NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville, where ribs fall off the bone and country music warms the soul.
Aspiring artists arrive with wide eyes and big dreams at The Stage and other rockin' establishments. Getting a foot in the door is not easy. Gaining a foothold proves more difficult.
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian looks to do both this week in his return to the starting lineup. After practicing without setbacks on his sprained left foot, Siemian, barring an unexpected setback, will help revive an offense that managed a season-low 206 yards last week and punted 11 times.
"You don't want to just play, but play well, right?" Siemian said.
Siemian draws praise for his toughness, posting a 7-3 record as a starter despite right shoulder, left shoulder and left foot injuries. Siemian is ready to go, but the question remains: Can he be effective and mobile at less than 100 percent? He practiced in orthotics last week, and wore comfortable Nikes on the flight to Tennessee to ease the pain.
“It feels good. How do you feel?” Siemian asked me on Friday.
I told him my right foot hurts from throwing batting practice, long toss and being woefully out of shape. I can afford to be awful. He can’t. The Broncos need Siemian to ignite the offense with the help of new running back Justin Forsett. Running and stopping the rush will figure large in Sunday's outcome.
Let’s look at my Take 5 Keys to a Broncos victory:
Slow the Titans ground game
In the Titans' six losses, DeMarco Murray averages 79.8 yards per game. In their wins, he logs 94 yards. Notice a pattern? The Broncos need to contain Murray. With inside linebacker Brandon Marshall out, the onus falls on Corey Nelson to step up. He will need help. Look for safety T.J. Ward to function as a backer in the box, and for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to be creative with blitzes and personnel packages.
Forsett the table
Justin Forsett's arrival was celebrated. Let's be clear, he's not a savior. He's not even the starter. But he's built for the zone blocking scheme, showing proper patience before putting his foot in the ground. If he gets hot, give him the rock. Rookie Devontae Booker, who is playing through a shoulder injury, averaged less than 2 yards per carry last week.
Rush with purpose
The Broncos need to pursue Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota with proper perspective. If they can't reach him -- he's only been sacked 18 times -- they need to make him stay in the pocket to prevent big gains on the outside. Exotic plans could be the key. The NASCAR package -- four outside linebackers in the game together -- makes sense as a way to isolate Von Miller on a single blocker.
Trev' it up
Trevor Siemian played his best game in his last start, delivering critical gains with his feet. Can he remain mobile with a sprained left foot? If not, the Broncos need to push the ball downfield given the matchup advantages with receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. There will be chances available. Had rookie Paxton Lynch converted one of the four open shots against Jacksonville, the margin of victory would have widened dramatically. In Lynch's two starts, the Broncos posted their fewest and second fewest yardage totals.
Turn it up, turn it over
The Broncos are 9-0 when the defense scores over the past two seasons. They have won 29 straight games when winning the turnover battle. The defense embraces this pressure/burden. If they can create a short field, it could be the difference in a game where it feels like the first team to 20 will win.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Titans 20