant the ball on screens and reverses, but I don’t expect that to be the case this weekend.
Outside of that, the Broncos have looked to all of the tight ends off play action more since Joe Flacco’s season ended. Ideally the run action sucks the second level up and Fant can square off against the defensive backs.
5. I’m not going to put you on the spot with a prediction for the game’s outcome, but instead tell our readers something you think they’ll get to see that they aren’t expecting from the 2019 Denver Broncos.
The Broncos linebacker corps of Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson is probably the best one you haven’t really heard about this year. Johnson especially has been a revelation since finding his way into the starting lineup. Neither are super athletic, but they’re thumpers who read and play quickly and clean up a lot of trash from sideline to sideline.
Todd Davis doesn’t get the love he deserves, but he’s really the communication hub that connects the front and back of the defense. You can see him helping Johnson to be in the right spot at the right time and he’s been the Broncos leading tackler the last couple of weeks as the defensive line has fallen apart. He can get into trouble when isolated in coverage, but he’s a heady player who fans don’t appreciate enough. This very well could be his last ride in orange and blue so I’d enjoy the pair while you have a chance to see them.