DENVER -- The worst-case scenario is no longer a hypothetical with the Broncos.
They have lost their best defensive player (Von Miller), best offensive player (Courtland Sutton), most important player (Drew Lock) and former Pro Bowlers A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey. For a team living on the edge, the injuries have proven a push into the abyss.
But for one clear Thursday night in New Jersey, they can numb the pain and regain a morsel of relevance. They play the Jets. If the Broncos can't beat the Jets, then who can they beat?
This is a serious question. The teams face off on Denver7 at 6:20 p.m. owning winless records. But there are degrees of awfulness. The Broncos could have won their first two games -- losing by a combined seven points to Tennessee and Pittsburgh -- before Tampa Bay boxed their ears last Sunday. The Jets have been outscored 94-37, leading to educated speculation that coach Adam Gase, a former Denver offensive coordinator, will be canned if he loses on the short week.
This game remains winnable for the Broncos on a schedule where many don't appear that way moving forward. As such, my Denver7 keys to victory:
Let it Ryp
The Broncos turned to their third starting quarterback in four weeks, and their ninth since Peyton Manning. Rypien is a football brainiac, someone who has been breaking down film since he became a varsity starter during his freshman year in high school. The Broncos believe he will put them in the right spot, manage the game, and make a few plays, possibly in the hurry-up where he completed 8-of-9 passes for 53 yards and an interception in relief last week. Make it easy for Rypien with quick hitters to Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant and screens to Melvin Gordon and K.J. Hamler, and he can function fine as a game manager.
Run for the hills
The best friend to a new quarterback starting on the road? A consistent running game. The Broncos guaranteed Gordon $13.5 million this offseason, then forgot about him at the goal line against Pittsburgh and nearly the entire afternoon against Tampa Bay. The Broncos rank 29th in rushing yards at 84.3 and 30th with 22 attempts per game. That must change Thursday. Phillip Lindsay was declared inactive, setting his return from the turf toe injury against the Patriots. The onus is on Gordon and the offensive line to take this challenge personally. The Jets yield 133 yards per game, ninth worst.
Get a pick
Here's the thing about problems in professional sports: 90 percent of the people don't care and the other 10 percent are glad you have them. There is no sympathy. No excuses. The Broncos have enough playmakers left -- Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Shelby Harris, Alexander Johnson and Bryce Callahan -- to produce a turnover. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold played one of his worst games against the Colts last week, throwing three interceptions. The Colts defense outscored the Jets offense last week. There is no reason the Broncos cannot produce a turnover.
Protect the QB
The Broncos have allowed 13 sacks over the past two games. Jeff Driskel was sacked 11 times in seven quarters as his internal clock switched to daylight savings time. I kid because I care. But Driskel's inability to get rid of the ball contributed to at least five sacks. The Jets' pass rush had no sacks and one quarterback hit on Philip Rivers. The Broncos' offensive line should rebound, perhaps helped by new starting right tackle Demar Dotson.
Can the special teams not have a major gaffe? Is that too much to ask? In consecutive weeks the punt team contributed directly to points with a dropped snap at Pittsburgh and a blocked punt vs. Tampa Bay. The Jets return kicks fine, but manage little on punts. Be smart, no mistakes, and help the cause, special teamers.
The Broncos' coaches pride themselves on being teachers. Their knowledge is well-known. But at 0-3, it's time to color outside the lines for Vic Fangio. Mix up the blitz package. Send the corner. Pat Shurmur, don't be afraid to use K.J. Hamler liberally, including on one gadget play.
Eye in the sky
Playoff expectations dissolved with the winless start and injuries. But young players have a lot to prove. This is a rare stage to show off their skills, show they belong, starting with Rypien. The eye in the sky doesn't lie, you know?
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 20, Jets 17
It’s a season of big sports events airing this fall on Denver7. Check out our upcoming schedule:
- Thursday: Broncos vs Jets on Denver7
- Oct. 2: NBA Finals Game 2 on Denver7
- Oct. 4: NBA Finals Game 3 on Denver7
- Oct. 6: NBA Finals Game 4 on Denver7
- Oct. 9: NBA Finals Game 5 on Denver7
- Oct. 11: NBA Finals Game 6 on Denver7
- Oct. 13: NBA Finals Game 7 on Denver7