As we approach the start of the 2021 regular season, it's time for a new batch of questions from Broncos Country.
Understandably, a fair number of the questions had to do with the result of the quarterback competition and how Teddy Bridgewater earned the job. We'll also touch on whether Bradley Chubb or Jerry Jeudy has more to prove this year, how some young players could be involved on defense, how Denver can earn a Week 1 win and plenty more.
In a week, we'll finally be able to break down a regular-season game. But for now, we'll predict and prognosticate for just a few more days. And as we start this edition of "Ask Aric," we'll do so with an eye on two of the Broncos' best players.
To submit a question for a future mailbag, click here or tweet at me at @AricDiLalla.
Who has more to prove in 2021, Jeudy or Chubb? - Caleb S.
Caleb, I think it has to be Bradley Chubb. Jerry Jeudy struggled with drops last season, but he's still a young player. He's only entering his second season and has three years — plus a fifth-year team option — left on his rookie contract. Chubb, meanwhile, is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal and has stated his desire to be recognized alongside the league's top pass-rushers. When healthy, he's been able to do that. His 12 sacks in 2018 were a franchise rookie record, and he made his first Pro Bowl in 2020. Chubb, though, needs to rack up sacks to reach his potential as the 2018 fifth-overall pick. If he's out there at 100 percent, I have no doubt that he is talented enough to lead the NFL in sacks. This year, with a healthy Von Miller on the opposite side of the Broncos' defense, Chubb has everything set up from him to make a leap. Now he's just got to go do it.
Do they really believe Bridgewater was better than Lock? It feels like Fangio wanted to play it safe to keep a job or maybe Paton had a hand in making Bridgewater the starter. - Anthony F.
Yes. Head Coach Vic Fangio and General Manager George Paton have both made it clear that Teddy Bridgewater gives the Broncos the best chance to win. I'm not sure the logic of the question completely adds up here, either. If Fangio wanted to win games to keep his job, why would he choose play a quarterback that was worse? That would be self-sabotaging and doesn't make a lot of sense. Side note: I'm confused about when it became a bad thing to want to win football games.
If Lock proved that he was the better option and gave the team the best chance to win, he would certainly be the one lining up under center in Week 1. Based on what the Broncos' brass saw, that's not the case.
It's not what I saw, either. While Lock flashed at times during training camp and the preseason, Bridgewater was undoubtedly more consistent. He led a smoother operation of the offense, pushed the ball down the field more consistently in practice and had a higher completion rate. And it is important to note that the battle wasn't entirely about the preseason games. In the Broncos' "Behind the Broncos: Training Camp" episode, Fangio noted that the practices against the Vikings were "may have been more important and telling than even the game was." In those practices, Bridgewater played well in the first-team vs. first-team reps.
The competition was close — Lock played well enough to prevent Bridgewater from running away with it. But there's no doubt in my mind that Bridgewater held the edge for the large majority of training camp. He earned this job.
Which brings me to one final point: Another common question I got this week was some variation of "How short is Teddy Bridgewater's leash? Would the team turn to Lock at 0-2?" I don't know the answer to that question, and I don't expect the Broncos to start out in that manner. I will say this: I really hope no Broncos fans are rooting for that outcome. If Lock is mature enough to handle the decision with class and understanding, I hope everyone else is too.
Question from a German Bronco: Do you think we will mainly see run first to be able to do a ton of PA? Or do we allow Teddy to showcase his pocket presence more often? In the preseason we saw that Drew and the O were at their best with PA, but how will it be with Teddy? - Sebastian
Sebastian, this is a good question, and I'm not sure we'll have the answer until a few weeks into the season. Here's what we do know: In 2020, Lock threw off of play-action on 20.8 percent of his attempts, according to Pro Football Reference. Last season in Carolina, Bridgewater threw off play-action on just 18.3 percent of his attempts, though it is worth noting he threw another 20 times on run-pass option plays. His play-action attempts did tick up for Denver during the preseason, as Bridgewater threw off play-action on 26.7 percent of his passes. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 74 yards on play-action attempts, and on other passing attempts, he was 15-of-22 for 167 yards and three touchdowns. His yards per completion were slightly lower off play-action, but his completion percentage was higher; the only incompletion came on a Javonte Williams drop against the Seahawks. I'd caution to take too much from the preseason when the Broncos aren't game-planning, but your note about Denver's running game is well taken. With Bridgewater under center, Denver was committed to running the football. That should open up the play-action game.
With so many young defensive [players] with potential, how will they involve the likes of [Justin] Strnad, Jonathon Cooper, DeShawn Williams, Caden Sterns, Andre Mintze, Baron Browning? Mostly to [sub-]packages? Or special teams? - Albert N.
Albert, you've mentioned a fair number of players here, and I think the fact that there's so many guys on this list speaks to Denver's increased depth. I'd expect Strnad and Williams to receive the most defensive snaps of the players you mentioned, as Strnad got a lot of work when Josey Jewell missed time during training camp and Williams has consistently been a rotational piece. Cooper could also be a rotational piece when either Bradley Chubb or Von Miller need a play or two off. Browning could eventually carve out a role, but he's still working up to speed as he returns from injury. As for special teams, I would expect all of the above players to contribute in some fashion.
What do you [think] the Broncos need to do in order to win against the Giants in Week 1? - @LordGufano
Denver's best players have to show up. The Broncos start their schedule against a pair of teams that struggled last year in the Giants and Jaguars, but going to the east coast is never easy. I could give you the normal buzz words — win the turnover battle, build an early lead, play penalty-free football — but I think part of winning the season opener is mental. The Broncos have had an exciting offseason and there's some buzz around the team. When they go to New York (er, New Jersey), the Broncos' stars have to set the tone. Miller and Chubb have to be a force off the edge; Justin Simmons needs to make a big play on the back-end; Courtland Sutton and Jeudy need to prove why they're top wide receivers. Of course the more cliche answers are true, but if Denver's best players show up, those things should take care of themselves.
From a matchup perspective, Chubb may be in line for a big day. According to reports, Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas has struggled during training camp and the preseason.
How big of a role do you think [Javonte] Williams will play in the run game? - Shawn
A significant one. Williams carried the ball 12 times for 49 yards in the preseason and averaged 5.8 yards per carry in his appearance against the Vikings. He's clearly tough to bring down, and he's going to run through arm tackles from opposing defensive backs. Especially if he gets to the edge of the defense, he won't be easy to bring down. His impact in the run game is just part of his impact, though. He also appeared more than competent in pass protection and showed in training camp that he's an option out of the backfield. The Broncos likely would not have traded up in the second round for Williams if they didn't expect him to play a major role, and it seems like he's ready for that.
If you had to pick one thing that would stop this team from making the playoffs, what would that be? - Anthony B.
Turnover margin. No question. It doesn't matter how talented you are — if you're losing the turnover battle, you're going to lose games. A year ago, the Broncos ranked last in the league by a wide margin in that category. They've got to be better on both sides of the ball in 2021. Denver cannot turn the ball over at the rate it did in 2020, and the team's defense must also find a way to make more game-changing plays. In 2020, 11 of the top 12 teams in turnover margin made the postseason. Only three teams without a positive turnover margin found their way into the postseason. If Denver can find itself on the positive side of the ledger, the Broncos will almost surely be talented enough to put themselves in the playoff conversation. And with a veteran quarterback and talented defense, there's no reason to believe they shouldn't flip the narrative in 2021.