BALTIMORE – The Broncos were undefeated last season when doom first appeared. Against a Buffalo Bills team begging to lose on a field hotter than the sun’s surface, the Broncos played ugly. Trevor Siemian threw clumsy interceptions, Emmanuel Sanders failed to convert a big play and Von Miller’s fake handshake to Tyrod Taylor led to a silly taunting penalty, clearing the way for a Bills victory.
At 2-1, it seemed like a mole on freckle-free skin. It turned out to be a rash. The Broncos won only three more games the rest of the season, including one on the road at Indianapolis.
Fast forward to Saturday. The Broncos again sit 2-0, holding serve at home against teams they had to beat, Seattle and Oakland. Road games create real impressions. Can the Broncos pull off the upset at Baltimore where they are 5.5-point underdogs and have only triumphed once in five tries?
My Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory:
1) Cold Case no more
Forget Slim Shady, will the real Case Keenum please stand up? Keenum sprinkled pixie dust in the fourth quarters of the wins, completing 14 of 20 passes for 176 yards, no turnovers and one touchdown. He has thrown three first half interceptions, making his comeback grit necessary. Keenum threw five interceptions with 14 touchdowns in eight road games last season. He must protect the ball in a similar fashion, while looking to take chances on big strikes to Sanders.
2) Von snaps streak
The Ravens represent one of four teams Von Miller has never posted a sack against. If that streak continues in his third attempt, the Broncos will lose their first game. He poses a mismatch against left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle James Hurst, a converted guard. Neither has allowed a sack this season, but the pair has yielded nine hurries. Miller seeks to strip the ball, and a turnover creating a short field could be the difference.
3) Run like the wind Bullseye
The easiest way to make a rowdy crowd sit on its hands is to run the ball. It gorges clock like Ms. Pacman does dots, and creates frustration in the opponent. The Broncos rank first in yards before contact, a testament to the improved offensive line. Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Co. must post 140 yards on the ground to secure the win, especially if star linebacker C.J. Mosley is limited in his return from a bone bruise in his leg.
4) Chris Cross
The onus can’t fall on Von Miller to make the big play every week. Star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is capable of creating havoc. He has played well against Baltimore, and embraces the idea of Joe Flacco trying to fit the ball into tight windows for Willie Snead (14 targets in two games) or Michael Crabtree. Bradley Roby will be tested by speedy John Brown, who was targeted six times on mid-to-deep passes against Cincinnati.
5) Field goal flurry
Field goals lead to road losses. That’s if you are kicking, not holding the home team to them. The Ravens are 9-for-9 in the red zone with five passing scores and four on the ground. Denver ranks tops on third downs, allowing only five conversions in 22 attempts. The Broncos have allowed two red zone scores. The issue is real: Can the Broncos' Tramaine Brock excel in coverage since he will likely be targeted even if Adam Jones plays?
6) Form a road block
The Ravens lament not using runningback Alex Collins more. He has 16 carries and four receptions in two games. Don’t be surprised if Baltimore looks to exploit him in space against linebacker Todd Davis and Josey Jewell, who could see more time in nickel packages even if Brandon Marshall (knee) suits up. With pressure likely, Flacco could rely on Collins for checkdowns. The Broncos backers must be sound tacklers in space.
7) Start fast
Let’s not forget the obvious. For the Broncos to win, they must start fast, and avoid first half turnovers. The Broncos lost seven times on the road last season, outscored by an average of 13.2 points per game overall in visiting parks. The outcome was decided by halftime on multiple occasions. Start fast, stay close, and let Brandon McManus trot out late.
RENCK PREDICTION: Ravens 24, Broncos 21.