Broncos quarterback Drew Lock had no reason to trust when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s plan began downloading onto his iPad last week.
Lock had thrown 10 interceptions in the past five games, and the attack was stuck in season-long funk. In addition, he had an injury to his chest.
“When I saw the game plan coming in, a little bit on Monday, a little bit on Tuesday, you thought, ‘Okay, here we go. We’re going to roll this week, ” said Lock.
Believe it or not, the Broncos’ onslaught got off to a good start, the kind of role expected when Melvin Gordon was signed to join Phillip Lindsay last season. A two-part running game. Recruit after contact. Chunk plays. Steady gains.
And a victory.
Led by a season-high 189 yards rush, the Broncos overcame Gordon’s goal-line fumble to record a 20-13 upset victory over soaring Miami when safety Justin Simmons intercepted quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass into the end zone with 1:03 left .
Gordon rushed 15 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Lindsay, limited to four carriers in last week’s loss in Las Vegas, had 16 tries for 82 yards.
“(Running it) was, of course, a big part of winning that game,” said coach Vic Fangio after the Broncos improved to 4-6 and won a best season 459 yards. “I’ve always said that a quarterback’s two best friends are a running race and a good defense, and for the most part, we got that done.”
The defense produced six sacks and five three-and-outs, sealing the game after Fitzpatrick, who replaced rookie Tua Tagovailoa with 10:44 to go, led the Dolphins from their 1-yard line to the red zone.
And Lindsay / Gordon – it only took until the 10th game to fully see the Broncos plan of a 1-1A running back tandem.
“If you play it properly and defend it well, the whole complexion of the game is different,” said Fangio.
Big time different. The Broncos didn’t have to chase the game so Shurmur could stick to his plan. Gordon / Lindsay had seven carries in the first quarter, five in the second, 11 in the third, and eight in the fourth.
Lindsay’s 20-yard carry led to the first scoring drive. Gordon had a 25-yard carry and a 20-yard touchdown. Lindsay had rushes from 18 and 20 yards in the second half. The Broncos finished with five explosive rushes (gain of at least 12 yards) – they only had 17 in the first nine games combined.
“(Teams) all do the same thing; it’s about execution, ”Lindsay said. ‘There is no science for it. Can you get five meters? Can you get the touchdown? Can you get a scoop? That’s all it is. We humans make things too complicated. It’s point A to point B. “
Lindsay’s theory is well-founded. Simplicity and an attempt to get from point A to point B was also plan A, but Fangio said Shurmur also used a “few” new run plays.
“We could stick with it too, and that’s twofold,” said Fangio. Part of the problem in the Atlanta game, we were too far behind. The Raiders game, we would run it and hand it out a lot and that will cut your chances. “
Said Lock: “Our run game exploded.”
The Broncos sent home the announced crowd of 5,351 with something to cheer on. There will be no fans in the remaining home games against New Orleans, Buffalo and Las Vegas. When Mile High’s stands are (hopefully) filled next year, the Broncos will look different, but how much?
What the win over Miami might show to CEO John Elway is that maybe, just maybe, staying on track after a crazy 2020 is the most prudent move. You know, show some patience. Beating the dolphins should serve as the correct barometer for Elway and Fangio.
Are the Broncos still flawed? Absolutely. They were minus 1 in sales differential. Lock’s interception led to Miami’s only touchdown, and Gordon’s goal-line fumble cost the Broncos a chance to get to the finish line.
“It’s something that I work on every week and something that I think about and something I try to be very careful about,” said Gordon, who lost four fumbles this year.
Gordon’s response when Simmons intercepted Fitzpatrick?
“I was so happy,” Gordon said with a laugh.
Are the Broncos turning a positive corner? Next week’s game against New Orleans will tell. Remember, the operation seemed to hum after the Broncos won at the Jets and New England to improve to 2-3 and certainly after they rallied to beat the Los Angeles Chargers to get to 3-4. Even the average teams find a way to stack two wins together. Miami (6-4) was the first team to beat the Broncos with a winning record this year.
Does Denver show that it can be all-round functional? Yes, and that should be the main piece of evidence for Elway. The offense controlled the scrimmage, the defense had six sacks and five three-and-out, and the maligned special teams did their part.
“It was a great team win,” said Fangio.
A great team wins at a great time, with the sound around the Broncos increasing in volume with every stinker. This was a team that was not competitive in Atlanta in the first half and in Las Vegas in the second half. Another great loss and the chatter would have increased. But if the Broncos find the elixir – running game, pass rush, and timely throws from Lock – at least they’ll be interesting on the track.
“It’s good that we can lean on the run game, let it develop, and let the linebackers go up so (Lock) can have open receivers,” Lindsay said. “(This) lets him know that he doesn’t have to deal with the world alone. We do this as a unit. “