It's strange how the stars have aligned this week for the Denver Broncos.
Not only are they set to do battle with their former head coach John Fox, who produced four consecutive division titles before being "mutally" dismissed, Brock Osweiler will also get his first career start vs. the very coach who drafted him and the offensive coordinator who groomed him.
The (7-2) Broncos are traveling to the Windy City to take on the (4-5) Chicago Bears. One team is on a two-game slide, the other on a two-game winning streak.
The Broncos are looking to get back on the winning track, while Fox's Bears are looking to avenge the perceived unjust firing of their leader. All these storylines have this game positioned as NFL drama in it's highest form.
And that's to say nothing of the Jay Cutler angle — the quarterback controversially selected by the Broncos in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft — who left the Mile High City in 2009, after demanding to be traded.
It's shaping up to be a great game.
Adam Gase's Offense Hitting Their Stride
It's not entirely fair that most of the credit for the Broncos record-shattering 2013 season goes to quarterback Peyton Manning, rather than Adam Gase, the offensive coordinator who reigned during that era.
The Broncos offense was excellent in 2012, but they blasted through the stratosphere when Gase took over the offense after Mike McCoy departed for San Diego in 2013. Gase's offense scored 606 points and paved the way for Manning's fifth MVP season.
Gase took his talents to Chicago, following the head coach under whom he had so blossomed. In Chicago, it's not like the cupboard was bear, although he faced the uphill battle of having to fix Jay Cutler.
Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte provided Gase a foundation at the skill positions to help rebuild Cutler. Cutler missed some time due to injury, which handicapped Gase's efforts initially, but he has them hitting their stride now.
Over the last two games, Cutler has completed 73.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for 603 yards and five touchdowns — to just one interception. The Bears O-line is protecting him better and Cutler has two new weapons who've exploded on the scene.
Forte has missed the last two games with a knee injury but Jeremy Langford has stepped in and helped take the Chicago offense to another level. Langford has accounted for 324 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns over the last two weeks.
Forte has practiced this week, albeit in a limited role, so even if he feels good enough to go vs. the Broncos, we can expect to see a heavy dose of Langford as a supplement.
The other weapon to explode for Chicago is the not-so-forgotten tight end Zach Miller. No, not the same Zach Miller who played for the Oakland Raiders for five years and helped the Seattle Seahawks dismantle the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
He's the journeyman Zach Miller, drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009. He and Cutler have formed a mind-meld, to the tune of 130 yards and three touchdowns in the Bears last two victories.
Gase's influence has been a calming one on Cutler and it's bolstered his efficiency. 13 touchdowns, five interceptions. Not great numbers, nine games into the season, but Cutler is coming on strong.
And he just dismantled the St. Louis Rams vaunted defense. The Broncos defense are coming off their worst game of the season, allowing 29 points. Two straight losses has Denver reeling some. The veneer is cracking.
This Bears offense, especially at home, is a legit threat. They might be middle-of-the-road statistically, but studying their most recent games, they seem to be firing on all cylinders.
John Fox Knows Defense
Fox-ball. Alas, John Fox's reign in Denver will be remembered for dominant regular seasons and mind-boggling post-season collapses. But if the man knows anything, it's defense.
The 2015 Bears defense got off to a very rocky start. But like the offense, they seem to be hitting their stride mid-season. Vic Fangio, the Bears defensive coordinator, and former San Francisco 49ers DC, and former potential Broncos head coaching hire, knows a thing or two about defense, too.
He has the Bears ranked in the top-10 for total yards (No. 8). The Bears biggest problem on defense has been their inability to pressure the quarterback consistently.
McPhee has five sacks on the season and is proving to be one of the best edge players in the NFL. He's not just a pass rusher. McPhee can play the run well, too.
The Bears lack of a pass rush has also made takeaways difficult to come by. They have 11 on the season, tying them for No. 21 in the league. But they face a Broncos offense who've given the ball away 19 times.
Granted, 17 of those giveaways were Peyton Manning interceptions. He won't be playing in Chicago. Brock Osweiler will, but he still has to play behind one of the worst offensive lines in football.
And he's going into his first career start. Fangio's unit are licking their chops at the prospect of facing such an inexprienced signal caller. But make no mistake, Osweiler is no rookie.
He's been groomed by one of the NFL's brightest offensive minds, in Adam Gase, and for four years he's learned under arguably the best quarterback to ever lace 'em up. Just ask TE Virgil Green.
“Just how to read coverages, how to anticipate things, how to get us in good situations and Peyton has [given him] a lot of little tips," Green said Wednesday. "He talks with Brock when we watch film, when we're going over plays about what to look for coverage-wise when we're running this play or that play. He has a lot of tidbits of information from a guy that, like you said, will be a first ballot Hall of Famer.”
The Bears will be not-so pleasantly surprised by the young quarterback they'll face on Sunday. Brock Osweiler will have some tricks up his sleeve.
Great Opportunity For Denver To Spark The Running Game
The Bears defense ranks No. 28 against the run, allowing an average of 118.6 yards per game on the ground. The Broncos rushing attack ranks No. 29, so it'll be interesting to see which under-performing unit rises to the occasion.
If I had to bet money on it, I'd give the Broncos the edge. Yes, the Denver O-line is a shambles. But Gary Kubiak knows that a young quarterback's best friend is a good ground game and he'll exaust every option in order to run the ball on Sunday.
Osweiler's ability to play from under center, and his mobility, should help the Broncos ground game. For his size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds), he's surprisingly fleet of foot and displays a Big Ben-esque unwilingness to go down on first contact in the pocket.
For those worried that Gase and Fox have the advantage, having coached Osweiler for three years, need not worry. The fourth-year gunslinger is playing in a completely different offense.
The rule goes both ways. Osweiler is intimately familiar with the type of defensive proclivities Fox favors.
“There are some things that are the same and there are some things that are different," Osweiler said Wednesday. "Obviously, [Oakland Head Coach] Jack [Del Rio] was our defensive coordinator and he had things that he liked to do. I'm sure he and Coach Fox collaborated on those, but yeah, there are some things that look similar and there are also a lot of differences."
As for how Gase's knowledge of Osweiler might impact the Bears game-plan, again I point to a total change in offensive philosophy.
“I hope he doesn't look too hard into that and try to do a crystal ball thing over there, but at the end of the day, it's just a football game," Osweiler said. "Eleven guys are going to line up against eleven guys and we have to go play ball. I'm not going to really buy into the what ifs, 'What could they possibly do? What has Coach Gase told the defensive staff?' I'm not going to buy into that. I'm just going to go out there, believe in what I see and go play football.”
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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