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Running To Win: Broncos Need Ground Game To Beat Titans

Last week's loss was a very hard one for me to swallow. In fact, I went into a fitful rage of whiny negativity that was based purely on emotion. Most of which was entirely unbecoming. As a fan I tend to live and die with each play, which makes my thought process unpredictable and, yes, embarrassing. Of all the people I could have ripped into for that loss, I chose Kyle Orton! Wha? Yes, I know. Crazy. For whatever reason I lose all objectivity and reason during the really tough losses. Then by Wednesday or Thursday the fog begins to clear and I reflect only to question just about everything I thought I believed. It doesn't always happen that way, but this loss brought out the worst knee-jerk I've experienced in quite a while.

During my self analysis, I've concluded that the cause of the massive knee-jerk is because the Denver Broncos should have won their game against the Indianapolis Colts. I focused on Kyle Orton because he was our only hope on offense and he didn't pull the rabbit out of his hat down in the red zone. Was I wrong? Maybe, but would the Broncos have had any chance in that game without Orton? I doubt it. I've decided the best course of action for me is to write my own satirical knee-jerk post each week. Win or lose, I'm going to knee-jerk the heck out of the game and make it fun rather than demoralizing as it was for me in the hours after the last game.

For now, I'm going to lay out for you why I believe my first knee-jerk post will be all about how the Broncos will be going 13-3 baby! Yes, that's right, the Denver Broncos are in the perfect position to go into Nashville and stun the upstart Titans. And they're going to do it without relying solely on the noodled arm of Kyle Orton.

The Offense

On Wednesday's airing of MHR Radio, John Bena stated his belief that if the Denver Broncos throw for 180 yards they will lose against the Titans on Sunday. This is the general assertion opined from just about every credible media source.  Though I agree with John's statement in the context given, I also believe that if the Broncos remain a pass-happy team, Kyle Orton will most certainly end up with around 180 yards passing tomorrow. Why you ask?

Well, using my years of experience attempting to decipher coach-speak from the master, Mike Shanahan, I have come to the realization from listening to Jeff Fisher that the Titans focus will not necessarily be on stopping the passing attack as much as it will be putting the hurt on one Kyle Orton. The key to beating Orton - indeed, any quarterback - is to make them as uncomfortable as possible whenever they drop back to pass.

This makes for a perfect storm of sorts for the Denver Broncos. A crossroads if you will. You might argue that because the Broncos stopped Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis last week that our offensive line will have no problems against the relatively no-name pass rush of the Titans. The thing is, past success does not guarantee future success. This is especially true in the NFL. One week you are the hero, next week the goat. The reason I think the Titans will succeed where the Colts failed is that the Colts rely more on superior talent making plays than on a superior scheme, whereas the Titans employ a superior scheme through excellent coaching and good execution. The Broncos were able to defeat the Colts two superior players, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will succeed in stopping a superior scheme in the Titans. Which is why I believe Kyle Orton will be under serious duress if he drops back to pass 40+ times tomorrow.

So the key for the Broncos is to catch the Titans completely off guard by running the ball. I know this is something the Broncos have yet to do, but I assure you they will not be anemic all season long. Even when the Colts were dead last in rushing a few years ago, their running backs had a couple of big games during the year. I have a feeling the perfect storm is now and the Broncos run game is going to have a huge day. I would like to see Josh McDaniels, during the first couple of possessions, call run plays on each first and second down - regardless of the outcome. I have faith in our defense to stop the Titans offense in this game as I will explain later, but I expect the Titans to come after Orton early and often. Which would be the most perfect time to exploit their game plan by running through it.

One thing is certain, if the Broncos continue to be one dimensional on offense they will lose this game and the next two. For the defenses of their next three opponents are far to elite to get beat by a young, inexperienced one dimensional football team. However, there is one saving grace that might allow the Broncos to win tomorrow in spite of their obvious one dimensional handicap on offense. That saving grace is none other than the improved and improving defensive unit.

The Defense

Suffice to say, I have been a strong critic of this defensive unit since mid pre-season. I didn't like what I saw and I was rightfully worried heading into the season, much to the chagrin of my fellow MHR members. However, I believe I saw a corner turned over the last two weeks. In fact, I skipped writing an article last week because I needed to see the defense play against the Colts.

People like to point out the holes on defense in the passing game, but if you really take it into context the Broncos defense was frustrating Peyton Manning all game long. They were the reason the Broncos were still in the game at 13-10, in spite of several turnovers and not one, but two failures to convert fourth downs in the red zone(not counting the last one which happened at the end of the game).  The defense finally succumbed to the Colts, thanks in large part to the lackluster performance from the offensive unit. Two of Manning's three touchdowns came late in the fourth after the Broncos second failed fourth down conversion attempt in the red zone. Teams feed off each other and the defense had little to feed off of by that time, so I cannot blame them for finally faltering. I think that if the Broncos had scored on that drive, the defense would have responded.

So back to why I am happy with the improvements the defensive unit has made. First, they are playing with a much higher intensity which saps the energy away from your opponent. Second, they are tackling much better than at the start of the season and third, the run defense is making strides. Granted, tomorrow will be their biggest test of the year and will be an excellent measuring stick for the future. Holding Chris Johnson to less than 125 yards and less than one touchdown would be a victory for the Broncos defense. 

The key for the Broncos is as obvious as the rising sun. Stop the Titans rushing attack. I think the best thing to do for this game is to bring the old 5-2 defense out of mothballs. Against a mediocre quarterback like Vince Young, the Broncos would do well stacking the line with big men and leaving their cornerbacks on islands to cover equally mediocre wide receivers. As many of you have read, Steve Nichols wrote a solid article last year on the 5-2 defense and how Denver employed it early during the 2009 season. In short, here is what the 5-2 looks like on the big white board:


The idea is to utilize Robert Ayers and Jason Hunter on the edges to contain Chris Johnson and corral him back into the middle where the beef is. I don't see much use for Jarvis Moss in this game other than in third and long situations. Also, task someone in the backfield with spying Chris Johnson and Vince Young as well. Containment is the most important goal for the defense in this game.

I think they are stacked up perfectly to just that. The Titans don't respect their record against the run and their game plan will likely be running the ball - a lot. This is Josh McDaniels' chance to out coach Jeff Fisher and beat him by playing to the weaknesses of the other team. In the Titans case, their weakness on offense is a lack of a passing game and on defense is their desire to pressure Kyle Orton. That is how I see it anyway.

Even if the Broncos beat the Titans by throwing the ball every down, they cannot rely on it indefinitely and certainly not against the likes of the Ravens or Jets. They'll chew Orton up and spit him out after the first quarter. Now is the time to regain the two dimensional offense. Give the Ravens something to chew on for next week.

My prediction for this week, the Broncos stun the Titans 27-16.