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Week 15 scouting report: The Denver Broncos are red-hot

Winning six out of their last seven games, the Broncos are coming to Detroit eyeing a wildcard playoff appearance.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss against the Chicago Bears in Week 14, the Detroit Lions head home to play under the lights Saturday night against the Denver Broncos. Both teams are eyeing the playoffs with just one month left of the regular season. The Lions are still fighting the other teams in the NFC North for the divisional crown as they attempt to get one game closer to locking up the division and hosting a playoff game at Ford Field.

The Broncos, on the other hand, are similar to the Lions of last season. After starting the year 1-5, the Broncos have won six out of their previous seven games and suddenly have life in the AFC West and the AFC playoff picture. With Denver playing well at the right time, they are suddenly a dangerous team. Luckily, the Lions are at home, and with the game being in primetime, Ford Field will be very loud and packed with Lions fans to make life difficult for the Broncos.

Let’s dive into the Week 15 scouting report for the Detroit Lions as they take on the Denver Broncos.

2023 Denver Broncos

2023 season thus far (7-6)

Week 1: Loss against Las Vegas Raiders 17-16
Week 2: Loss against Washington Commanders 35-33
Week 3: Loss against Miami Dolphins 70-20
Week 4: Win against Chicago Bears 31-28
Week 5: Loss against New York Jets 31-21
Week 6: Loss against Kansas City Chiefs 19-8
Week 7: Win against Green Bay Packers 19-17
Week 8: Win against Kansas City Chiefs 24-9
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Win against Buffalo Bills 24-22
Week 11: Win against Minnesota Vikings 21-20
Week 12: Win against Cleveland Browns 29-12
Week 13: Loss against Houston Texans 22-17
Week 14: Win against Los Angeles Chargers 24-7

Stats:

  • 13th in points scored, 23rd in points allowed
  • 18th in DVOA
  • 15th in offensive DVOA (16th in pass DVOA, 10th in run DVOA)
  • 30th in defensive DVOA (20th pass DVOA, 31st in run DVOA)
  • 4th in special teams

The big question heading into this season was if Broncos head coach Sean Payton could fix quarterback Russell Wilson and the offense, as they were the worst team in points scored last season. The defense was average and didn’t need much change, but the roles have reversed under Payton. While it took a few weeks to start warming up, the offense has flipped their game around this year, while the defense has taken a step back. The offense isn’t explosive or putting up monster points, but jumping from dead last to the league’s top half in scoring is a significant step for them.

Wilson has improved from last season, which is a big reason why the offense has been better. He has already thrown for more touchdowns than last season, going from 16 to 23, and his interception numbers are down from 11 to eight. Another factor helping Wilson is the improvement from wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Sutton is the team’s leading receiver with 699 yards on 53 catches and a team-high 10 touchdowns compared to last season; Sutton had 829 yards on 64 catches and only two touchdowns.

On the other hand, the Broncos defense has taken a step back from last season. Last season, Denver finished 14th in points against with 21.1 per game; this year, they are 23rd with 23.8. A reason for that is players missing time, as safety Justin Simmons missed two games with an injury, and safety Kareem Jackson has been suspended twice this season for unnecessary roughness rules, knocking him out for a total of six games.

Despite the defense starting rough in the first six games, they have improved. They went from averaging 33.3 points allowed per game over the first six—with at least 17 points against in each game—to just 15.6 points allowed per game in the next seven. In two of those seven games, the Broncos held the opposing offense to less than 10 points, with one of them being the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. So, while the defense appears to be the weak spot on this roster, they aren’t something to overlook.

In-season moves:

  • Traded away defensive end Randy Gregory, released EDGE Frank Clark.

Injury Notes

Key players ruled out: LB Jonas Griffith (IR/ACL), WR Tim Patrick (IR/Achilles), DB K’Waun Williams (IR/ankle), S Kareem Jackson (suspension)

Key players to monitor: TE Greg Dulcich (IR/hamstring), LB Nik Bonitto (knee)

The Broncos are pretty healthy despite seeing six players on this list above. Jackson is serving a suspension, so he isn’t injured and will return soon. Dulcich could return from IR this season, as last month Payton said he could return. He will be something to watch, as Wilson has not had his favorite tight end for that long this season, as he has only played two games.

Bonitto left the Chargers game last week with a knee injury and was seen wearing a brace afterward. Being without the team’s leader in sacks (7.0) could be a big loss on the defense. The other players ruled out have been out all season long with injuries. In non-injury news, the Broncos also traded away defensive end Randy Gregory back in October, just two years in his five-year contract, so the Lions won’t have to deal with him on Saturday night.

Biggest strength: Outside Linebackers

I found that the outside linebackers were the best unit the Broncos had. Led by Bonitto, this unit is the primary way the Broncos can get to the quarterback. Out of the 34 sacks the team has gotten this year, half have been from players at the outside linebacker position. If Bonitto can’t play on Saturday, that will be a massive loss for the unit, so someone else will have to step up, which shouldn’t be a problem.

Opposite Bonitto is Jonathon Cooper, who has 60 tackles, 5.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries (returning one for a touchdown), two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and an interception. He has stepped up in his first season as a starter and has been a menace on the defensive side of the ball.

It’s not just Cooper; Zach Allen is another player to watch out for in this game. He has 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection. Another linebacker who doesn’t start but contributes often is Baron Browning, who has only 19 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass deflections, and three tackles for loss. The best part about all of these linebackers for Denver is they are all under 27 and still have room to grow and improve their game.

Biggest weakness: Run defense

Sticking to the defensive side of the football here, despite the outside linebackers being the team’s biggest strength, they and the rest of the defense struggle to stop the run. The Broncos allow the most rushing yards in the NFL and yards per carry with 5.1 yards per attempt. Going up against the Lions this week, who average 4.7 yards per carry, is bad news for Denver.

The Lions need to expose this weakness. They have only been held to under 100 yards twice this season. The Lions average 137.5 yards per game on the ground, while the Broncos allow 144 per game. So, an average day for the Lions will be bad for Denver. If the Lions can have a good day on the ground, this unit could see another 200-yard performance.

Key matchup: Lions offense vs Broncos defense

The main thing the Lions will need to do in this game is score points. This isn’t a game where 14 points will be enough; the Lions need to score plenty, and going up against a defense that has started to turn things around is a tough ask. If the Broncos are down their best pass rusher in Bonitto, it’ll help the Lions offensive line, who could be missing left tackle Taylor Decker and center Frank Ragnow.

While the Lions defense has been struggling lately, I have confidence in them in this matchup. If the defense can do its job, the offense needs to do theirs.

Despite the scores of the previous four games, the offense has been the group not pulling its weight in the end. Against the Bears at home, the Lions had four turnovers that turned into 10 points for the Bears. Eliminate that, and the Lions might not need to have a fourth-quarter comeback. Next, against Green Bay, once again, the offense turned the ball over three times, and the Packers scored seven points because of it. In the victory against New Orleans, Detroit’s offense came out red hot with 21 points in seven minutes, and while the defense allowed the Saints to score and get back in the game, the offense suddenly fizzled out and could only muster up 12 more points in the remaining 53 minutes.

In the game just last week, the offense couldn’t get things working on the Bears and had their worst performance of the season. Yes, worse than the Ravens game, if you can believe it. The Lions had three turnovers on offense and only had 267 total yards—the first time they were held under 300 this season. If the Lions offense can’t protect the football and move the chains, the Broncos have a shot at escaping Detroit with a victory.

Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 5.5

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