Heading To The Big D As Big ‘Dogs, Bridgewater’s Broncos Are At A Crossroads

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Quick: Name the head coach of the 1995 Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. Nope, it wasn’t Jimmy Johnson, but another handpicked hot shot from the collegiate ranks: Barry Switzer.

And how ‘bout them Cowboys? At the peak of their countrypolitan, do-a-line-dance swagger, that 1995 roster featured Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and Troy Aikman’s mini-mullet — all in their prime. 

Why this obsession with 1995? Because that’s the last year in which the Dallas Cowboys defeated this week’s opponent, the Denver Broncos.

At 4-4, the Broncos remain in contention for an AFC West title, sitting just a game-and-a-half back of a division-leading Raiders team that’s reeling from the Henry Ruggs catastrophe. But for a squad looking to make its first trip to the postseason since winning the Super Bowl in 2016, the Broncos sure seemed to be more invested in the future than the present with the recent trade of franchise cornerstone Von Miller to the Rams for a pair of high draft picks.

Making the playoffs, if it happens, would surely be nice. But ever since the Broncos announced Teddy Bridgewater as their opening-day quarterback, it’s been pretty clear to WynnBET trader Sawyer Johnson that this year wasn’t about, well, this year.

“They were already in rebuilding mode,” Johnson told CO Bets. “When they decided that Teddy Bridgewater was going to be their QB, I think that set the tone for the entire season. We’ve seen Teddy Bridgewater on teams that have had good defenses, so the highest the ceiling was going to be was to make the playoffs and maybe win one game. And if you’re not striving for excellence, what are you going for? 

“This Von Miller trade shows that they’re stocking up on draft capital, either to trade up for a QB or to go get a Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers.”

‘The players have lost trust in Fangio’

As of Thursday afternoon, Colorado’s legal sportsbooks had the Miller-less Broncos as consensus 10-point underdogs for their trip to Dallas this coming Sunday, with only WynnBET (50.5 total points) deviating from an over/under of 49.5. The moneyline odds on an outright Denver victory ranged from +330 at DraftKings to +400 at WynnBET.

But despite the fact that the Cowboys, at 6-1, possess a 3.5-game lead in the otherwise abysmal NFC East while the Broncos still have a lot to play for, Johnson doesn’t think Dallas is likely to throw it in cruise control.

“I don’t see this as a letdown spot for the Cowboys. I think they really are a good team,” said Johnson. “If anything, what we’ve seen with this Broncos team is dysfunction. What we hear from inside the locker room is the players have lost trust in [head coach Vic]  Fangio.”

(Sticking with the ’95 theme, that was the year Fangio, then with Carolina, landed his first defensive coordinator gig.)

The Broncos, added Johnson, “can’t do anything offensively, but defense is the most serious concern. They looked good in the first three weeks against really bad teams. But after they started facing decent competition, they can’t stop anyone. And with injuries, they’re down to the third- and fifth-string linebackers on their depth chart. Inside linebackers — that’s the position group calling the plays for the defense, making the checks. When you lose a ton of people there, you’re really lacking in communication.”

And communication difficulties, Johnson feels, could mortally wound the Broncos against an offense as complex and well-oiled as the Cowboys’.

Judge Jeudy ‘to become Teddy’s no. 1 target’

On the other side of the ball, at least the Broncos have Jerry “Judge” Jeudy back. The receiver caught four balls for 39 yards last week in his first game since suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener, and figures to be even more of a factor as the schedule drags on.

“I think he’s going to become Teddy’s No. 1 target,” said Johnson. “If you look at the rest of the guys, both Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick are more down-the-field receivers who don’t get a ton of separation within that first 10 yards. With Jerry Jeudy, his route-running is so absurdly good, he creates separation within 10 yards — and Teddy loves to check down and throw the ball within 10 yards.”

Denver’s quarterback situation hasn’t been stable since Peyton Manning hung up his cleats, and Johnson certainly doesn’t see Bridgewater as the long-term answer at that position. But he also believes the franchise’s recent struggles run far deeper — and higher.

“I would say, if anything, what this shows is the importance of ownership,” Johnson observed. “If you don’t have anyone at the top to set that culture, the rest is going to follow. You look at Pat Bowlen, while he was [the Broncos’]  owner, [they]  went to more Super Bowls than [they]  had losing seasons. Since his passing and since there’s been a battle for ownership between his kids, the team just hasn’t been as good. I think everyone right now is looking at the Broncos saying they need a franchise QB, but I think, at this point, any significant improvement relies on having a new and good owner.”

Von’s ‘ween ragers should be epic in L.A.

These problems are no longer of concern to Miller, known off the field for throwing lavish Halloween parties that may or may not have expedited his trade to the Rams, who, at +600, are currently WynnBET’s third favorite to win the Super Bowl. And now that he has access to Los Angeles’ entertainment industry talent pool, Miller’s soirees are likely to grow larger and more decadent.

“They’ve got to be absurd,” Johnson said of the potential for Miller’s future La-La Land masquerades. “You’ve got to imagine Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey have some connections out there. I’d like to go.”

Photo: Isaiah Downing/USA TODAY

Mike Seely has written about horse racing for The Daily Racing Form and America’s Best Racing, and has contributed pieces on a multitude of topics to The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. He can be reached on Twitter (@mdseely) or via email at mseely@bettercollective.com.

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