ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' 2-0 start has not come without a cost.
The Broncos lost Jerry Jeudy and Ronald Darby to short-term injured reserve in Week 1, and both Bradley Chubb and Josey Jewell exited the Broncos' win over the Jaguars with injuries. Graham Glasgow may be able to return as early as this week, but he too has missed time.
All told, the Broncos could be without as many as five starters for their Week 3 game against the Jets.
"Those are our brothers, those are our dogs and you know you hate to see the injuries happen really to anyone, especially your teammates," Shelby Harris said of the Broncos' recent losses of Chubb and Jewell.
After a 2020 season in which injuries crippled Denver's chances, though, the Broncos still feel prepared to compete with an improved set of reinforcements.
"I think our depth is much approved over where it's been," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Monday. "It could be reflected too in we didn't claim as many guys as we have in previous seasons after the last [roster] cutdown [deadline]. I feel good about our depth."
The Broncos' receiving corps filled in for Jeudy admirably, as Courtland Sutton posted a career-high nine catches for 159 yards, Tim Patrick added a touchdown and the tight ends combined for nine catches. At cornerback, rookie Pat Surtain II posted a "pretty damn good" first start and made a "hell of an interception," according to Fangio.
Malik Reed, who led the Broncos with eight sacks last year, stepped in for Chubb on Sunday, and second-year player Justin Strnad recorded five defensive tackles and a special teams stop in Jewell's stead.
"He came in and did a nice job," Fangio said. "I was pleased with the way he played. He was far from perfect. There's a lot of things he could do better, but moving forward now, now that he knows he may be the guy if Josey's out, he'll get more practice and be more mentally ready for it. Hopefully he'll play good."
Should Jewell miss extended time, as reports suggest, Strnad would likely slide into the starting lineup.
"I'm just really just prepared to help this team in any way possible, whether it be [in the] run game, coverage, anything," Strnad said Monday. "… We've got a good thing rolling right now. We're 2-0 and I'm really just here to do my job. Whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm here to do. I think I'm capable of doing all those things."
At guard, Netane Muti graded out as the Broncos' fourth-best offensive player, according to Pro Football Focus.
"He played good, I thought," Fangio said. "He was involved in one of the sacks there, but pleased with the way he played and if he needs to continue playing, he'll get better."
The Broncos' ability to slide players in at several positions and still earn a double-digit road win speaks volumes about the improved state of the roster.
"I would say the difference between this team and years past is that we do have the depth behind key players," Harris said. "Everyone from coaches to players feel confident with these guys stepping in. ... All the years past, whenever an injury would happen, it'd be like, like, 'Damn, what are we going to do?' But this year, I feel like with the young guys we have and the veteran presence and what we expect out of our players and how we hold our players to the highest standards, I think that's all going to come into play on Sunday when these guys get to play."
Through two weeks, Fangio has seen the Broncos' opponents work hard to slow their run game.
"These first two teams went to extreme measures to try to stop our run, which is one of the reasons we've been able to translate it into really good passing days these first two games," Fangio said Monday. "Maybe teams, in light of our passing success these first two weeks, will play the run a little more honest, and maybe that will get it going, too."
The Broncos' rushing offense has been proficient despite the Giants' and Jaguars' best efforts; Denver ranks fifth in rushing yards per game and 12th in rushing yards per play. Javonte Williams, the rookie second-round pick, played a big role against the Jaguars, as he averaged 4.9 yards across his 13 carries.
"I like watching him play and run the ball," Fangio said of Williams on Sunday. "There's a guy with calmness. He is as calm as Teddy [Bridgewater] is, but he's not the quarterback, so you don't notice it. He's playing a position that involves hitting and getting hit and breaking tackles, so it's not as evident. But this guy, for a rookie, is really calm and nothing's too big for him."
Their opponents' commitment to stopping the run, though, has also opened up the Broncos' passing attack. Teddy Bridgewater's 120.7 quarterback rating ranks fifth in the league through two weeks, and he's posted four touchdowns, no interceptions and nearly 600 yards while completing 77.1 percent of his passes.
COMMITMENT TO SPECIAL TEAMS
Jewell suffered his pectoral injury on a special teams play, but Fangio said the injury was not more difficult to accept because it didn't come during a defensive play.
"We've made a commitment to improve our special teams and we got a few guys that do that — that play in the special teams that are considered starters," Fangio said. "We're just looking to make our special teams better. When I was in San Francisco, NaVorro Bowman, who was All-Pro all three years and contending for Defensive Player of the Year, covered every single punt for three years in San Francisco."
The Broncos will continue to try to shore up their special teams unit. The team allowed a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and had a post-whistle penalty on an early punt.