ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As part of Fantennial weekend -- highlighted by the unveiling of Champ Bailey’s induction into the Ring of Fame -- the Broncos celebrated members of their Top 100 team Friday night. Among the stars walking across the stage to accept a decorated football were Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Shannon Sharpe and Peyton Manning. Manning told the select season-ticket holders in attendance why he chose the Broncos -- he always loved playing here -- and how he continues living in Denver.
As is often the case, John Elway brought the most emotional response. I joked with Elway that he squeaked onto the list – he was, of course, No. 1. As he exited the stage, a selected fan met him. She hugged Elway for several seconds, then roared in delight, “Yes, I met John!”
Elway earned this response with his playing career, and his first five years as an executive. Now the challenge is new and difficult. Elway aims to restore the franchise’s glory after three disappointing years. A 1-4 start this season wasn’t the plan.
“Yeah. I don’t like to lose. It’s not enjoyable, but all we can do is continue to work. Not a whole lot we can do now except try to play better, right?” Elway said.
Elway praised first-year coach Vic Fangio for how he has handled adversity, said star Von Miller is “still the same player,” and insisted “that we are trying to win football games, and no one from our side is on the trading block (with the deadline on Oct. 29 and Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris among targets by other teams).”
The Broncos believe they are improving, and think they could be 3-2 after the Bears and Jaguars walked them off with field goals, extending Denver’s home losing streak to four games.
“I think the hardest thing about losing is you get in a situation to where something bad happens in a game you say, ‘Here we go again,’ and that is a very tough thing to break. That’s what we have to get out of. I think it’s hurt us a couple times,” Elway said. “We got by one last week, so we have to continue to stay positive with it and battle our way through it.”
OK, then let’s talk my Denver7 keys to victory:
Ground Mound of Rebound
The Broncos rank 14th in rushing at 118.6 yards per game. Phillip Lindsay has produced at least 130 yards from scrimmage in two of the past three Sundays. With fullback Andy Janovich healthy, the ground game boasts more consistency. The plan: win in the dirt, control the clock, and take at least three shots down field to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton.
The Titans feature a smash mouth style behind a big offensive line, ranking 15th on the ground. Derrick Henry brings unusual size – 247 pounds. Tackling is critical, and limiting yards after first contact. When the Jaguars upset Denver, it was traced to missed stops by multiple players. Nose tackle Mike Purcell and linebackers Alexander Johnson, coming off a strong debut, and Todd Davis must play well in the box.
Make Mariota Patient
Marcus Mariota has not lived up to his potential. He is not a consistent playmaker. But he will not turn the ball over. He hasn’t thrown a pick. Tennessee has turned the ball over once this season. Mariota holds onto the rock and will take sacks. Tennessee has allowed 22, second most in the NFL, though none last week.
Von on fire
Von Miller needs to disrupt this game, either by winning double-teams or creating them to allow rookie Malik Reed to break through with a strip sack. The Broncos own five sacks this season. They need to double that total Sunday.
This figures to be a close game. So the Broncos require adequate play from corners Davontae Harris, the likely starter, and Isaac Yiadom, who has suffered through a forgettable season. It makes sense to roll help over the top for both early in the game. Mariota is strong in the red zone. If the past five weeks are any indication, Harris and Yiadom will be targeted on key plays.
Noah’s career arc
Noah Fant has flashed brilliance, but has yet to post a breakout game. The Titans struggle covering tight ends, allowing a score to the position in four of their five contests. This represents the week for Fant to catch five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
The Broncos special teams continue to undermine progress. The Broncos rank 30th in covering kicks and 32nd against punts after allowing a score last Sunday. And Diontae Spencer is operating on fragile ice after foolishly fielding two punts inside his own 10-yard line last week. For a team that wants to win ugly slugfests, this unit’s mistake are unforgivable. Be better.
Renck’s Prediction: Broncos 19, Titans 17.