ENGLEWOOD -- The question was as reflexive as sleep: How do the Broncos stay motivated after their season-opening victory?
Wait. What? The Broncos won one game. That amounts to a single stroke of white out on a bridge covered in graffiti. The Broncos cannot overlook anyone after establishing themselves as one of the league's worst teams over the past five seasons.
"If you’ve got to motivate any guys to get the job done, they probably shouldn’t be here. If you want to get motivated, just go look at last year’s record. It’s on Google somewhere. That’s motivation enough. That’s not the Broncos’ identity," said running back Melvin Gordon. "That’s not that’s not this culture. So, if you want to get motivated, go check last year’s record, and that’ll get you ready.”
The NFL offers unique challenges. The disparity in talent that exists in college is absent in the pros. Any game remains a potential loss, even at Jacksonville, a team that is 1-16 over its last 17 contests. Denver, as a six-point favorite, cannot afford a misstep if it wants to end its five-year playoff drought.
Which brings me to the Broncos' Denver7 keys to victory:
Start fast, stay aggressive
The Broncos did not score a first-possession-of-game touchdown once last season. That streak continued last Sunday, despite a promising offensive performance. It has left Teddy Bridgewater to admit that "we need to be greedy." When the Broncos have led at halftime the past two seasons they are 5-1. It matters. Even with Jerry Jeudy out potentially two months, the Broncos have weapons and depth to continue moving forward. Coach Vic Fangio showed how much he trusted Bridgewater by going for it on fourth down three times, converting them all. The Broncos were 4-for-15 on fourth downs last season. A punch-first mentality is welcomed after years of a reactionary posture.
Man up, man down
The Jaguars will play man coverage. They will challenge receivers. That means it's up to Teddy Bridgewater to find the matchup he likes and exploit it. Don't sleep on Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Jacksonville doesn't have great answers for either. Bridgewater completed passes to nine players in the opener, including nine targets for the tight ends. The same variety might not be necessary against the Jaguars.
Stay patient on ground
Jacksonville yielded 160 yards on the ground to the Texans, including 85 to Mark Ingram. The Broncos feature two solid backs in Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams. Staying patient vs. the Giants left them vulnerable on Gordon's 70-yard scoring scoot. The Broncos want to be a physical team. Even with Graham Glasgow (irregular heartbeat) listed as doubtful and not expected to play, the offensive line remains stout. Ideally, the Broncos run 35 times and throw 30, controlling the clock. "It definitely helps us when we can sit on the sideline and stay fresh. It makes a difference," linebacker Alexander Johnson said.
Big play KJ
If the Broncos establish the run game, it will open up play action. And that means a safety or corner will bite on a route by receiver K.J. Hamler. He aims to deliver after dropping a 50-yard touchdown last week. He took 100 over-the-shoulder passes before Monday's practice. He's ready to produce a four-catch, 100-yard day.
The Broncos play a lot of zone, and are well-versed in it under Fangio. It allows his scheme to feature more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei. The Broncos don't need to blitz Lawrence to make him uncomfortable. Just get pressure. Force him to release the ball earlier than expected. He will likely look for Marvin Jones Jr. when he's in the area of rookie Pat Surtain II, a rookie making his first start. There will be hiccups, but Surtain is up for the challenge. It will be a disappointment if the Broncos don't produce their first interception of the season.
Let Von loose
Bradley Chubb might play after showing better lateral movement in individual drills with his left ankle on Friday. He remains listed as questionable on the injury report. The team will go through a walk-through at a Jacksonville high school Saturday, allowing Chubb to potentially test his ankle again then. He did not test it in pregame last week, the decision made beforehand that he wasn't playing. If Chubb goes, I expect him to be on a play count. Lawrence was sacked once in 52 dropbacks last Sunday. But he was pressured/hurried on roughly 30 percent of his throws. And he wasn't dealing with Von Miller or Malik "Dream Killer" Reed. Miller produced two sacks in the opener. His career best after two games is four sacks. Tying that mark is definitely in play on Sunday.
Don't forget about Dre
Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones made national news when he said Urban Meyer, his former coach at Ohio State, will have to adjust his "college-based" philosophies to succeed in the NFL. Jones took last week personally, helping anchor a rush defense that held the Giants to 60 yards. He also nearly netted a sack. Games often have X-factors. Jones should be one.
Troy's Prediction: Broncos 30, Jaguars 13