For the second straight week, the Denver Broncos will go on the road to do battle with a team debuting in their home opener. This week, however, they get an 0-2 Detroit Lions team, with their backs against the wall. Inside the locker room, Jim Caldwell and company are preaching to their team that losing is not an option.
Opening a season 0-3 is almost a death knell to a postseason hopeful, like the Lions. In a division that features Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and an up-and-coming Teddy Bridgewater and the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions can't afford to drop another game. Matthew Stafford is going to play. He's been designated as probable.
At 2-0, the Broncos have defeated two very good teams already. They currently stand alone as the leader of the AFC West. They have to find a way to win on the road again, if they hope to keep their divisional lead. Let's get to the keys to victory.
Pride Is On The Line
Through two games, the Broncos offensive line has been terrible. You don't need a Pro Football Focus subscription to inherently know that. They eye test has unfolded the story in living color. The Broncos have only managed to rush for 130 yards in Gary Kubiak's run-oriented offense and Peyton Manning has been sacked seven times already.
This unit is under the gun to improve. The scrutiny has been merciless, as well it should be. It's a unit that features two former All-Pro guards in Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez, but neither guy has performed like one. You can believe these two are tired of the noise—the derision. Pride is on the line.
Pride in their craft. Pride in their teammates—in their system. As the O-line goes, so goes Manning, C.J. Anderson and the offense. The Broncos will not truly be able to reach their full potential as an offense, until these five guys play with a single mind. Eliminate the miscommunications—the mental errors.
On Sunday Night Football, the Broncos O-line must dictate to the Lions front seven and play with physicality. Head coach Kubiak opined earlier this week that physicality "has to be demanded". Clancy Barone's unit has had 10 days to evaluate their shortcomings and correct them.
We'll see tomorrow night whether they can get a push in the running game and give Manning time to make his reads. If they can, the Broncos will win this game handily. If not, it'll likely come down to the wire.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips deserves a lot of credit for how well his unit has played. But let's face it, he's also been handed the most talented group he's ever had the opportunity to coach—and that's saying something. Over the first two games, the Broncos have tallied 48 total quarterback pressures, according to PFF, and they've taken the ball away seven times.
The pass rush has been relentless and it's led to rushed throws under duress. And the Broncos secondary has capitlized with gusto. Free safety Darian Stewart has an interception and a fumble recovery. Aqib Talib has two interceptions, including a pick-6 in Week 1. Chris Harris, Jr., Bradley Roby and David Bruton have each gotten in on the action.
This defense is playing with abandon. They're aggressive and opportunistic. However, in Week 2, they were a little too aggressive, leading to multiple personal foul penalties—roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness—which put their unit in a bind. But if they can continue to play with their hair on fire and smarten up, they will be unstoppable.
On the road again, in a hostile environment, they must keep the pressure up and be the aggressors. Force Matthew Stafford into making some bad decisions, which he's been known to do and give Peyton Manning and the offense some extra possessions and good field position.
They allowed over 100 yards rushing to the Kansas City Chiefs last week. The absence of the suspended Derek Wolfe was felt a little bit. But they get one of their key defensive linemen back this week—Kenny Anunike. Whether it was stopping the run, or getting after the QB, Anunike showed his ability to contribute in both defensive phases in the opening game of the preseason.
Phillips now has a six-man rotation on the D-line. And that's a good thing. It should lead to guys staying fresh.
Will the Real Bash Manderson Please Stand Up?
Look, we know that the Broncos poor O-line execution has made it difficult on C.J. Anderson. There's no getting around that. But last year, the O-line wasn't much better and yet, Anderson managed to rattle off 1,000+ total yards down the stretch on his way to a Pro Bowl berth. He found ways, often, to make something out of nothing.
It's time for him step up and do it again. Fantasy owners and fans alike, have been brutal in their criticism of Anderson. Lik the O-line, he's tired of hearing it. On the road at Arrowhead, the Broncos couldn't get the running game going. This week, their oponent will be missing their best defensive player, DeAndre Levy, and Anderson and company must take advantage of it.
That's what great teams—and players—do. They capitalize on matchup opportunities. We know C.J. Anderson has it in him to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. He's played with a banged up ankle and toe, which certainly hasn't helped. But it's time for the real 'Bash Manderson' to stand up.
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