The Denver Broncos entered week one with high expectations but unfortunately, left the weekend disappointed and with an 0-1 record after yet another one-score loss. This time against their hated division rival the Las Vegas Raiders who extended their winning streak to seven games against the Broncos.
Now, the Broncos enter week two of the season and will be hosting the 1-0 Washington Commanders and will be looking to get themselves into the win column. The Commanders defeated the Arizona Cardinals in week one and will be looking to move to an early 2-0 record with a win over the Broncos.
Here are the five storylines to watch during the Denver Broncos week two matchup vs. the Washington Commanders.
1: Will the offense score more than 16 points?
The Broncos offense looked better last week vs. the Raiders, but the results remained the same. They could only muster 16 points against a beatable Raiders defense and ended up losing yet another close one by the same score they lost to the Seattle Seahawks last season in week one. It was disappointing but at the same time, I feel better about this offense moving forward.
With all that said, the offense needs to start scoring more than 16 points consistently if they want to have success. Now, that is going to be easier said than done with this Broncos offense. Overall, they lack dynamic playmakers who can make big plays on offense, especially with Jerry Jeudy (who should be back this week) and Greg Dulcich down with injuries, but they need to do it.
If the offense is unable to put up 20+ points this week and the defense performs as they did in week one, the Broncos will be flirting with a 0-2 start, which would be incredibly disappointing.
2: Possible return of Jerry Jeudy
Last week, Jeudy was able to get in three limited practices after suffering a hamstring injury late in training camp, however, he was among the Broncos inactive players for week one. The initial timeline had Jeudy sidelined for multiple weeks and potentially had him as an injured reserve candidate, but he is ahead of schedule and could be back this week.
Head Coach Sean Payton even told reporters that Jeudy was “close” to returning last week and he had a workout before the game to see if he was ready to go. Now, with another limited practice under his belt, it appears that Jeudy is trending towards taking the field this Sunday.
“He was. I get it. Sometimes you guys—when I say ‘gameday,’ he was a [true] gameday decision. Hamstrings are tricky, though, with the idea of possibly getting set back two or three more weeks. He was close. We actually had a workout pre-game to go through it. We made our decision off of that.”
If the Broncos can get Jeudy back and he is near or at 100%, this would be huge for the Broncos offense. He is their most dynamic player on offense, he finished the 2022 season as the Broncos’ number-one receiver, and his return would open up more one-on-one chances for Courtland Sutton.
The Broncos need the potential return of Jerry Jeudy to open up the passing game and ideally have them score more than 16 or 17 points this Sunday. The Commanders have a good defense so it will not be easy, but hopefully, they can find success.
3: Will the pass rush show up?
One of the more disappointing aspects of week one for the Broncos was their lack of pass rush. We heard all summer about how good the Broncos pass rush looked but unfortunately, they did not show up in week one.
As this chart shows, the Broncos brought plenty of blitzes in week one but they’re near the bottom in pressure, which is not good. Sure, Jimmy G. and the Raiders offense gets the ball out quickly, but the Broncos pass rush needs to get home a lot better than this moving forward. If they’re having trouble scoring and now can’t rush the passer, it could be another long year for this team.
This weekend should be different for the Broncos pass rush. Commanders quarterback Sam Howell is inexperienced, holds on to the ball longer, and likes to play hero ball. So, the Broncos should have more time to get after the passer in this one and take advantage of his inexperience. With that said, the Broncos still need to pressure and hit the quarterback with these blitzes. If they’re sending a blitz and it is not getting home, then you’re in trouble.
So, this will be a big test for the Broncos pass rush. They have talent and are a good group of veterans and younger players so hopefully, they can figure things out this week. If they struggle once again, it will be time to hit the panic button on Vance Joseph’s defense.
4: Will Damarri Mathis have a bounce-back game?
There’s no beating around the bush here. Second-year corner Damarri Mathis was targeted by the Raiders and he struggled mightily throughout the game. While Patrick Surtain II was locking down his man, Mathis was giving up big play after big play to Raiders receiver Jakobi Myers. He finished the game with two touchdowns including the game-winning score late in the fourth quarter.
Now, this week, Mathis will be facing a Commanders offense that has Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel which is arguably a better unit than we saw last week with the Raiders. You know they watched the same tape that we all saw and will likely be targeting Mathis early and often in this one. Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy is also familiar with the Broncos’ defense, so it’ll be interesting to see how he decides to attack them.
I am cautiously optimistic that we see a bounce-back game for him because we saw him play well last year. He struggled in his first game, but after that, he was pretty good opposite of Surtain II, and played well the rest of the season. So, let us hope he can have a better game this week and rebound from a tough performance vs. the Raiders.
5: Wil Lutz needs to do better or it’s time to start looking elsewhere
At the cut-down period, Sean Payton acquired his former kicker with the Saints, veteran Wil Lutz. He was coming off a pretty miserable year but Payton clearly trusted him and likely thought he could help turn him around. Well, in week one at least, that did not happen.
Lutz missed his first extra-point attempt with the Broncos which stings since they eventually ended up losing by one point and later missed a 55-yard field goal. Now, the field goal miss doesn’t bother me much, but he was already on a short leash with this fan base and he totally botched his first impression with the team. He did have a chip shot field goal at the end of the game, but he ultimately left four points on the field which ended up costing the Broncos.
Lutz was not the lone reason the Broncos lost the game, but his misses really haunted the Broncos late in the game.
For Lutz moving forward, he needs to have a mistake-free game vs. the Commanders. He is already on the outs with the fans and if he has any costly misses in this game, there might be no coming back for him. Kicking is a mental game and if he doesn’t have it, he may struggle to find it this season, especially with the fans against him.