ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From where the Denver Broncos sit, and that's at 3-0 for the first time since 2016, their first three opponents largely took the same approach on defense.
Essentially, three different teams came up with the same plan: to make quarterback Teddy Bridgewater beat them. Score one, two and three for Teddy.
"Man, if that's what it means, we'll take it," Bridgewater said.
"Quit doubting Teddy, man," Broncos tackle Garett Bolles said. "... Let me tell y'all something ... he's a dog, man. The man can come in here and win the team over and continue to do the things that he's going to do. I love protecting his blind side. You know, being with him, and watching him do his thing, the dude is composed back there. He knows exactly where to throw the ball. I'm telling you right now man, he's a dangerous threat. If we do whatever we can to keep his jersey fresh, we're hard to beat."
Bridgewater, whom the Broncos acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers the day before the NFL draft in April, has been steady, opportunistic and ruthless at times. Yes, the Broncos' first three opponents are now a combined 0-9, but Bridgewater leads the league in completion percentage (76.8%), is seventh in average length of completion and fifth in passer rating.
And perhaps most importantly for a team that was the league's most charitable last season in handing out turnovers -- the Broncos led the NFL in interceptions and giveaways overall in 2020 -- Bridgewater had not thrown an interception. All while three opponents largely decided it was imperative to stop the run and make Bridgewater throw the ball.
"Teams are blitzing our run game, which is why we've had success in the passing game," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "... They're going to major extremes to play our run game, these first three opponents."
The Broncos' plan entering the season included a bigger role for the running game, and the numbers say the Broncos have run the ball the same number of times -- 95 -- as they've thrown it in their three games combined.
But some of that is tilted. Many of those carries have come when the Broncos were well ahead and trying to run the clock. When the games have still been in the balance, defenses have tried to make Bridgewater's beat them and so far he has been up to the task.
Eleven different players have caught at least one pass from Bridgewater, and five different players have a reception of at least 25 yards. In the Broncos' three games, Bridgewater has completed passes to nine, nine and eight different players.
"We just give those guys a chance and they make plays," Bridgewater said. "If teams want to sell out and stop the run, then we're going to ask our receivers, our tight ends, even running backs to do a great job of helping the pass game get going."
Fangio has said their rushing attempts have "a lot of ones and zeros in there,'' and the Broncos have 18 rushing attempts by their running backs this season for no gain or negative yardage -- that's 11.5% of their rushing attempts -- a total that includes seven against the Jets Sunday and six against the Jaguars in Week 2. Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams have split the majority of the carries (42 for Gordon, 39 for Williams) and as a team are at 4.0 yards per carry.
But much of that is boom or bust with a smattering of big-play runs, including a 70-yard touchdown run in the opener by Gordon, pushing the numbers higher.
Fangio said the Broncos will have to solve their rushing riddle "or we just have to keep throwing it." It may actually require a little of both given of their next four opponents, two are ranked 20th or lower in pass defense (Baltimore is 30th, Pittsburgh is 20th) while two are ranked 13th or better in pass defense (Cleveland is sixth while Las Vegas is 13th).
"We have to be able to [run the ball] if we want to win," Gordon said. "The great teams that make it far are able to run the ball and pass the ball. ... We're not down about where we are now but we aren't happy. We have a lot of work to do but we definitely know that we have to be a balanced team to go where we want to go."
"These first three teams definitely didn't want us to get started running the ball," Fangio said. "And all three of them had varying degrees of success doing that. ... They're blitzing DBs designed for the run, not to get pass rush on the quarterback and we're going to have to figure that out a little bit."