ENGLEWOOD – On a sun-drenched afternoon on Aug. 23, the Broncos scrimmaged against the Los Angeles Rams at Centura Training Center. It represented another mile marker in a long, rugged training camp journey under new coach Sean Payton.
In life, when you invite someone into your home you treat them well. In sports, the exact opposite applies, where the idea is to figuratively punch them in the mouth, letting them know they are permitted to share the grounds, but are not in charge.
On this day, the Broncos struggled with energy and attitude. One mistake turned into two. Pre-snap penalties littered the practice field. This was a reminder of the challenge Payton faces inheriting a team that has posted six-straight losing seasons.
Changing a culture takes new faces and time. It is hard to have confidence without results. So, to avoid the “here-we-go-again, same-old Broncos,” Denver needs a victory to believe in my opinion.
The Raiders, once an easy mark when Mike Shanahan coached Denver, have been a problem. They boast six straight victories over the Broncos. How does Denver change the narrative? My Denver7 keys to victory:
Slow Josh Jacobs
Josh Jacobs owns a 7-0 record vs. the Broncos, averaging 103 yards per game with nine touchdowns. He has 335 yards in his past two games, including 130 on 27 second-half carries. Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph identified stopping Jacobs as the top priority. Jacobs seeks violence. This is not a one-man job, with linebacker Alex Singleton and cornerback Pat Surtain II admitting it will require “gang-tackling.” Jacobs might be on a play count after missing the preseason, but the Broncos must assume he will have fresh legs.
Contain Mad Maxx
Maxx Crosby does bad things to the Broncos. He has 11.5 sacks vs. Denver, a sack in seven straight games and eight in his last four. Payton admitted they must know where he’s at on every play. He is a smart player, whose impact goes beyond the pass rush. Mike McGlinchey became the highest paid right tackle this offseason. He knows Crosby well, respects him, and is not looking to trash talk unless it is demanded. This is the type of game where he has to show why the Broncos made signing him a top priority.
Running is for everyone
Payton admits that running must be part of this team’s DNA. In his last five years in New Orleans, Payton finished top 10 in most rushing categories, including attempts and red zone touchdowns. Javonte Williams plays in his first game in 11 months following knee surgery and believes he’s ready for anything. Denver will likely ease him into the mix with 15-20 touches, leaving Samaje Perine, especially on third down, and Jaleel McLaughlin to complement him. Last year the Broncos threw 42 passes and rushed 20 times in the opening loss at Seattle. A 50-50 split is needed on Sunday, and it bears watching how the Broncos tackles hold up given McGlinchey’s right knee sprain in camp and Garett Bolles’ return from a broken leg.
Get Russ in Rhythm
No player is under more pressure this season than Russell Wilson. His career remains at a crossroads after he cratered to career lows in touchdowns and completion percentage last season. He has embraced Payton’s tough coaching, dropped 15 pounds, showed more mobility, and has bought in to a run-based offense. Payton is a brilliant playcaller. I expect him to get Wilson into rhythm early with early bubble and running back screens and quick-game passes to Marvin Mims Jr. and Phillip Dorsett, the later of whom is likely to play in place of Jerry Jeudy (hamstring). A good day for Wilson? How about 23-for-30, 230 yards and 45 yards rushing. He must be decisive. If the first read is not there, don’t be afraid to run.
Drop the gloves first
The Broncos should play like the ugly guy in the brawl. Be aggressive. Take the fight to them. The Broncos were 3-7 when opponents scored first last season. There are so many advantages of leading. It allows Colorado to dictate offensively and use the homefield crowd noise to drive the Raiders into a silent count, while struggling with pressure.
Best players, big plays
Raiders receiver Davante Adams is going to get a chunk of yards. He’s a future Hall of Fame receiver. Pat Surtain II held his ground in the first matchup and lost the second. Surtain told Denver7 he is excited to face Adams. Great on great is what it is all about. The Broncos need Surtain or safety Justin Simmons to come up with a big play. Maybe it’s a deflection that lands in the hands of ball magnet Essang Bassey.
Just for kicks
Kicker Wil Lutz is thrilled to be reunited with Payton given his success with him in New Orleans. Earlier this week, Lutz headed over to Empower Field at Mile High to get some practice kicks in. He told me he feels comfortable there. His lone appearance at the field was during the Saints’ COVID game win over the Broncos in 2020. The Broncos posted a 2-6 record in games decided by a field goal or less. Lutz must be clutch as Brandon McManus’ replacement.
TROY’S PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Raiders 20
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