'They can get pretty creative in what they do' John DeShazier
If you're only looking at Denver's record entering Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, you're not seeing the whole picture.
The Broncos are 4-6. Narrow losses to Tennessee (16-14), Pittsburgh (26-21) and Atlanta (34-27) say Denver could be in a more advantageous position if it had made a few more crucial plays, gotten a break or two, been able to avoid a few injuries.
But Denver is coming in off a 20-13 win over Miami, arguably its best of the season. Quarterback Drew Lock completed 18 of 30 passes for 270 yards, with an interception, and ran twice for 23 yards; running back Melvin Gordon ran for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries; running back Phillip Lindsay ran for 82 yards on 16 carries; and Denver's defense held Miami to 227 yards, with six sacks and an interception.
Saints Coach Sean Payton said Lock presents several challenges for the Saints, who have won seven straight and in the last three games, have allowed averages of 8.3 points, 36.3 rushing yards and 241 total yards, all fewest in the NFL.
"I think the very first (challenge) is a very good running game," Payton said. "And when they're able to get that going - and they did last week - then that quarterback becomes dangerous relative to the play action, the balance. And so, I think it starts with their running game, and they've got two really good backs in Lindsay and Gordon."
The Broncos rushed for 189 yards on 33 carries against Miami. Gordon (523 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 122 carries) and Lindsay (394 rushing yards and a touchdown on 73 carries) are the 1-2 punch. And Denver rushes for 114.8 yards per game, but averages almost 20 rushing yards per game more (124.6) at home than on the road (105).
The defense doesn't have perennial Pro Bowler Vonn Miller available - he's on the reserve/injured list - but it has play-makers in linebackers Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed (6.5 sacks each) and free safety Justin Simmons (four interceptions, tied for third-most in the league).
"I've known (Broncos coach) Vic (Fangio) a long time," Payton said. "He's going to play out of a base 34 front, and he's also going to play out of a nickel package, and some dime, on third downs. The challenges are, sometimes you'll see his nickel to your base and sometimes you'll see his 34 to your nickel.
"He's an outstanding defensive coach, he's got a great staff - a veteran staff - there. And they've played good defense this season. I think the identification as to front and coverage when they're in their base package, and then understanding what they're trying to do in their sub package."
New Orleans' offensive players are expecting a stern challenge from Denver.
"They get pretty creative in what they do, in how they try to stop run and stop pass," running back Alvin Kamara said. "They're pretty talented, so we've got to be pretty sound in what we're doing and the looks that we're trying to take advantage of, we've got to make sure we execute.
"We've got past our first install (in Wednesday's practice). There are some good things in there. I'm looking forward to seeing what we've got red zone, third down and things like that, to see how we can take advantage of some of these looks. They're creative. We're going to have to be strategic and be OK with having some of those shorter gains, just waiting for our opportunities to have those longer gains."
Fangio, a former Saints linebackers coach (1986-94) under Coach Jim Mora, said his team is wary of what New Orleans was able to accomplish with Taysom Hill making his second start at quarterback.
"He went out there and performed his duties as a quarterback (against Atlanta)," Fangio said. "He ran their offense.
"I don't think the Saints changed their offense at all because he was the quarterback, they still ran plays and concepts, formations and personnel groups that they ran with Drew Brees, but he has the added dimensions of the quarterback designed runs. So, I think he acquitted himself very, very well. He's a good quarterback."