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How concerned should the Broncos be about Vance Joseph’s defense?

Denver Post Broncos writer Parker Gabriel periodically posts his Broncos mailbag during the offseason. Click here to submit a question.

Hello Parker, I have three observations and three questions.

1. Denver doesn’t run the ball enough with Javonte Williams and Perine, only 34 carries in 2 games. I realize they want to bring Javonte in slowly, but shouldn’t they lean more on Perine and Jaleel McLaughlin?

2. The Defense looks terrible and I know the fact that it is led by Vance Joseph is killing Broncos fans. Is Joseph overwhelmed and exposed? Or is he doing his best under the circumstances?

3. The only positive was Marvin Mims! Will his emergence with the return of Jerry Jeudy open things up for the offense?


—Brandon Brown, Rogers, Minn.

Hey Brandon, thanks for getting us started this week and, yes, you covered some ground.

Let’s do this fast typing style.

1. I have to say I’m surprised at how fast the Broncos run the ball. Namely the fact that Williams and Perine combined for just 14 wins Sunday against Washington. Now, Denver saw its lead quickly evaporate. They went from total control to trailing without many offensive snaps in between. But even still, I think you’ll see the Broncos try to lean a little more on the running game going forward. Or, at least, one would think so given how all parties involved, including Sean Payton, talked about it during the offseason.

2. Over his head is too much – Joseph’s coordinated defenses in the NFL over the last seven years – but it’s not a good start. On Monday, linebacker Alex Singleton really downplayed Denver’s issues in tackling and communication, saying it was just part of being on the same page. Maybe we’ll look at it later in the year and come to the same conclusion. But for now, it’s fair to have some concern about how Joseph’s group performed. Especially with Miami’s explosive offense on deck.

3. Indeed, Mims had a big match. Amazingly, he is the first Bronco since the AFL/NFL merger to have two 50+ catches in the same game. And he added the 45-yard punt return to boot. Don’t think this is a slight on Courtland Sutton at all — he’s going to play a big role in the offense — but Mims, Jeudy and Brandon Johnson have different body types and skill sets, but they can all really run. They have the makings of a pretty good reception group, although it won’t do any good if they don’t pick up other things quickly.

Why don’t the Broncos trade DangeRuss to the Jets for Aaron Rodgers? We would win that many games this year and have a real QB next year.

—Tim Monroe, Kingston, Idaho

Hi Tim, thanks for the question and the laugh. It won’t happen for a few different reasons, but it’s fun to think about the extent to which it would melt the NFL news cycle.

The simplest reason why this trade is impossible is that it would blow both teams’ salary caps. Remember, you can’t just trade a guy and terminate his entire contract. According to OvertheCap, trading Wilson would leave $82 million on Denver’s cap and trading Rodgers would leave $70 million dead on the Jets’ cap.

On top of that, no one is taking on Wilson’s contract. He’s signed through 2028. Remember, the five-year extension he signed with Denver doesn’t technically start until next year. At the same time, Rodgers’ restructured deal with the Jets includes a number of blank years to deal with the cap, but currently includes a $63 million cap hit in 2026. Unless Denver or New York cut their guy , neither Wilson nor Rodgers play. for someone else in the near future.

It seems to me that Russell Wilson has trouble reading a defense. Since last year, his best plays have been off-script. He doesn’t seem to see open receivers multiple times every game. Perhaps Jarrett Stidham would be a better stopgap while we wait for our top three picks to walk through the door next April.

— Jeff, Meridien, Idaho

Double questions on Idaho this week, nice! Thanks for writing, Jeff. Granted, Wilson wasn’t asked to play quarterback like some of the best processors do. Drew Brees would be a good relevant example given his long history with Sean Payton. But Wilson had a tremendous career in his own right, and no matter how many plays he made off schedule, you can’t play that well for a decade without being able to decode what defenses are doing to you. A good example: He checked a play Sunday recognizing that Washington was going to blitz both corners and it turned into a 60-yard touchdown run for Marvin Mims, Jr.

It would be very interesting to know more about how Wilson views the game, but he is generally not interested in talking about it in detail. Some quarterbacks like to show off their recall or talk about details of the circumstances. He’s not really like that.

As for Stidham, Broncos coach Sean Payton likes him, saying this spring that Denver had a “pretty clear” evaluation on him. But that’s not the case if you’re trying to win games this year. Ask anyone who watched training camp and the preseason regularly this summer, and you’ll hear the same thing: Denver thinks it could get a win or two with Stidham if he were to start, but Wilson is easily the best option the Broncos have.

I love your column. I’ve been watching the Broncos for almost half a century, and over the last 23 years it has blown me away that no matter what defensive coordinator we have, our corners consistently line up 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. How can Vance Joseph play our corners out of coverage on almost every play? This makes things too easy. Giving free release to receivers like Terry McLaurin made Sam Howell look like Joe Montana. Why do you think we never play to the press or media coverage? To me, we don’t give our defense a chance because not only does it make life easier for the receivers, but it negates the pass rush to play our corner so far on every play. Thoughts?

— Shep, grown in rock

Shep, I’m glad to hear from you. This is one of those topics that fans and coaches always tend to have different feelings about. It’s a good idea for you to get in front of guys and play physical coverage all the time. But that’s just not the reality in the NFL. Teams must mix up covers, looks and disguises.

That said, it’s a good question for Joseph this week to see if he thinks it’s possible to take the aggression up a notch. While this tight alignment can cause problems for receivers, it can also hurt your rush if you get beat early and give quarterbacks early options to get rid of the ball. And remember, not all six-yard cushions at snap are the same. Sometimes they tap their feet and remain patient while a receiver begins his route. Sometimes they start in an aggressive place, then turn around and give up on the spot.

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