Minus Courtland Sutton, Broncos still focus on three-receiver sets

Even though they were without injured receivers Courtland Sutton (shoulder) and KJ Hamler (hamstring), the Broncos were primarily a three-receiver personnel offense in Monday night’s 16-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Over 59 snaps, the Broncos used “11” (three receivers-one back-one tight end) on 42 plays. They didn’t use any other personnel group more than seven times.

The breakdown: Two receivers-one back-two tight ends (seven), two receivers-two backs-one tight end (five), two backs-three tight ends (three) and one receiver-one back-three tight ends (two).

Once running back Phillip Lindsay sustained a toe injury, the Broncos couldn’t continue to use him and Melvin Gordon on the field together and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur used “11” on 24 of the 26 second-half plays.

Other observations:

Offense

Pass rush. Tennessee rushed at least five players on 12 of quarterback Drew Lock’s 34 drop-backs. Against extra rushers, Lock was 5-of-11 passing for 61 yards, including completions of 25 and 21 yards. The Broncos allowed no sacks and six total “disruptions” — three pressures and knockdowns apiece. The knockdowns were booked to left tackle Garett Bolles, left guard Dalton Risner and right tackle Elijah Wilkinson.

Fant shines. Tight end Noah Fant caught a team-high five passes for 81 yards. On his 9-yard touchdown, Fant was slightly open after Lock rolled right and then back toward the middle of the field. Fant’s 31-yard catch was caught one yard beyond the line of scrimmage.

Replacing Sutton. Minus Sutton and Hamler, the receiver playing time was led by Tim Patrick (50) and then DaeSean Hamilton (47) and Jeudy (44). Two plays stood out by Hamilton. On a run play to the right, he was the lead blocker (wiping out Chris Jackson) on Gordon’s 12-yard gain. And on the second-to-last possession, Hamilton got behind Malcolm Butler, but Lock overthrew him on what would have been a 42-yard touchdown.

Stretching the field. Lock was 0-of-5 on pass attempts that traveled at least 16 yards in the air.

Third down woes. The Broncos went 0-of-4 on third down in the second half. They needed three, 14, three and eight yards on those plays.

Cushenberry’s debut. Rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry was the only Broncos lineman who wasn’t booked for a pass-rush miss or a bad run play. It appeared Lock pulled away too early on the first mishandled snap and the second was a more-than-good-enough shotgun snap.

Best drive. Down 13-7 and without a first down in the second half, the Broncos went to work early in the fourth quarter. Gordon gained 25 yards when Wilkinson detoured Jadeveon Clowney outside to create a lane, Jeudy 15 post-catch (21-yard play), Patrick seven post-catch (eight-yard play), running back Royce Freeman caught Lock’s pass in the left flat (12 yards) and Gordon scored a one-yard touchdown. The Broncos never faced a third down.

Spreading the wealth. Ten Broncos caught at least one pass, a by-product of Sutton’s absence but also the tight end depth. After Fant’s 43 snaps, Jake Butt and Nick Vannett each played 16 snaps and Andrew Beck six snaps split between tight end and fullback.

Defense

Playing time leaders. The Broncos were on the field for a whopping 81 snaps (22 more than the offense). Safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons and inside linebacker Alexander Johnson played every snap and cornerback Bryce Callahan 80. Rookie cornerbacks Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey played 64 and 45 snaps, respectively.

Creating pressure. The Broncos rushed at least five players on 11 of Ryan Tannehill’s 34 drop-backs. The only sack was by outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu in 4.01 seconds when Tannehill scrambled left and right into Attaochu’s path.

Defensive line active. Led by Jurrell Casey’s two batted-down passes, the Broncos’ front helped contribute to posting eight run “stuffs” (gain of one or fewer yards) and five quarterback knockdowns.

Chubb’s return. Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb played his first game since Week 4 of last year and saw 59 snaps. He had no tackles, but two quarterback “disruptions.”

Rookie corners tested. Ojemudia was targeted in man coverage six times — three completions for 23 yards and a penalty. Bassey allowed completions of eight and nine yards.

Missed tackles. The Broncos were booked for four missed tackles, one apiece by Jackson, Johnson, Ojemudia and Chubb.

Special teams

Martin shines. It was a terrific debut for punter Sam Martin. His hang times were 4.01, 4.46, 4.53, 4.06 and 4.32 seconds and he had punts of 51, 56, 53, 52 and 32 yards.

Spencer’s error. Diontae Spencer doesn’t play much offense so returns are his only shot at an impact. But he has to be more aware — he caught a punt at his 3-yard line in the first half and coupled with a penalty on P.J. Locke, it forced the Broncos to start at their 6 and eventually turn it over.

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