The Detroit Lions will look to stack back-to-back wins together for the first time since beating the Jaguars and Falcons in Weeks 6 and 7 last year.
To accomplish that, the Lions will have to take down the Denver Broncos on the road. The AFC West opponent has had an up-and-down season that currently has left the team with an appropriate 6-6 record. They are still very much in the playoff race and they can ill-afford a slip up against the Lions this week. But that’s the exact scenario the Minnesota Vikings were in last week before Detroit blindsided them.
So can the Lions pull off another upset this week or are the Broncos better equipped to avoid a letdown game? Let’s take a closer look, in our Week 14 scouting report.
2021 season thus far (6-6)
Week 1: Beat Giants, 27-13
Week 2: Beat Jaguars, 23-13
Week 3: Beat Jets, 26-0
Week 4: Lost to Ravens, 7-23
Week 5: Lost to Steelers, 19-27
Week 6: Lost to Raiders, 24-34
Week 7: Lost to Browns, 14-17
Week 8: Beat Washington, 17-10
Week 9: Beat Cowboys, 30-16
Week 10: Lost to Eagles, 13-30
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Beat Chargers, 28-13
Week 13: Lost to Chiefs, 9-22
- 23rd in points scored (19.8 PPG), 3rd in points against (18.2 PPG)
- 18th overall in DVOA (15th on offense, 20th on defense, 29th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 13th in pass offense, 14th in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 16th in pass defense, 25th in run defense
In a word, the Denver Broncos are confusing. Early in the year, they beat up on some bad teams, then lost to a bunch of decent teams. However, for the past five weeks, it’s been completely random. They beat impressive teams like the Cowboys and Chargers, but they lose handily to the Eagles.
And it’s hard to pin down an identity because they aren’t giving up many points (third in scoring defense), but their efficient DVOA metrics have them as a bottom-half defense. Sometimes when those two numbers don’t match up, it’s because they’ve forced a lot of turnovers, but the Broncos only have 14 takeaways in 12 games—right around the league average.
So... what’s going on here? Is the Broncos' defense good or not? Well, we could also look to another advanced statistic, EPA—expected points added.
The Denver #Broncos' DEFENSIVE Efficiency Metrics through Week 13 (excluding plays w/ win prob < 10 & > 90)— Nick Kendell (@NickKendellMHH) December 7, 2021
EPA/Play: 0.050 (23rd)
Success Rate: 44.9% (17th)
Dropback EPA: 0.096 (15th)
Dropback Success Rate: 45.4% (7th)
Rush EPA: -0.028 (25th)
Rush Success Rate: 44.2% (26th) pic.twitter.com/8ibMnTITqW
That seems to match the DVOA numbers, suggesting that their pass defense is about average, while their run defense is below average. So far, that sounds pretty good for the Lions.
So why the low scores against the Broncos' defense? Two reasons: average field position and red zone efficiency. Denver’s defensive drives typically start on the 25.1-yard line—second best in the league (the average is around the 28-yard line). The Broncos defense is also sixth best in points per red zone trip (4.42) and 10th in red zone touchdown percentage (54.2 percent).
Offensively, it’s a mixed bag. They run the ball fairly efficiently. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon have combined for 1,275 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, and 4.6 yards per carry. Teddy Bridgewater has had a very up-and-down season. Overall, though, his stats are just okay.
- 7.3 yards per attempt (15th)
- 16 passing TDs (t-14th)
- 7 INTs
- 95.0 passer rating (16th)
While the defense is great in the red zone, Denver’s offense is horrible. They average just 4.59 points per red zone trip (26th) and score touchdowns just 54.1 percent of the time (26th).
It’s also worth noting that the Broncos have the worst kick coverage unit in the NFL. Teams are averaging 35.7 yards per return and they’ve ceded one of the six kick return touchdowns in the NFL. That being said, they seem to know it’s a weakness, so they’ve been mostly forcing touchbacks. There have only been two kick returns against the Broncos in the past five weeks.
Key injuries: G Graham Glasgow (IR), OT Calvin Anderson, NB Bryce Callahan (IR), WR K.J. Hamler (IR), LB Josey Jewell (IR), LB Alexander Johnson (IR), LB Micah Kiser (IR), CB Michael Ojemudia (IR), RB Melvin Gordon (shoulder/hip)
The Broncos have suffered a ton of injuries on their defense, specifically at the linebacker level. And, of course, it doesn’t exactly help that Denver traded away Von Miller in November.
Biggest strength: Wide receivers
The Broncos don’t have a true elite part of their team, but the receiving corps is pretty darn good. Second-year Jerry Jeudy is starting to come along, while Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick round out a strong top three. If you throw in tight end Noah Fant, Bridgewater has plenty of receiving options on any given play.
Biggest weakness: Defensive front
The Broncos don’t have much of a pass rush (27th in pass rush win rate; 27th in PFF’s pass rush grade) and they aren’t much better at stopping the run. Part of the problem is all of the injuries at the second level, part of it is simply a lack of talent on the defensive front. That said, Shelby Harris could give the left side of the line some trouble. Otherwise, it’s a pretty decent matchup for the Lions’ offensive line, even if they’re on their third-string center with Evan Brown currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Vegas odds for Sunday: Broncos by 8