ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — OK, so maybe it's not Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson or Clubber Lang vs. Rocky Balboa. But make no mistake, the Broncos v. Vikings represents a mismatch Sunday.
The Vikings, fresh off a huge victory at Dallas, are a 10-point favorite against the Broncos. Minnesota remains undefeated at home this season. The Broncos have one road triumph this year, an impressive victory of at the Chargers. The Broncos might be the best 3-6 team in years, but that does not change the fact that few see them winning this weekend, especially with quarterback Brandon Allen making his second start.
"He can kind of go out there and play carefree football, enjoy it and make plays," said safety Justin Simmons, pictured, who is pushing for his first Pro Bowl berth this season. "One game isn't enough film on someone. I am really excited to see him play. We don't have a lot to lose. We are going into the Vikings stadium, and everyone is counting us out. It's going to be fun to watch him play."
The Vikings and the Patriots are the only teams without a home loss. Minnesota has outscored its home opponents by average of 16 points. Denver, meanwhile, has scored more than 16 points once on the road in four games. Pull off this upset and it would represent the signature win in Vic Fangio's first season.
"They are talented with a lot of weapons," safety Kareem Jackson told Denver7. "It will be a tough challenge."
It starts with stopping Dalvin Cook. He leads the NFL with 991 rushing yards. And he's a human bumper car, breaking tackles with regularity.
"He's magic," said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who played with Cook at Florida State. "We couldn't tackle him at Florida State. He was that good. We have to wrap him up."
Stopping the run remains paramount every week. But it represents only part of the solution to slowing Cook. Last week, Kirk Cousins only threw six passes to his wide receivers. He relies on tight ends, and Cook is a problem on designed screens.
"They’re the best to me (in the screen game)," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who will be asked to guard receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at different times. "Everything looks the same. (Offensive assistant Gary Kubiak) runs that zone, and off the zone he has five different plays off of it. That’s what they’re doing so well.”
As Simmons said, "We have to pack our defense." Denver's D has quietly been terrific this season, save for the Chiefs debacle. The Broncos rank in the top 10 in yards and points allowed. Yet, it will not matter if the offense is not more dynamic. Anything less than 20 points and Denver boasts zero chance in this mismatch.
"We made some big plays last week, hopefully that will continue. You have to have big plays in your offense to be a good offense. Minnesota, who we all know is a good offense, they had their way with Dallas pretty much (Sunday). They’re second in the league in plays that go for 20 or more yards even though they’re really good," Fangio said. "You have to have some explosive plays.”
Allen keeps low profile
Brandon Allen continues to live a low profile as he prepares for his second start. He spent the bye week in his hometown of Fayetteville, Ark,, hanging out with family. He hasn't had to change his phone number yet. "No weirdos are calling," he joked. But he did update his Twitter avatar.
"My agent called and told me I should probably put a picture of me in a Broncos uniform," Allen said. "I hadn't been on there much."
Study. Practice. Work hard. It is what allowed him to reach his goal of starting. No sense in changing.
"I want to see some more magic. I don't care how he does it, running, throwing it, I don't care how he does it," Von Miller told Denver7 at his charity event on Monday night. "However, he can do it. We are going to give him all the love and support and help him be the best quarterback he can be. It feels good coming off a win and then going into the bye week. I feel rejuvenated and I know my teammates do."
Callahan, Lock practice. James doesn't
Drew Lock practiced Tuesday for the first time since mid-August, starting his 21-day clock to be activated from the injured reserve. There is no guarantee he will be on the active roster this week. But he could be the backup against Buffalo, leaving him in position to start some games in December. As I have said before, eight is an important number. If and when the Broncos reach eight losses, the playoffs are out, making it more likely Lock plays to see where he is before the Broncos enter the offseason draft process.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan practiced Tuesday, testing out his injured foot after seeing a specialist recently. He hasn't played this season, and if this week doesn't go well, he could land on the IR. The re-occurrence of the foot issue is unfortunate because he was a terrific player for Fangio last year in Chicago.
Right tackle Ja'Wuan James did not practice on Tuesday after re-injuring his sprained left MCL against the Colts. He told Denver7 on Tuesday that the latest issue "set back the healing process," but that it wasn't as bad when he originally hurt in the season opener at Oakland. He expects to play again soon, but when remains a question.
The Broncos signed sign outside linebacker Malik Carney and safety Tyvis Powell to their practice squad. ... Defensive end DeMarcus Walker hopes to play after testing out his injured left shoulder in practice this week. ... Von Miller spent part of the bye week getting a unicorn tattoo on his leg. Why? Because he's unique like a unicorn. Hey, works for me.