ENGLEWOOD -- Scoring is the language of the NFL. To be functional, to be effective, is to be scoring points. To have a chance is to score points.
The Broncos, as such, arrived at the halfway mark with a problem. They score 21.8 points a game, ranking 27th. That represents improvement from last season's 17, but not enough to keep pace with inflation. Overall, points per game in the NFL have increased from 45.1 to 50.7 (holding calls plummeting from 565 to 280 has played a vital role).
Central to the Broncos' second half is developing quarterback Drew Lock and an offensive identity. One thing that is working? Throwing the ball to Jerry Jeudy. He is having a potential historic season, on pace to post 968 yards with 60 catches. Eddie Royal holds the Broncos' franchise rookie record with 980 yards. It will be surprising if Jeudy fails to eclipse 1,000. And if healthy, it's a certainty he reaches second in rookie receptions, a mark held by Vance Johnson at 51 in 1985. If Jeudy breaks the mark for yards, the Broncos will have three of the top three totals on their roster next season (Courtland Sutton 704 in 2018, Noah Fant 562 in 2019).
There is more focus on Jeudy this week because of the opponent. This is his introduction to the Raiders rivalry and a reunion with his two former Alabama teammates, running back Josh Jacobs and receiver Henry Ruggs III. Jeudy and Ruggs will aways be linked because of their draft status.
In the days leading up the draft, the Broncos were connected to Ruggs. They had genuine interest. He provided the type of speed their offense needed, and figured to be available with the 16th pick. Considered the top receiver, Jeudy projected to go sooner, possibly even to the Raiders at No. 10. The draft is not a science. The Raiders threw a curveball, taking Ruggs, leaving Jeudy available to the Broncos.
Both have contributed to their teams in meaningful ways, though Jeudy has bigger numbers. He is playing the best football of his season, benefiting from attention. He boasts 24 targets the past two weeks, and has caught 11 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. The only thing absent is the deep ball strike from Lock as the pair have just misfired.
With Sutton lost for the season after three catches, and Tim Patrick working through a hamstring injury, Jeudy, who has dealt with a shoulder issue this week, should remain the top receiver. Moving outside has triggered the spike in his numbers. Jeudy is more effective in space than NASA.
He is also showing leadership qualities. The NFL is always a difficult transition for receivers because they face dramatically better coverage and physical cornerbacks. And, yes, getting punched in the throat stings. Jeudy has lost more games this season (five) than he did in his college career (four).
Knowing the standard of excellence at Alabama, Jeudy has become more vocal at practice, asking for extra reps and speaking up to teammates about nailing their assignments. This bodes well for his future beyond the production.
"All I'm doing is just saying the right things and keep on motivating and keeping our heads up. That's it. I'm just saying the right things to make us better each and every day," Jeudy said. "If somebody doesn't know what they're supposed to do, I just let them know, 'Come on, we've got to do better.' If they're not going hard, 'Come on, we've got to go harder. This isn't how we practice.' I just try to set a standard and get better each and every day."
Ruggs burst onto the scene in the Raiders' upset of the Chiefs, Kansas City's lone loss in their last 18 games. Buoyed by a 72-yard scoring reception, he posted 118 yards on two catches. However, he has battled through injuries and not been a focus in the Raiders' balanced offense. He owns 10 receptions for 220 yards. He has been targeted 21 times in six games. Jeudy has 61 targets in eight games.
The NFL better is when the Broncos and Raiders are good. That hasn't been the case in this rivalry for nearly two decades. But at the very least, there will be a fun battle for years to come when comparing Jeudy and Ruggs.
"It says a lot about (Jeudy with his leadership and production," Lock said. "But can't forget about all the young guys. Dalton (Risner) at guard, Lloyd (Cushenberry III) at center -- we are a very young team but we’re not going to run with that as an excuse. The future is bright. It’s one of those situations that you find yourself in that you hope you can all stay on the same team for a long time. Unfortunately, it’s a business, things happen, but it is a very positive future in my eyes for this organization and the positive future starts this week on Sunday. That’s the mentality we have to have. It can’t be the future, it has to be this Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders.”
Right tackle Demar Dotson (groin, hand injuries) will practice a little bit Friday, but there is no guarantee he will be available Sunday. Jake Rodgers, his backup, will be a gameday decision with a shoulder issue. It creates the possibility that Calvin Anderson will make his first career start. ...
Right guard Graham Glasgow has recovered from COVID-19, and will start at right guard after missing the past two games. ...
Linebacker Joe Jones, a valuable member on special teams, is not expected to play because of a calf injury. ...
Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell remains sidelined by the COVID-19 virus, but is getting better. "I miss him more than anybody. I miss just having him around. It's hit Ed a little bit harder. But I am confident will get through this," Fangio said.