Starting this Sunday, Denver Broncos football is back. A lot has changed, since last we saw the Broncos in action in a game that counted. There's a new head coach, a new offensive and defensive system and many new faces on the roster.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the "ache" John Elway has to bring another World Championship to Denver. For the Broncos to achieve that collective goal, the first step comes in beating on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The clock is ticking on Peyton Manning's career. He won't be able to fight off Father Time forever. The chips are down and once again, Elway has gone all-in. The board is set. now it's time to see how head coach Gary Kubiak manipulates the pieces.
In a game that could have AFC playoff seeding implications come December, it's important for the Broncos to get a win on Sunday. Here are three keys to making sure the Broncos start the season 1-0.
Finish In The Redzone
Much has been made of the Kubiak-Manning mind-meld that has taken place at Dove Valley over the last few months. Kubiak and the offensive staff have worked hard to implement a system that will honor his commitment to the running game and his zone blocking philosophy, while also making the most of Manning's abilities.
In training camp, the early returns looked phenomenal. However, in the limited preseason snaps Manning received this summer, the offense looked less than stellar. The biggest issue was a failure to close out drives with six points.
With the Broncos goal of controlling the clock and winning the time-of-possession battle, it's imperative that each drive results in six points vs. the Ravens. In the preseason, Manning and the first-team unit struggled to score six, but they also ran bizzare plays that looked nothing like what we saw in camp.
Kubiak wasn't about to show his hand and give the NFL tape of the Broncos true offense before the games even begun to count. On Sunday, we're going to see a true reflection of exactly what Kubiak and Manning have cooked up.
But the bottom line—they can't stall in the redzone. They have to hit pay-dirt. And on the goal-line, and inside the 5-yard line, they have to impose their will with C.J. Anderson. In those situations, the onus will fall on the big boys up front—the offensive line.
Set The Tone On The Ground Early
All year long we've heard the talking points out of Dove Valley that the Broncos are going to lead with the run. That's Kubiak's M.O. Lean on the run to set up the pass. With Manning at the helm, it's a recipe for success.
But talking about it and doing it are two different things. On Sunday, the Broncos have to start the season off on the right foot and set the tone with their rushing attack.
We have reason to believe they'll execute that objective. They ran the ball with authority during the preseason. But you don't need me to tell you the difference in intensity between preseason and regular season games.
The Ravens get paid to play footall, too. And that defense is intimately acquainted with Kubiak's zone blocking scheme. He was the offensive coordinator there in 2014, where he schemed NFL journeyman running back Justin Forsett all the way to a 1,000-yard season and a Pro Bowl berth.
However, the Ravens lost the anchor of their defensive line to the open waters of free agency—Haloti Ngata, who now hangs his hat in Detroit. The Ravens have one of the best linebacking units in the NFL, but they are vulnerable up front.
Anderson and the Broncos O-line have to find a way to expolit that weakness on Sunday.
Swarm Joe Flacco
If the preseason taught us anything about the new-look Wade Phillips defense, it's that they can get after the quarterback. Phillips' scheme puts each player, especially the outside linebackers, in the best position to succeed.
Von Miller has looked better than ever in a very small sample size. DeMarcus Ware looks revitalized and Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett proved that when the starters go out, the heat on the quarterback will not diminish.
But the Ravens boast one of the NFL's top O-line units. They know what they're doing. They play smart and they execute. If Joe Flacco has time to throw on Sunday, the Broncos could be in trouble, although his weapons aren't exactly fear-inducing.
The Broncos have to tee off on Flacco early and often on Sunday. And not just with pressure off the edge. Guys like Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams have to generate interior pressure and force Flacco into making some bad decisions.
We'll know soon enough if what we saw from the Broncos defense in the preseason is for real.
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