DENVER -- It is easier to experience a Broncos Monday night game than explain it. The noise, the buzz, the orange, the vibe, and did I mention the noise?
The Broncos host the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night in the NFL's final game of Week 1. It is not a must-win game, but it feels like an opener the Broncos can ill-afford to lose based on the road victories by AFC West bullies Kansas City and Oakland.
History sits squarely on the Broncos' side. The Broncos own a 16-1 record in their last 17 home openers, including five straight wins. Vance Joseph makes his coaching debut, charged with executing a reboot, not a rebuild. The pressure is real with the Chiefs and Raiders showing evidence that they can do things that opponents will struggle to stop. The Broncos prefer not to talk about championship windows, but this could be this defense's last stand, and it's clear Denver needs a caffeinated offense to improve.
A look at my Denver7 Keys to a Broncos victory:
1) Von Miller vs. Russell Okung
Left tackle Russell Okung left Denver on difficult terms. He owns a championship ring, but not with the Broncos. He struggled last season, and when cornerback Aqib Talib shouted him down in the locker room after the Patriots' loss, his exit was paved. He returns as one of the men responsible for slowing Von Miller tonight. As Shane Ray told me, "Von gets double-teamed on every play no matter what." Miller must slither through a tackle, a tight end and a chipping running back. The Broncos will look to create one-on-one matchups for Miller without blitzing. Look for Miller to line up in different spots on the field, similar to the NASCAR package last season that featured three outside linebackers in the game. Okung will end up opposite of Miller at some point. It's why Miller should end up with two sacks and three quarterback hits.
2) First things First
The Broncos allowed 55 first possession points last season, tied for second worst in the NFL. It was spread across nine games. In an exclusive interview with Denver7, cornerback Chris Harris stressed the importance of showing new wrinkles in the Chargers' scripted first 15 plays. A stop early gives the offense room to breathe. The Broncos scored 41 points in the first quarter last season, terrible by any measure, and made worse by the fact Denver was too often trailing.
3) Go Get'em Bolles
Rookie left tackle Garett Bolles inspires confidence. He talks with swag, and makes everything personal. But life can be greasy on rookies. Bolles needs those practice sessions against Von to pay off in this matchup with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Not only do Bolles and new right tackle Menelik Watson need to keep Trevor Siemian upright, they must avoid penalties. Nothing undermines an offense trying to find its identity like 1st-and-20.
4) Eyes up, Trevor
Watching NFL Red Zone Sunday drove home the point that quarterbacks need to extend plays to excel. Whether it was Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott or Matt Ryan, the truth was evident. When Siemian played his best games last season -- at Cincinnati, vs. Kansas City -- he kept his eyes down field, and showed escapability. This need not define him, but quarterbacks who can deliver one first down with their feet and make multiple plays on scrambles are invaluable.
5) CJ A-OK
When C.J. Anderson went down with a knee injury in the seventh game last season, the running game went with him. The Broncos will boast four new offensive linemen at points Monday when left guard Allen Barbre plays, a more physical scheme, a heavy dose of nasty and a healthy Anderson. If Anderson can reach 80 yards on the ground with Jamaal Charles complementing him with 13 combined touches in the running and passing game, the Broncos will win. No run game means hold your breath, Broncos' fans, and hope for a defensive touchdown. And hope is not a great strategy.
6) New No Fly Zone
Harris admitted the secondary must work through communication issues with safety T.J. Ward gone. The onus is on Justin Simmons, a cerebral athlete with a 40-inch vertical leap, to grow up fast. He can cover. And no better test for Simmons, Will Parks and Jamal Carter than matching up with tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, a duo which hurt the Broncos last season.
7) Return on Investment
The difference between the Chiefs and Broncos last year was striking, a chasm created by Tyreek Hill. The Broncos believe they have a dynamo in rookie Isaiah McKenzie. He is slippery in space. However, it never showed up in the preseason. Can the kid deliver under the bright lights on a punt return? Even if he flips the field, it could be the difference in a Broncos win.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Chargers 20