For a season opener, this week's game carries a lot of weight for the Denver Broncos. With so much personnel turnover at key positions in the starting lineup, the 2016 Broncos are replete with question marks.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1688594-mhh-premium-how-you-can-s... The Carolina Panthers are coming to town seeking revenge for the beatdown they suffered in Super Bowl 50. They remain one of the NFL's powerhouse teams.
If the 2016 Broncos can beat Carolina, then they can beat anyone on their schedule. If they lose, however, they might find it difficult to create momentum.
With so many unknowns, what must the Broncos do to emerge victorious on Thursday night? Here are three keys to victory.
Exploit Carolina's Young Corners
I'm not sure these rookies are up to the task, especially on the road. It will be key for quarterback Trevor Siemian to exploit this mismatch and find ways to get the ball in Thomas' and Sanders' hands.
Carolina's front seven is ridiculously deep and arguably the best in the NFL. Their secondary, however, leaves much to be desired. They can become a good unit, some day. I have a hard time believing it's going happen for them in Week 1 vs. the Broncos.
Siemian Must Step Up
The Broncos are asking a lot of second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian. Not only is he faced with the immense obstacle of following a future Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning, but he also must navigate the pressure of starting with a rookie first-round QB on the bench behind him, breathing down his neck.
Frankly, it's more than most quarterbacks can handle. Brock Osweiler wanted nothing to do with following Manning. Can Siemian shoulder the load?
The Broncos certainly seem to think so. He's received vote after vote of confidence from both the coaches and players. Siemian's teammates talk about his unflappability — his cool, calm demeanor.
We can only hope that it will translate to the field, when guys like Kawann Short and Kony Ealy are bearing down on him. Siemian won the starting job by mastering Gary Kubiak's offense and displaying an aptitude for processing complex information quickly.
There's little doubt that Siemian can spin it. He's a natural arm talent. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but it's strong enough and I've been impressed with his accuracy and ball placement throughout the preseason.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1703730-ware-explains-why-siemian...Whether or not he'll be able to put it all together right out of the gates vs. the defending NFC Champions remains to be seen. As Luc Polglaze pointed out in Episode 11 of the Huddle Up Podcast (embedded below), Carolina loves to attack the quarterback, especially with the double A-gap blitz.
Let's hope Siemian can do what Manning seemed unable to in the Super Bowl, and recognize when the Panthers bring their linebackers through the A-gap. The onus is also on center Matt Paradis to see them coming and make adjustments.
Siemian must also be careful throwing over the middle and down the seam. Luke Kuechly has made a career off intercepting balls and forcing turnovers on errant throws and bad decisions over the middle. He's deceptively fast.
The young signal-caller must pick on Carolina's rookie corners and give his Pro Bowl receivers the chance to make a play with the ball in their hands.
As much pressure as there is on Siemian right out of the gates, he also has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take over starting quarterback duties for a defending World Champion. We'll soon see how capable he is of shouldering the load.
Battle For Field Position Will Be Critical
The Broncos rolled the dice in showing the door to veteran punter Britton Colquitt. Colquitt was a veritable hero, especially in the playoffs, when it came to giving the opposition a long field.
With how closely Gary Kubiak's team plays their cards to the vest, every inch counts on the grid-iron. Rookie punter Riley Dixon will either be a weapon in Kubiak's arsenal, or a liability.
In the preseason, Dixon resembled more of the latter. In Game 4 in Arizona, he managed a paltry 37.4 yards per punt. If he proceeds into the regular season with that kind of production, Denver's defense, no matter how good, will struggle to keep teams from scoring.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1703366-broncos-embracing-being-t... And with an offense still in utero, they can't be expected to pick up the slack quite yet, if the Denver defense gives up a couple of scores. If Dixon shanks one or two punts, it can catastrophically impact the game and swing momentum for the opposition.
Talking about punting, or field position, isn't the sexiest of football topics. But Denver's margin of victory in 2015 was so slim, we can all see how important it was to have a guy back there punting the ball who could be counted upon.
Can Riley Dixon shake off the jitters from his underwhelming preseason performance? We can only hope so, because the Carolina Panthers will make the Broncos pay, if they aren't efficient in the third phase.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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