Broncos Journal: Nik Bonitto, Randy Gregory must improve vs. run

One play before Sam Howell threw a 30-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin early in the third quarter of Washington’s Week 2 win over Denver, he handed the ball to Brian Robinson, who started right and then cut back to the left for 11 yards.

Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto wasn’t able to squeeze down the line of scrimmage and he was visibly frustrated after Robinson finished off the first-down run, clapping his hands together.

For much of the remainder of the 35-33 Commanders win, Washington and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy went back after Bonitto’s side of the defense when he was in the game.

According to The Post’s tally, Washington ran the ball eight more times with Bonitto in the game and six of them went in his direction. They gained 60 yards and a touchdown and also hit a 36-yard screen behind him as he rushed up the field out of control and fell into the left tackle.

Of course, one player doesn’t stop the run by himself. Robinson ran directly off the left tackle at Bonitto on a 27-yard rumble in the third quarter but it went from a solid gain to a big play because of other problems, too. Bonitto got pinned inside on Robinson’s 15-yard touchdown run, but others missed tackles.

Bonitto did make some splash plays, too. He actually missed a tackle on Robinson in the third quarter, but had the edge set and forced the back inside for a 2-yard gain. He came free off the edge and attacked the mesh point between Howell and Robinson twice, resulting in a throwaway and a 4-yard loss. Those big plays are there.

But he, Gregory and the rest of Denver’s outside linebackers must show they can’t be picked on in the run game. Otherwise teams are going to continue to do it.

“He’s on his way,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said when asked about Bonitto’s progress. “Obviously we have three or four guys in that room who are going to play reps there. Whoever starts, starts. But he is on his way, especially in the running game. He had some plays last week that he set a good edge and made plays on the edge.

“His rushing ability is obviously apparent. He can rush the passer. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get in all aspects of the game.”

Bonitto told The Post on Friday he knows teams are going to keep challenging him until he can prove he’s consistently up to the task.

“I had some good plays against the run and I still feel like there’s stuff I can get better at,” he said. “A lot of it is just technique. … Obviously, knowing how I am — young guy in the league and I still have to prove I can be a run defender in this league. Teams definitely can put that in their game plan. They can try if they want to.”

Head coach Sean Payton mentioned both technique and tackling when asked what needs to improve against Miami after Denver allowed 16 carries for 94 yards against Washington in the second half.

“I think our early down fits and our tackling,” Payton said. “Tackling is one of our keys for this game. These guys get the ball in space and so you have to populate it and break down and be able to space tackle. It’s not just in the running game. It might be a pass that’s just like a run that’s completed quickly and you’ve got to pursue, shimmy down and play with good leverage.

“That area is something I know Vance and our staff have been working on.”

Hindsight is 20/20

The Broncos did plenty of good offensively on Sunday. But they’ve yet to figure out their screen game. They had a perfect one set up in the first quarter with Samaje Perine, but Wilson couldn’t get him the ball through the pressure that is always going to be part of inviting rushers up the field. Perine had Quinn Meinerz and Ben Powers out in front of him and just one defender. It’s easily a 30-yard gain or more with the Commanders in man coverage down the field. But Wilson couldn’t get the ball over Casey Toohill’s arms.

“Gosh darn it,” Payton said this week when referencing the play. “We just have to do a better job of — well, it was a little bit of a unique look. Each week when we do our game plan, we’ll look. There will be four screens, probably, in the plan. Some teams defend them better than others, depending on the scheme and personnel.”

All’s well that ends well. Washington got called for roughing Wilson on the play and he hit Marvin Mims, Jr. for a 60-yard touchdown on the next snap.

Number to know

38.8: The Broncos’ average yardage per drive, good for third in the NFL through two games. That compares favorably to 27.6 for Denver last year, which was No. 28 in the NFL.

From the locker room

• Phillip Dorsett may not get elevated from the practice squad Sunday, but it will be a special day either way for the wide receiver from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The 2015 first-round pick starred at Miami in college and played his home games at Hard Rock Stadium. He told The Post that the visiting locker room for NFL teams is the same one the Hurricanes used when he was in college.

“For me, going back into that locker room, I still remember right where my college locker was,” he said, adding that he still knows several of the stadium staffers.

• Practice squad quarterback Ben DiNucci played Tua Tagovailoa in practice this week and went as far as throwing the ball left handed. He said he can throw left handed about 40 yards, but the accuracy drops precipitously. Even still, No. 2 quarterback Jarrett Stidham came away impressed, suggesting DiNucci’s ability to do all sorts of odd tricks like that means he could have made it as a member of the “Dude Perfect” crew.

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