For the third time in four years, the Denver Broncos have won the first three games on their schedules. In 2013, they made it through their first six games, while last year's team wasn't defeated until Week Nine after a 7-0 start.
This season is obviously different; 18 isn't under center, it's former seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian who has guided the Broncos to victory three times to begin his NFL career. Each week, he's improved his numbers, with his far-and-away best performance coming last week in Denver's 29-17 defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals in which Siemian threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Every week is a challenge in the NFL, and this one is no different. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) are one bizarre play against L.A. from a winning record and have gotten eight touchdown passes out of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston in just three games. The Bucs are a young, uneven bunch, but they can put together a great 60 minutes just as easily as they can lay an egg each Sunday.
The keys to victory will illustrate what exactly the Broncos must do to ensure they can withstand any assault from the Buccaneers this Sunday in Tampa.
Lock up the Wide Receivers
The biggest strength of Tampa Bay's offense has been, for the last three seasons, their playmakers on the outside. Mike Evans and our old friend from San Diego, Vincent Jackson, both six-foot-five, present a potential matchup issue against the No-Fly Zone.
Chris Harris, at least initially, struggled to body up the other big wideout he's faced this season, Kelvin Benjamin. Both Evans and Jackson boast a similar skillset to Benjamin and each have a seven-inch height advantage on Harris. It might make sense for the Broncos to get the taller Bradley Roby or Kayvon Webster a few snaps on the outside if it turns out that Winston is taking advantage of the height disparity.
If Tampa Bay runs enough three-wide receiver formations, it would stand to reason that Harris would slide inside to cover Adam Humphries while the lengthier corners try their luck with the Bucs' big guys.
Expect an emotional afternoon from Aqib Talib, who's returning to the city where he began his NFL career after being selected in the first round eight years ago.
As anyone who regularly watches the Broncos knows, there's a good Aqib and a bad Aqib. Good Aqib covers receivers like a glove (especially big, slower ones) and has a knack for coming up with a big turnover. Bad Aqib can't keep up with a speedster, is good for a personal foul, and tends to run his mouth a little bit.
If the Broncos get good Aqib on Sunday, the defense will be in a very good spot. If not, Winston might be able to stack some passing yards together, and with the Broncos porous run defense last week, Charles Sims (Doug Martin is a likely scratch) might give Tampa Bay some much-needed balance on offense. Sims is also another great receiver for Winston out of the backfield, so Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall will have to be on their toes on third downs.
Pound the Rock
Please excuse me for appropriating the slogan of the Super Bowl Champion 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I wish nothing but the best for those guys, especially since they beat the Oakland Raiders (also the Raiders' last playoff appearance).
Denver would be wise to take a page out of their playbook. Let C.J. Anderson get some carries early after a quiet 37-yard game last week and try to put a dent in the clock while also building an early lead.
Last week, L.A. ran the ball well against the Bucs' front seven, and it will be on Anderson and Devontae Booker to find some creases for the Broncos. Another thing to keep an eye is if Ty Sambrailo can bounce back from a pretty rough opening game and open some holes on the right side of the line.
Controlling the time of possession is a huge stat, especially on the road. Winston, while frustratingly inconsistent, is becoming one of those quarterbacks where you're just far more comfortable seeing him on the sideline than on the field.
In last week's loss against the Rams, Winston surpassed 400 yards through the air to go with three touchdown passes. If not for head-scratching clock management and an inability to recognize the line of scrimmage at the end, the Buccaneers could easily be 2-1 and atop the NFC South.
Alas, they are just 1-2, but that doesn't mean the Broncos should take Winston and his offense lightly. The best way to neutralize that threat is to run the ball effectively and render them all spectators.
Also, the Broncos should use Andy Janovich in a Mike Alstott-type role. I know it won't happen and he'll end up getting one or two touches like always, but boy would I like to see the Manovich wear out the Tampa Bay defense.
Of course, Trevor Siemian has already proved he's as cool as it gets on the road, but young passers have rocky weeks, and he's certainly prone. It's a better bet to pack the run game than count on another masterpiece from Siemian.
Hang on to the Rock
On paper, there's really no reason that the Broncos shouldn't come away with a victory on Sunday. They're the reigning Super Bowl champs on an eight-game winning streak stopping by to play the Bucs, a team that's won just nine games since 2014. Sounds easy enough, right?
Wrong. Upsets happen, and they usually happen when a home team is favored. And one of the biggest ingredients to any upset recipe is a few ill-timed turnovers. Close games often hinge on a tipped ball or a fumble that ends up in the wrong hands.
Fortunately for the Broncos, they've won the turnover battle the last two weeks, turning the ball over just once in each game. Against the Colts, it was a picked bubble screen in which the Broncos narrowly avoided a defensive touchdown when Darius Butler pulled up lame. Last week, Denver barely possessed the ball in the third quarter because Adam Jones reached in and stripped the ball from Demaryius Thomas.
Another clean game from Siemian is paramount. When he got away with what should have been an interception against the Bengals, he ended up finishing the drive with a touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders. That's often the case with turnovers; they can be a seven or even a 14 point swing in games.
Winston, as electric as he is at times, is very much prone to a big turnover, especially when he comes across a ball-hawking defense. In Week Two at Arizona, the Cardinals picked off Winston four times and forced a fumble as well. Those turnovers translated into a 40-7 romp.
For the Broncos, it's simple; hang on to the rock and take it away from them.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.