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Interview with the Enemy: Play action may be Denver’s best game plan against Saints front seven

With the formidable New Orleans run defense, the Broncos may look to play action for another avenue of success.

Denver Broncos v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Another week of football, another week of our Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Joe Rowles of Mile High Report answers 5 quick questions ahead of our critical Week 12 matchup: New Orleans Saints vs. Denver Broncos.

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The Broncos are starting to find a rhythm with the run game this season; so much so, they’re 6-0 in the last six games when Phillip Lindsay has had 15 or more carries. This season, those games include wins over the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are ranked 20th in rushing defense, while the Dolphins are 27th. New Orleans, conversely, is the top ranked rushing defense. While the establishment of the run game has helped Denver find success this season, how does that strategy fare against the Saints formidable front seven?

I wrote about why the Broncos need to establish the run earlier this year, and a rather large part of it goes beyond the individual success of the plays and about how it can help protect Drew Lock. Since I wrote it, I believe I’d now say they need to “establish play action” more than the run itself, as this makes reading the field easier and leans into Lock’s affinity for trying to roll out away from the line of scrimmage.

As for actually running the ball this weekend, I suspect it will be a slog. By advanced stats the Broncos are one of the best rushes offenses in football once the backs are in the open field, but they’re among the worst teams at avoiding stuffs. When the offensive line can keep bodies out of the backfield, Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon have found success. That’s going to be hard to do against the Saints.

When we were theorizing the Taysom Hill start last week, a lot of it had to do with the fact that the Atlanta Falcons simply cannot contain mobile quarterbacks. While Hill improved vastly by the second half, a noted criticism was his tendency to hold onto the ball a bit too long. The Broncos found success last week completely shutting down Tua Tagovailoa, particularly with coverage sacks. Will quarterback harassment be Denver’s defensive game plan to contain Hill?

Most fans now think of Khalil Mack in Chicago or Von Miller terrorizing people last year when they think of Vic Fangio, but what makes his defense so hard to deal with is how he disguises and plays with his coverage shells. He’s been a bear for inexperienced quarterbacks to deal with his whole career and I expect that to continue this weekend. The Broncos have become more aggressive this season as they’ve dealt with injuries to three of their best defensive linemen and Miller, which means blitzing an off ball backer and using Justin Simmons to fill for them. It’s why he should have had two picks last week.

Finish this sentence: The Saints will win this game unless _________________.

Drew Lock has the best game of his life.

If you were Sean Payton, how would you game plan to attack the Broncos defense?

The Broncos have actually had a ton of issues in their cornerback room this year. Outside of Bryce Callahan, who’s been amazing, every other corner has gotten benched or hurt at one point. It wouldn’t surprise me if Payton tries to play a little backyard ball and run some two route max protect shots with the hope that Taysom Hill can buy time for receivers downfield. Denver had a ton of issues with deep crossers last year and early this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if that shows up again.

What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?

I hope I’m wrong, but I think the Saints win big unless Fangio ruins the Taysom Hill experiment. Let’s say New Orleans 32 - Broncos 13.

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Ideal prediction - works for me. Thank you, Joe, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Joe and the work his guys are doing over at Mile High Report. You can follow Mile High Report on Twitter @MileHighReport, Joe @JoRo_NFL, and of course, you can follow me @MaddyHudak_94. Who Dat.