ENGELWOOD — A week later, are the Broncos an evolved team?
With relevancy hanging in the balance, Denver sauntered into Arlington, Texas, threw down the saw dust and kicked the (bleep) out of the Cowboys. When you're getting told for six days your season is over following the trade of Von Miller, it apparently puts a team in an angry mood. When you are hearing everyone outside the building — myself included — scream you have no chance as a 10-point underdog, it increases the venom.
The Broncos played mean, inspired, displaying urgency and ability in the franchise's most impressive win since Super Bowl 50. Now the hard part. Making it matter by extending the win streak to three games before entering the by week.
Can the Broncos handle prosperity? Can they temper a COVID-19 outbreak that has seen five members of the organization test positive in six days, including offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur on Friday, sidelining him for the Eagles game?
The Eagles are wearing a new uniform combination — blank pants with white jerseys — as the Broncos don color rush uniforms with old style D logo on their helmets.
Both teams will look sharp. Will the Broncos continue to play that way? My keys to a Broncos' victory against an Eagles team that is 3-1 on the road:
In Shurmur's absence, quarterbacks coach Mike Shula will call the plays. The Broncos found a groove with their running game last week as they posted season highs in attempts (41) and yards (190). A year ago after a game like this against Carolina, where Denver found ideal balance, the Broncos returned to three wide sets and regressed. The Eagles allow 120 yards per game on the ground. The Broncos average 113. Time for a steady diet of Melvin Gordon (4.4 yards per carry, 477 yards) and rookie Javonte Williams (4.9 ypc, 466). Both rank in the top 18 in rushing yards. "Thunder and Thunder," I call them. "Yeah I like that. We are the same back," Gordon told Denver7.
Keep it simple
Part of the reason the Broncos ran the ball well is because they held a lead. It's a lot easier to stay committed when not chasing points. However, the Broncos also simplified their run attack by my naked eye, focusing on fewer plays and doing those well. Don't stray from that idea, especially with two backup tackles — Calvin Anderson and Cam Fleming — and a rookie right guard (Quinn Meinerz) starting.
Play up the pass
Once the run is established, play action will work. The Eagles pass defense bends more than Gumby. They have allowed five quarterbacks to complete at least 80 percent of their passes against them. Teddy Bridgewater ranks third in the league at 70.2 percent. So it would be a surprise if he's under 75 percent this week, including at least one deep ball off play action. Bridgewater has completed two deep throws in the past two wins.
Don't forget about Jerry
The Eagles secondary plays loose, allowing easy completions. This plays into Jerry Jeudy's game. He has 12 targets and 10 catches the past two weeks. Sunday sets up for his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
Keep the edge
Gordon told me that this Broncos team recognized the sense of urgency required last week. He said it had nothing to do with Von Miller getting traded, and credited Von for helping create the mindset the team displayed against Dallas. Can they keep it? The taste of winning is powerful. And the Broncos know they are in the hunt for a playoff berth now. A letdown would be a buzzkill after the team's best performance since Super Bowl 50.
The Broncos defense has found its groove the past three weeks, holding opponents to an average of 14 points per game. The communication between the linebackers and safeties has improved. Nuance in coverage has returned. And it needs to be there in the red zone where the Eagles rank third overall with a 72 percent touchdown rate. Quarterback Jalen Hurts' ability to run has created opening passing lanes. Making Hurts one-dimensional remains critical.
Special teams coach Tom McMahon took the blame for the awful outing vs. Dallas. He is accountable, but when you must continue to fall on the sword that is a problem. The special teams gaffes are going to cost Denver a winnable game. There can be no glaring mistakes like last week's blocked punt and huge return on the opening kickoff.
Troy's Prediction: Broncos 24, Eagles 20