The beginning of a new NFL season, with your New York Giants preparing to face the Denver Broncos on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, means it is time for the return of an old staple around here. It’s ‘5 questions’ time. Answering my questions about the Broncos is Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann, one of the editors of SB Nation’s Broncos website, Mile High Report.
Ed: Much like the Giants, the last couple of years have been a struggle for the Broncos. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about things turning around in 2021? Why?
Laurie: Wellllll, can I just be “istic?” If you had asked if I were optimistic about the Broncos having the potential for a winning season, I would say absolutely yes. The defense is stacked with star power, brute strength and speed, so there is no reason it cannot be every bit the menace Denver showcased in 2015. And the offense has so many high-caliber weapons, not to mention a much-improved offensive line, that there should be no reason it can’t be an efficient scoring machine. The problem is that the one question mark is with the most important position in football for predicting how good a team will be - the quarterback. And right now the Broncos’ starting quarterback is a bit of an unknown. Sure Teddy Bridgewater is a veteran, but his career has been … inconsistent. Is the 2020 Teddy Bridgewater from Carolina going to be leading the team or is the Teddy Bridgewater who gave the Saints five wins while Drew Brees healed on the sidelines and got the Vikings to the playoffs early in his career going to be the QB? Preseason gave us hints of both, so Week 1 against the Giants will be the first real look at what Bridgewater and the Broncos offense can be in 2021. So I’m not pessimistic because there’s a lot to look forward to, but that brings me to the part of the question that makes me pause - turning things around. Doing that implies continued improvement in the coming years, and given the path Denver has chosen for the quarterback in 2021 makes me hesitant to predict that a good season this year means things have turned around. But I do have hope that this season ends with more wins than losses. That was a ridiculously long answer. I probably should have just stuck with “istic.”
Ed: Is Teddy Bridgewater a placeholder for Aaron Rodgers or another dive into the college quarterback swimming pool by the Broncos, or is there a belief he can be the guy for the next few seasons?
Laurie: Since the Broncos went with a “veteran hedge” as the starting QB, the young gunslinging Drew Lock who was expected/hoped to be the future now has a very uncertain path in Denver. And it means Denver also has a very uncertain path toward a franchise QB. What happens next year (and beyond) depends a lot on how well Bridgewater plays this year, but unless he’s lights out and leads the Broncos deep into the playoffs, earning him a few more seasons in Denver, it just doesn’t seem like he’s anything but a placeholder.
As for getting Aaron Rodgers - having No. 12 in Denver will always be tantalizing. And maybe this time it will actually come to fruition, in which case, Broncos Country would likely be fully on board. But after his antics this past spring, I think Broncos fans will be a lot less invested in the idea until a deal is signed.
So that leaves our QB options at needing to draft a true franchise quarterback. The problem with that one is that if Bridgewater does what Broncos fans want him to do - win games - then Denver won’t be in a top five, top 10 spot in the Draft, making it infinitely harder to land a top college QB. It’s very possible, Vic Fangio and George Paton will come to regret skipping over Justin Fields in the Draft and delaying for several more years the chance to get and develop a young guy to become the future.
Ed: What is the feeling about the job former Giants coach Pat Shurmur is doing as Denver’s offensive coordinator?
Laurie: It’s a mixed bag. Many believe that getting rid of Rich Scangarello and bringing in Pat Shurmur was the beginning of the end for Drew Lock and therefore the end of Denver’s chance at offensive greatness. But while Shurmur’s scheme has seemed more rigid than Scangarello’s, he was hampered in his first year by having to install a new offense during the COVID year of no OTAs, no regular training camp, no preseason, etc. He also had to work with four different starting quarterbacks over the season due to injuries and COVID protocols (and one of those was a practice squad wide receiver)! So I think many fans are giving Shurmur the tiniest bit of slack to start off this season, but this season will be the final word on whether he’s any good for the Broncos.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster and put him in Denver’s lineup, who would it be? Why?
Laurie: Saquon Barkley. Just because.
No, seriously, Barkley is a generational running back who can do wonders for an offense, especially one with a quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater who isn’t going to win any power competitions but who can methodically move the chains. An elusive and speedy back like Barkley takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback. Watching an opposing defense have to choose between covering Jerry Jeudy or being ready to stuff Saquon Barkley - and undoubtedly watching them get burned by the choice they didn’t make - would be highly entertaining.
Ed: Denver wins on Sunday if what happens? The Giants win on Sunday if what happens?
Laurie: Broncos win if Von Miller and Bradley Chubb make Daniel Jones cry, Saquon Barkley doesn’t play the whole game, and the Broncos offense doesn’t turn over the ball.
Giants win if the Broncos’ defense gets COVID and has to quarantine.
Kidding! I’m old enough to remember 2017 when the Giants came to Denver without six players, including their top three wide receivers ... and still beat the Broncos. IN DENVER!?!?!? I never think a win is inevitable or a loss is impossible ... especially with the Broncos, who have been giving me heart attacks since 1977.
Thanks to Laurie for her answers. Be sure to head over to MHR to get Broncos news and the Denver perspective on Sunday’s game.