Editor’s note: We welcome in Denver Broncos writer Casey Barrett of Mile High Report for “Five questions with the enemy,” leading into the Kansas City Chiefs’ matchup with the Broncos Monday night.
1. TE Jake Butt tore his ACL this week. What’s the immediate impact this has on the Chiefs-Broncos game Monday night?
Barrett: Losing any first or second-string player hurts. However, over the last five or six seasons, I felt as though the tight end position has been extremely underutilized in Denver. Butt has eight catches for 85 yards on the season, compared to Travis Kelce with 16 catches for 229 yards and two TDs. That being said, it seemed as though Butt was still finding his way within this offense (as every tight end has done in Denver for what feels like forever). It’s no secret that the Broncos want their tight ends to block. Although seeing what production comes from the bigger-name tight ends around the league, it is a cause for concern that Denver hasn’t had great offensive tight end production since Julius Thomas (who wasn’t very good at blocking). The tight end position for Denver is one of their weakest links, and with the need for a blocker being greater than a pass weapon, I don’t see the offense looking much different with another tight end replacing Butt.
2. Explain the dynamic between running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman? How did Devontae Booker end up out of this mix?
Barrett: This is a topic that MHR staff and many Bronco fans are very passionate about. The running game. I’m not sure anyone, including the Broncos, thought they would be where we are with the backfield. Having two backs that contrast each other is huge in today’s league. This is not comparing the skill level or the legacy, but it has that Tomlinson-Sproles style to it, in my opinion. You’ve got Royce Freeman, who has power, and a strong cut upfield, and Phillip Lindsay, whose quickness and agility are great in making guys miss. Great question about Devontae Booker, and there has been some very strong feelings about what should be done with Booker. My opinion is that the guy has never been given a real, full-blown chance to be a primary back. It’s tough to be a veteran in the backfield when the rookies are getting all the attention. Similar to when we picked up Booker, a lot of fans wanted to see C.J. Anderson sit more, allowing more reps for Booker. I felt like with all the running backs that were in camp, the Broncos counted on someone getting hurt and fortunately, no one did. However, it left some serious decisions to be made coming out of preseason. Booker needs to make himself a playmaker whenever he gets in the game.
3. Starting left tackle Garrett Bolles has seemed like a polarizing figure in Denver lately. What’s going on with him and why is he someone to watch Monday?
Barrett: He’s had a tough go of it so far. Last week was by far one of his worst performances of his young career. It was good to see that he recognized how bad it was saying, “I didn’t play good. I made mistakes that hurt my team. I take responsibility for everything I did out there today. I look at myself and it was unacceptable. I apologize to my teammates. But I tell you one thing we continue to fight.” As for what’s going on with him, in particular, I think whatever was up with him, was up with most of the team last Sunday. They looked prepared but not ready to play football. With any struggle, for any position, we always look to see how they come back. Bolles will have a huge chance a redemption, but it won’t come easy, with Justin Houston lining up across from him. It should be a good battle all game long.
4. How would you evaluate Von Miller and the Denver defense to this point of the season? Have there been any interesting quotes with Patrick Mahomes looming?
Barrett: My thoughts on the defense are “frustrated,” “confused,” and “ugh.” It’s hard to watch a defense that is used to dictating its opponents moves settle into reacting to the opponent’s offense. Von Miller is still Von Miller, who, while extremely talented, has become much more intelligent as to when and where he makes his moves. He’s become a bigger reader of plays developing. The No Fly Zone has had a lot of airspace taken from them. Again, it seemed as though we were watching them react to what the Baltimore Ravens were doing rather than setting them up and confusing them. They need to get their swagger back. The task at hand, as far as talent goes, if by far the most difficult they have faced this season. While Patrick Mahomes has been a huge focus, and rightfully so, I think Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said it best: “It’s not just Patrick Mahomes; it’s their whole entire offense. [Chiefs head coach] Andy Reid, he’s one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. What they do, they’ve implemented a huge college system of RPOs and a whole bunch of spread looks. They’ve got [WR] Tyreek Hill running around jet motions almost every play. It’s their whole team and they do a lot of stuff, so we’ve got to be ready for everything.” He’s right; Mahomes and his teammates are making each other better football players right now.
5. A topic in Kansas City has been the role reversal of the Chiefs and Broncos in the AFC West the past few years. In the eyes of a Broncos writer, how did things unravel and change so quickly?
Barrett: It kind of feels like it all began around 2013-2014. The Chiefs hired Andy Reid, Peyton Manning broke offensive records and led the team to a dismal and forgettable Super Bowl. Manning’s athletic ability began to dwindle, all the while Andy Reid was building his team. From a fan perspective, we lost a legend. When Manning retired, the search for the replacement began. Broncos fans experienced something very similar when John Elway retired. It was great that they both went out on top, but it felt like that moment in Disney’s Finding Nemo (I’m a dad, what can I say?), when the aquarium fish escaped the dentist office and made it to the sea. They were cheering and celebrating, and then the moment came... “Now what?” Replacing someone like that is impossible no matter how hard GMs may think it is. It’s a process to find or develop talent AND leadership (unless you are amazing with FAs, but there aren’t enough ‘elite’ QBs for free-agent craziness in recent years) Unfortunately for Denver, the process hasn’t been very successful. Case Keenum has definitely changed the emotions of the offense, but time is not on the Broncos side. While it’s great that Elway wants to win Super Bowls now, it puts a stigma on expectations, where it’s very easy to become frustrated and occasionally (or all the time) knee-jerk on decisions (especially in the local media). New QB leadership, new coaching staff (I’ve been with MHR for six seasons and I’ve been through three head coaches). I want to say that no one within the organization has had a chance to create or define this 2018 team’s identity. We went and got some pieces, but it didn’t seem like anyone (including media) knew what it meant for the Broncos as a team and organization.
Bias Bonus: a game prediction
After watching the upsets with Detroit and Pittsburgh, I can say with shaky confidence that the Broncos win 35-31.