This game is replete with storylines. It promises to provide NFL drama in it's highest form. Let's get to the keys to victory.
Just Don't Turn It Over, It's As Simple As That
Inexperienced quarterback? Check. Dominant defense? Check. The Broncos can win this road game against the one opponent who knows their personnel best.
But they can't turn the ball over. This Broncos defense has found a way to be ranked in the top-five in almost every major statistical category, despite an offense that's turned the ball over a whopping 19 times.
For crying out loud, the Broncos took the ball away 17 times in their first six games!
Now, imagine what the complexion of these past nine games would have looked like had the Broncos been smarter with the football. They'd have won most of those games handily, instead of by a single score (mostly).
The formula applies to Brock Osweiler's first career start. Play within your skill-set. Stay in your lane. Control the clock. And protect the football. If Osweiler and the Broncos offense can do that, I envision a very long day for Jay Cutler.
Time For Gary Kubiak To Cut Loose
Gary Kubiak is a playwright at heart — a veritable scriptorian. Going back to the 1990s, when Kubiak was the offensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan, the Broncos would script their first 15 plays (or so) of the game.
Peyton Manning's penchant for audibling at the line of scrimmage put a big wrench in Kubiak's ability to follow suit as the 15th head coach in Broncos history.
Will we see a scripted approach by the Broncos offense to start the game in Chicago? Maybe, maybe not. But at the very least, we'll see Kubiak let his hair down and cut loose in how he calls the game offensively.
Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison would have you believe that the Broncos offense is the Broncos offense and that's what they've been running all year long, so all the talk of how Osweiler's impact might change the playbook is moot.
“We've got the 2015 Broncos," Dennison said Thursday. "That's it. It's the same playbook. We haven't got any new playbook. It's the same playbook that we've had.”
While that may be true, what is obvious is that Kubiak and Dennison have had to tweak the Broncos playbook to accomodate Manning's strengths and weaknesses — perhaps more than they're willing to admit.
One of the issues that has held the Broncos back from being prolific on the ground, like almost all of Kubiak's past offensive incarnations, has been the fact that Manning has struggled to play under center.
Their solution? Run the pistol. While that has certainly helped in terms of not giving the defense a 'tell' as to which direction a run play might be headed pre-snap, it hasn't solved the problem.
Osweiler is vastly more athletic and mobile than Manning at this stage in his career. Osweiler can play under center, and in so doing, will give the Broncos rushing attack a boost and force the defense to honor the possibility that he might run with the ball.
It should result in more successful play-actions and bootlegs and serve to keep the Bears defense honest and on their toes. Kubiak's scheme plays to Osweiler's strengths as a young signal-caller.
It will be interesting to see how a full week's preparation and a QB suited to the scheme will change the Broncos offensive production. It can't hurt. The Broncos offense has been statistically one of the worst in the NFL in 2015 under Manning.
Getting Off To A Fast Start
Another foible of the Manning-led Bronco offense has been their inability to start off the game strong. Their Week 8 game vs. Green Bay has been the only real exception to this trend.
Starting off slow not only puts the offense behind the 8-ball, but it puts undue pressure on the defense early. In Chicago, the Broncos have to play in the first half the way they do in the second.
The offense has to get on the board quickly and put the onus on Cutler and company to answer, which plays directly into the hands of Wade Phillips and his unit.
To tell you the truth, I think the Broncos can do it. Brock Osweiler can do it. I don't see any way the running game can't improve with Osweiler at QB and establishing that with authority, will open the way for the entire offense to flourish.
It's going to translate to points on the board. Imagine this Broncos defense in game situations, consistently, where they're protecting a lead — where they're able to pin their ears back and truly let loose and be opportunistic.
It's the one factor that's been missing from this team's equation all year long. The Broncos defense have allowed 36 first half points over the last two weeks, mainly due to Manning's turnovers.
Think about this. Denver gave up 29 points last week to Kansas City. All but nine of those points came off turnovers. When faced with traversing the entire field to start a drive, the best the Chiefs could do was nine points all game long.
This Broncos team has the personnel and scheme(s) to be balanced and competitive in every phase. But it's been missing one vital element; a dynamic quarterback who can put points on the dang board.
Hats off to Peyton Manning. His legacy as a Bronco and NFL quarterback cannot be over-stated. But he's hindered his team more than he's helped them this season. It's time for Brock Osweiler to take the reigns, come hell or high water.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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