The win streak keeps rolling, the Denver Broncos are back at “.500” and in the thick of it in the AFC playoff picture for the first time in a long time.
It wasn’t always pretty on Sunday night in primetime but despite all the Joshua Dobbs love from the broadcast team on NBC, Sean Payton and his team got it done late at home to move to 5-5, and here is what I took away from the game.
Four wins in a row
Winning is infectious and it has spread amongst the Broncos’ ranks quickly since they beat the Green Bay Packers five weeks ago.
After big-time victories over the cream of the crop in the AFC in the last couple of seasons, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos came out on top against the red-hot Vikings to move to a four-game win streak (the longest active streak in the NFL).
The positive signs began long before this run but finally, Payton and his coaching staff have managed to piece together a winning formula, the Broncos have got momentum and no one wants to play this team right now.
Defence with more turnovers
During the ongoing win streak, the defence has totalled 13 takeaways, and despite taking three in this game they will be annoyed with themselves that they hadn’t snagged more.
The secondary was electric and besides their potential turnovers, they also hustled and battled on every down making it tough for Dobbs and his receiving corps.
In particular, Justin Simmons shone and broke up two key passes on the Vikings’ final drive of the game to seal a win for the Broncos.
Nonetheless, the change at cornerback with Ja’quan McMillian coming in for Essang Bassey has completely changed this defence’s outlook and as long as the undrafted rookie can maintain his form (a team-tied most takeaways) then the Broncos will always be in the mix, down the stretch.
Playmakers coming up big in key moments
When you look at the Broncos’ roster they don’t have many names that you would regard as league-wide stars, besides perhaps Russell Wilson and Patrick Surtain II.
However, any fan of the Broncos will tell you there is still underappreciated talent on the roster, whether it’s one of the best (if not the best) safeties in the league, Justin Simmons, or one of the league’s most promising running backs, Javonte Williams, the Broncos have talent.
The biggest breakout in this winning run however, has been Courtland Sutton, who made a name for himself in 2019 when he got selected for the Pro Bowl, before injuring his ACL in 2020.
Sutton’s eight touchdown catches this season see him behind only MVP candidate, Tyreek Hill (nine TDs), in the league charts for caught touchdowns at wide receiver this season.
Sutton has a receiving touchdown in the last five consecutive games and has become one of Russell Wilson’s favourite red zone targets, when the Broncos need him he comes up clutch in key moments, like catching the game-winner on Sunday night.
Run defence has to improve
Despite the feel-good factor in Denver, it can’t all be rosy and there are still big hurdles that the Broncos need to overcome if they’re to be taken seriously in the AFC in the long term.
That starts with defending the run, something the Broncos have struggled to do all season, and still plagues them despite the winning run.
One of the key factors to the 70 points that the Broncos gave up earlier in the season against the Dolphins was their poor defence of the run, giving up 350 rushing yards, it’s still an issue, eight weeks on, and the Broncos still get beaten up in the run game.
On Sunday, Ty Chandler looked like a young Austin Ekeler and Alexander Mattison looked like prime Dalvin Cook.
If the Broncos are going to compete with some of the better teams in the league consistently they have to get better at defending the run.
Need to be more ruthless offensively
I spoke about it last week, and it proved to be a noticeable problem on Sunday night as well, the Broncos are not ruthless enough off of turnovers.
This week the Broncos scored nine points off of the Vikings’ turnovers but it could have and should have been more.
Will Lutz scored 15 of the Broncos’ 21 points with his boot and the offence couldn’t capitalise off of the short field the defence had handed them.
As with last week, this should have been a much more comprehensive victory and the offence needs to be ruthless if this team is to compete with the best of the best.
Week 12 preview
The Broncos face another stern test at home on Sunday as they welcome the Cleveland Browns (7-3) to Empower Field at Mile High, looking to extend their winning streak.
The Browns have been one of the better teams in the AFC of late after an inconsistent start to the season but their star quarterback Deshaun Watson was ruled out for the season a week ago, meaning rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be under centre.
The Browns’ strength lies on the defensive side of the ball however, and they will prove to be the hardest test the Broncos have faced all season.
The Browns have a top-five defence in the league and they have playmakers at every level of the defence.
Myles Garrett is a potential MVP candidate, Sione Takitaki and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are excellent linebackers and Denzel Ward across from Greg Newsome II is one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
Russell Wilson and the offence will have to be efficient and clinical whenever they get on the field, but the game feels like it will be won or lost on the defensive side of the ball for the Broncos.
The Browns will be relying on their running attack of Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford (after Nick Chubb got injured early in the season), and we spoke earlier about the Broncos’ plight against the run.
If they can force Thompson-Robinson to try and beat them then the Broncos may just have a chance of getting a tiebreaker in the playoff race and toppling another AFC pillar in 2023.