The Oakland Raiders finally took a misstep, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night, which keeps the AFC West in play for the Denver Broncos. The Broncos will need to win out and receive some help, in order to become Division champs for the sixth consecutive season.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1736508-breaking-down-tennessee-s... All the Broncos can focus on right now, however, is winning game to game. This week, the Tennessee Titans will be their opponent, a young, hungry team coming off a bye.
The Titans are the purveyors of the 'Exotic Smashmouth' offense, a multifaceted rushing attack that mixes up personnel groupings and formations. However, they've yet to face a defense quite like Denver's.
The Titans are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC South. They're postseason destiny still hangs in the balance, so the Broncos will get their best shot. What will it take for Denver to emerge with a 'W' and sweep the AFC South in 2016? Let's get to the keys.
Onus On Corey Nelson & The Young LBs
Starting 'Mike' linebacker Brandon Marshall has been ruled out of this game with a hamstring injury. That pushes third-year man Corey Nelson up the depth chart to start next to Todd Davis. The Broncos defense has been excellent in all phases this year, with the exception of stopping the run.
Right now, the Broncos are ranked No. 28 against the run, relinquishing an average of 122.8 yards per game on the ground. The silver lining, however, is that they've really shored up this weakness over the last three games, having only allowed one team to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark — Jacksonville.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1736473-injury-report-trevor-siem... The Broncos gave up 154 yards on the ground last week against a Jaguars team who picked up a lot of those yards with their quarterback Blake Bortles. This week, the Broncos defense will not only have to account for two very good running backs — DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry —but also one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the game Marcus Mariota.
It will be tough sledding. And it really puts the onus on Nelson and Davis to step up. They've got to execute — flow to the ball, shed blockers and not allow Titans rushers to break through the second level.
It would be nice to have Marshall healthy, but don't expect defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to leave his young inside linebackers without help. The Broncos are the best man-coverage team in the league, due to the strength of their personnel.
Phillips will likely load the box with an extra safety — probably T.J. Ward — and force Mariota to make the Broncos pay in coverage.
D-Line Must Play Their Best Game
The defensive line factors in to this equation, as well, particularly on the right side. RDE Jared Crick and NT Sylvester Williams have to hold up at the point of attack, and allow Nelson and Davis the opportunity to flow to the ball and make some plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Phillips' scheme is a one-gap 3-4, designed for the D-linemen to slant and penetrate, rather than consume blocks. But that hasn't worked as well with Crick at DE. However, Derek Wolfe is a stalwart and consistently makes plays behind the line of scrimmage.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1736467-the-broncos-have-epitomiz... But against Tennessee, Crick and Williams have to raise their level of play. Crick has shown signs, at times, of being an impact player. Williams has been the epitome of inconsistent in this, his contact year.
Denver's 2013 first round pick seems to get gassed early and loses his effectiveness as the game wears on. Unfortunately, he's the only true nose tackle the Broncos have, since they waived Darius Kilgo a few weeks back.
In Tennessee, the Broncos need Williams to penetrate. He'll have a tough matchup with center Ben Jones, who's played very well this year. But Williams has elite-caliber talent. It's just a matter of flipping the switch and displaying it consistently, which he struggles with.
Derek Wolfe holds down the fort for this unit. Billy Winn and Adam Gotsis will serve as Denver's only rotational players on the D-line. Against the Titans 'Exotic Smashmouth', this unit has to play their best game of the year.
Exploit Tennessee's Defensive Weaknesses
The best teams in the league — the best football minds — find a way to exploit the opposition's most glaring weaknesses. For the Titans, it's their secondary.
Their entire defense, honestly, can be exploited. But they really fall short of the mark against the pass, and it's due mostly to a lack of talent and depth.
The Titans defense is coordinated by one of the greatest minds in NFL history — Dick LeBeau — the architect of "Blitz-burgh" and the zone blitz. But there's only so much scheming one can do to try and overcome a dearth of talent.
The Titans are relinquishing 270.3 yards per game through the air. If Trevor Siemian is healthy enough to start, I really like the Broncos chances of capitalizing on Tennessee's passing defense.
If it ends up being Paxton Lynch, one thing we know about him is that he has no reservations about going vertical. If it is the rookie, Gary Kubiak needs to do a better job of getting him comfortable.
That means allowing him to play out of the shotgun, where he can see the field better and read the defense easier. Lynch is most comfortable and accomplished in the shotgun/spread offense, and if Kubiak is too stubborn to play to his strengths, the Broncos will pay the price.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will win their matchups and give their QB the opportunity to make some big plays. It's just a matter of the QB having the wherewithal to see it and pull the trigger.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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