ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- They won their first two games with nervy fourth quarter comebacks. They believed they had their quarterback, and a plan to unleash their best player, Von Miller, on a weekly basis.
Turns out, it hid deeper-seeded issues. The Broncos are not very good. They have dropped three straight games, placing a once promising rebound season in jeopardy.
Adversity punches every team in the mouth during the NFL season. Most concerning about the Broncos is the way they are losing. They fell to Baltimore because of an alarming lack of discipline and penalties. They let Kansas City off the hook because they couldn't finish. And against the New York Jets, they didn't show up, their effort questioned, specifically on defense, after allowing 323 rushing yards and 512 overall.
This is a bad time to play poorly. The Rams arrive as a Super Bowl contender, undefeated and averaging 34.6 points per game. Can the Broncos pull off the upset? My Denver7 keys to a Denver victory:
1) Von on his game
Von Miller has no sacks in the past three games. The Broncos have dropped them all. He refuses to make excuses, telling me he's had opportunities in one-on-ones and failed. "I am going to fix it this week. And if not, then this week," he said, purposely repeating the last phrase to stress urgency. Miller is the best player of the Broncos. He has to provide a lighthouse path out of the darkness.
2) Defensive pride
Coordinator Joe Woods told me he doesn't listen to the media and fan criticism of those calling for his job. I expect coach Vance Joseph to be involved in the defensive play-calling as Woods has struggled with in-game adjustments. The key is the Kansas City blueprint. Make Jared Goff uncomfortable through pressure, and allow the crowd to stay loud to prevent audibles. And create consequences. If lack of effort is seen, put the player on the bench for a few series. Let's be honest, without change, there will be changes. The Broncos likely need to win two of their next four games to have any chance of saving this season, if not jobs.
3) Tweak the secondary
If the Broncos had better options, they would have benched Bradley Roby after his ghost performance against the Jets. Tramaine Brock, however, hasn't played regularly since 2016. I expect him to be involved on outside coverage, casting Roby as a nickelback multiple times. Roby excelled in that role the previous four seasons, and perhaps it will allow him to regain his confidence.
4) Run. Don't hide.
The Broncos offense remains effective when they focus on the ground attack. They rank first in yards per carry, and third in yards per game. It can be used to set up play action. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave took blame for the play-calling against the Jets that resulted in 51 pass attempts three days after he promised to use Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay more. As such, I want the Broncos to use heavy doses of the run. And do it out of a two-back set with fullback Andy Janovich as the lead blocker. No one sets a physical tone better than Jano. Not only does it create creases for backs, it forces linebackers to make tough choices on play action. Can they afford to cheat and drop extra yards in coverage with Jano in the game? Unlikely. But if the Broncos use a one back set, they can. And have. To win Sunday, Denver will need to score a season-high in points. They haven't scored 30 since week two of last season, the longest active streak in the NFL. The revival starts with running chunks of plays with two backs, using it to set up play action and play action bootlegs.
5) Play loose
It's time to let down the hair. Have fun. Don't get me wrong. The Broncos are in deep trouble this season. But playing tight and conservative emotionally will get them nowhere. Don't be afraid to go for a touchdown, instead of a field goal. Take a chance on fourth down. Jump a route to create a turnover. Again, the Broncos don't match up well against the Rams. They need to play with their hair on fire to take advantage of their home crowd.
6) Embrace the weather
The last time the Broncos had an October home game in below-freezing temperatures? Try Oct. 12, 1969 vs. The Oakland Raiders. Denver lost 24-14 in 23-degree weather. The cold should benefit the Broncos as Rams quarterback Jared Goff has never played in this weather. The projected high temp is 28 degrees Sunday with snow.
"That's what we do in Denver. We love the cold. We practiced all week in it. Hopefully those sunny LA boys come out and see how cold it is," nose tackle Domata Peko said. "But that's not what is going to make a difference. Putting these helmets and hands on people is what's going to make a difference."
7) Something unexpected
Pulling off an upset requires something unusual. Can the Broncos score a non-offensive touchdown? A pick six or a punt return for a score -- DaeSean Hamilton is fielding those this week -- it could be the necessary jolt to send life back into this season.
RENCK PREDICTION: Rams 30, Broncos 23