Three Thoughts on Thursday Night – Week Seven

We’ve been lucky this year as the oft-maligned TNF series has actually brought us a few exciting and exhilarating mid-week matchups so far in 2018. In Week Seven though, it was back to its old ways, as a game with a measly one-point spread (which no doubt the Broncos took as disrespect) had a halftime score of 35-3 and ended in a 45-10 rout of Arizona by Denver in the desert. Here are three thoughts on the contest…

1 – I think the Broncos are a lot better than most people think. Four of their seven games have been decided by four points or less, including a four-point loss against the Chiefs that Denver easily could have won, as well as a a three-point loss to the last undefeated team just five days ago. The disrespect for the Broncos was apparent when they were favoured by just one point against a brutal Arizona team, but they proved detractors wrong in a five-takeaway, 45-10 win over the Cardinals on TNF. Yes, Case Keenum has been wildly underwhelming, but the Broncos haven’t had solid QB play since Peyton Manning in 2014 and they’ve still been able to compile a 29-26 mark over the past 3+ seasons (including a Super Bowl win).

This defence is nowhere near as dominant as that 2015 unit, but the 2018 edition is no slouch either. Sure, Todd Gurley gashed them for 200+ yards last week and the Broncos have a suspect run defence in general, but the rest of the team is solid. Denver’s D is the ninth-best unit against the pass (229.9 per game) and in terms of takeaways (11). They’ve also been a nightmare for opposing o-lines, with top five rookie Bradley Chubb (5.5 sacks, 4th in the league) and perennial All-Pro Von Miller (league-leading 7.5 sacks) leading a pass rush that has amassed 22 sacks this season (t-2nd in the league). Keenum’s offensive line has allowed him to be sacked 17 times, but it’s the QB himself who needs to improve. He’s in a great situation with an uber-talented receiving corps and a surprisingly potent top 10 thunder and lightning running game. With four divisional games—when all bets are off because of team familiarity—and two others against the Browns and Niners, I like the Broncos as a dark horse to steal that sixth and final playoff spot in the weak AFC this season.

2 -Though he was generally thought to be the most NFL-ready of the brood—not to mention Josh Allen’s social media blunders and Baker Mayfield’s crotch-grabbing antics—Josh Rosen was the fourth QB picked in the 2018 NFL Draft—and that clearly rubbed him the wrong way. After the draft, Stephen A. Smith went on ESPN’s First Take and called Josh Rosen ‘idiotic’ for the comments he made in the interview he did after he was drafted 10th overall by the Cardinals, during which he said,

“There were nine mistakes made ahead of me, and I’m going to make sure they all know it was a mistake.”

Usually Stephen A. is just blabbing for clicks (here’s his rant about Kwame Brown and his attempt at being a thesaurus while roasting Kristaps Porzingis, they’re both hilarious), but he was correct here : I think Josh Rosen is proving himself wrong with every game he plays. Without even getting into the non-QB players he dissed—four of which look like Pro Bowl caliber players already—Rosen has definitely been the least impressive rookie QB so far. The Jets, Browns and Bills all have similarly terrible supporting casts and none of them have a sage presence like Larry Legend on their side, yet Rosen has struggled considerably more than his rookie contemporaries. He’s clearly played worse than Sam Darnold (no. 4 overall pick) and Baker Mayfield (no. 1), and while his passing numbers are slightly better than Buffalo’s Josh Allen (no. 7), Rosen has not been making dynamic, highlight reel plays with his legs like Allen has. The guy’s even gotten his OC fired, which rarely happens midseason. No doubt the Cardinals need help for the former Bruin, but through seven weeks, it’s Rosen who looks like the mistake.

3 – While Rosen has barely been an improvement over one of the worst QBs in recent memory, Sam Bradford, the kid’s main offensive weapon, the $39 million man David Johnson, has been nearly just as disappointing. It’s a hot take, but I think David Johnson will prove to be a one-hit wonder. That’s not to say he won’t have another 1,000 yard season somewhere down the line or even this year, but he won’t have another hit like he did in 2016. He won’t be an All-Pro again and in the end he won’t be worth his price tag either. In 2016 Johnson burst onto the scene with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 trips to pay dirt in his first full year starting. The kid put up a Barry Sanders record-breaking 15 straight games with 100+ scrimmage yards, a level of consistency which made him a fantasy superstar. Unfortunately he would dislocate his wrist in his first game of 2017 following his 373-touch 2016 campaign. Following a year on injured reserve, Johnson was signed to a hefty three-year $39 million contract because of the consistency and talent he showed in 2016.

Damn, they got David Johnson making $2.8 million per broken tackle and they’re paying this to the worst QB of all-time? Worst front office in sports?

Unfortunately, Johnson has not been able to convert on that potential, managing just 501 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns on 3.2 yards per tote through seven games in 2018. While it would be easy to blame game script and the rest of his offence for his slide in production, that wouldn’t be completely accurate. Johnson may not have a lot of help, but he hasn’t helped himself either : he’s broken only 14 tackles so far this year, a very meager 12.8% broken tackle rate, good for 16th of the 22 players with at least 80 touches so far this season. Among running backs in 2018, Johnson ranks 30th in terms of value per play and 31st in total player value. The offensive line isn’t great at protecting their rookie QB, but all five starters are rated as at least ‘average’ or ‘above average’ in run blocking this season by Pro Football Focus. Johnson’s struggles in the run game are his fault more than anyone’s. The team as a whole has been playing from behind a lot, and yet Johnson has only 17 grabs despite playing with an antsy rookie who is more susceptible to checking the ball down. Johnson is in a tough situation, but I don’t believe he’ll ever be what he was in 2016 again.