Denver Broncos 2021 Team Study

Part 26 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 25 here: Los Angeles Chargers. Part 27 now available: Kansas City Chiefs.


Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.78 -0.34 22nd

Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and orange) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
13th 21st 20th

After failing to entice Aaron Rodgers in the off-season, the Broncos opted for Teddy Bridgewater to lead their team, who has proven over the years to be a capable but unexciting NFL starter. He was a clear upgrade over Drew Lock, and helped the Broncos by delivering the 13th-best on-target percentage on his throws despite a respectable average depth of target of 8 yards. He made some nice throws in key moments to his talented receivers, but lacked consistency and suffered several in-game injuries.

The Broncos running backs performed at a very high level despite poor run-blocking. Javonte Williams led the league in broken tackles and watching him plow through defenders for extra yards was the highlight of watching Broncos games last year. Even Melvin Gordon did a good job creating yards. They finished with the 9th-most yards per carry despite gaining only the 19th-most yards before contact. Most of the damage was done after they got hit.

The offensive line deserves some blame for this disparity, but I also blame the play-calling. They were fairly predictable and ran a lot on early downs. They did not work to create open-space opportunities for skill players; even the check downs often went to players who were easily covered up. They lacked explosive plays in the passing game, which allowed defenders to crowd the line of scrimmage. It was much easier for the Broncos offense when they played a bad run defense, as shown in Chart A, which measures the Broncos' offensive Adj. Eff. in each game, ranking opponents by rush defense efficiency:

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent rush defense efficiency in EPA/play allowed on the season.
*EPA/play data from Football isn't played on spreadsheets.

Every time the Broncos put on an above-league average offensive performance (KC, DAL, DET, and NYG), it came against a team in the bottom half against the run. But this team was not only about the run. I also think Teddy Bridgewater played better than perception. The Broncos allowed the 2nd-most pressures of any NFL team, so Bridgewater was constantly under fire. Jerry Jeudy came out of college highly touted but has not really put it all together yet on the NFL field, and Courtland Sutton can make impressive catches but does not routinely create separation. It felt like, all year, this offense had the potential to be good. But it never reached that potential.

Broncos fans argue that this team was just one quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender. Before the season, when people believed Rodgers was going to Denver, Denver sports radio called the Broncos Super Bowl favorites. Now they got their wish – or close to it – by trading for Russell Wilson. Surely an elite quarterback will solve this offense's problems?

I’m not so sure. This is not a situation like the Rams, where Sean McVay had long established a successful scheme that made even Jared Goff look good for a while. With an elite defense and a successful scheme, the Rams traded for Stafford and he plugged right in and filled the role perfectly. The Bucs had a similar situation with Tom Brady. With an elite defense and an established, successful offensive scheme led by Bruce Arians that made a 5,000-yard passer out of Jameis Winston, the Bucs instantly became Super Bowl contenders.

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