The Denver Broncos come into Monday night’s battle against the Buffalo Bills on a high note. They’ve won their last two games, the most recent of which was a 17-9 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs. They’re coming off a bye week, which means they’ve had extra time to prepare for the Bills and their attack. And the Bills are scuffling, having alternated losses and wins for the last month en route to a 2-3 stretch over their last five games.
Denver has righted the ship, bringing their record to 3-5 overall after a putrid 0-3 start to the season. Buffalo, on the other hand, started 3-1 and now sits at 5-4. All four of Buffalo’s losses have come against AFC opponents, which makes for some poor tiebreaker scenarios later in the season.
If the Bills are going to defend their dirt — or their A-Turf Titan 50, to be more specific — they’ll need to slow Denver’s key players this week. Here are five Broncos players we’re watching Monday night.
QB Russell Wilson
The results haven’t been what the Broncos expected when they traded for Wilson and inked him to a new mega-deal prior to the 2022 NFL season, but they haven’t all been bad, either. Wilson is currently completing 66% of his passes, which is right in line with his career average, and he’s thrown 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He’s averaging a career-low 6.9 yards per attempt, which could just be a product of head coach/offensive play-caller Sean Payton tailoring an offense to allow Wilson to be more efficient at this stage of his career. The key to limiting Wilson remains the same: Keep him in the pocket where it’s hard for him to see over his offensive linemen and Buffalo’s big defensive linemen, and force him to throw it to the middle of the field. Wilson lives to beat teams outside the numbers and by extending plays. If Buffalo can make him hold the ball and keep him in the pocket, it should lead to sacks and maybe even a turnover.
RB Jaleel McLaughlin
While Javonte Williams rightfully receives much of the press, he’s been far less efficient than his backup this season. Williams has efficiency metrics this year reminiscent of Joe Mixon, as he’s averaging four yards per carry over the course of the season. McLaughlin, on the other hand, has been a big play waiting to happen whenever he touches the football. McLaughlin is averaging 7.1 yards per rush this year, and with a whole extra week to prepare, it wouldn’t surprise me if Payton made sure to incorporate a package that gives the speedster some chances in space against a battered Bills defense. Williams is a great running back, but I feel like Buffalo will be keyed on him when he’s in the game. They’ve done well against runners like him so far this year. It’s the quick, waterbug-types (to borrow a phrase from our old friend Buddy Nix) that have given the Bills trouble. McLaughlin has breakaway potential every time he touches the ball, so the Bills need to be ready for him.
WR Courtland Sutton
Buffalo has traditionally struggled with big, physical receivers. Last week, they allowed Tee Higgins to have his best game of the year, as he caught eight passes for 110 yards. This week, it’s the 6’4”, 216-pound Sutton who worries me the most. He leads the Broncos in targets (46), receptions (33), receiving yards (380), and receiving touchdowns (6) this season. With top cornerback Christian Benford dealing with a hamstring injury, it’s likely that Dane Jackson and the newly acquired Rasul Douglas are going to start at corner for Buffalo, with Josh Norman serving as the third outside corner in uniform. As bad as it sounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Siran Neal a little in the event that someone is injured given that he has the physicality necessary to cover someone of Sutton’s ilk. This is a good matchup for Denver, though I imagine that it will be Douglas on him often if the Bills have their choice.
RT Mike McGlinchey
Denver’s offensive line has been reviewed fairly well by Pro Football Focus with most of the players in the top-third or top-half of the league at their position. The exception is McGlinchey, who is rated as just the 54th tackle out of 77 at the position. Buffalo needs to create pressure on Wilson, and the weak link on the line is the right tackle. The positive is that Buffalo can limit Wilson escaping to his right by overloading that side, which could potentially lead to a double-whammy of sorts if they can both pressure Wilson into poor decisions and lead to some hits on the veteran passer. The negative is that the weak link isn’t on Wilson’s blind side, so he’ll be able to see any sort of blitz from that spot coming his way. McGlinchey is a taller offensive tackle just like Buffalo’s Spencer Brown, so he needs to be sound in his technique in order to avoid being out-leveraged by a shorter player. If Buffalo can exploit a Von Miller vs. McGlinchey matchup this weekend, it could be a good time for the former Bronco to make an impact in 2023 for Buffalo.
CB Patrick Surtain II
Denver’s defense has been really good of late, which isn’t a sentence I thought we’d be writing after they allowed 70 points to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3. Aside from that catastrophic meltdown, Denver has allowed just 22 points per game on the season, and in their last three contests, they’ve allowed just 15 points per game. The latter point is significant because their opponent in two of those last three games has been the Kansas City Chiefs. With a shutdown corner like Surtain, they are capable of taking out a team’s WR1 by putting their best on their opponent’s best. That means teams have to use their other options in order to move the football, and Denver’s stop unit has been gelling. The advanced metrics show that Surtain is having his worst season as a pro, allowing 61% of the passes thrown his way to be completed for 365 yards, two touchdowns, and a 93.5 passer rating. Surtain has eight pass breakups and an interception on the season, and the matchup between wide receiver Stefon Diggs and him will be worth the price of admission.