It's not often a week four matchup is considered a "must win" for teams, but when the Broncos travel to Tennessee to face the Titans, the game could have a playoff atmosphere.
This is a critical game between two AFC teams that could be battling for late-season playoff positioning. The Titans obviously play in the AFC South, which is one of the best divisions in football. They will need all the quality wins against AFC opponents they can get.
The Broncos are in a similar boat. They are already at a huge disadvantage, having lost two AFC contests already this season out of 12 total attempts. They have already put themselves in a hole in that regard, but it's definitely not an insurmountable deficit.
All that being said, the Broncos' best bet at a playoff appearance in 2010 will likely be as the AFC West champions, and this is still a game they would love to have in the early part of the season--a quality win against a solid opponent in their house, within the division.
This season is a marathon, not a sprint, but the Broncos play their next three games against the Titans, Ravens (road), and New York Jets. They need to find a way to win two of those games at least, and Tennessee is the first road block.
To try something new out, I'm going to to a position by position breakdown of the two teams to give another look at who has the edge in this game. At the end, we will total the "edges" for each team and determine who could be the winner that way.
Simply put, Kyle Orton is slinging the ball around the field. Problem is, we need him to be more efficient in the red zone, and that will be true again this week on the road. Orton knows he has protection, so he doesn't need to look to the first read every time on critical red zone plays. He has time to see the field and pick his spots, and that will be true again this week.
Not to take anything away from Vince Young, who has been solid as a starter in this league, but he is more than beatable, and definitely not better than Kyle Orton at this point. I definitely have to give the Broncos' quarterback an edge here, and probably the units as a whole.
Orton is throwing more than 350 yards a game right now. Brandon Lloyd had one more receiving yard than Vince Young has throwing this season, but the Titans are just not a throwing team. I give the Broncos the edge here.
Running Back: Titans
You would love to be able to say the Broncos have the edge here. Two first round picks and a highly regarded veteran are not enough to beat out Chris Johnson, who is arguably the league's best back. This year, Johnson is averaging a relatively low (for his standards) four yards per carry. That is something the Broncos will key on. Johnson was shut down by Pittsburgh, and Denver's run defense has not been giving up a ton of yards this season. In fact, no opponent has rushed for 100 yards against them (individually).
Still, Johnson is a ticking time bomb, and he could explode at any moment. He has electrifying speed, deceptive power, and he's a great receiver out of the backfield. Denver will have their hands full with him this week. He is an absolute stud.
Meanwhile, the Broncos will look to get Laurence Maroney back on track with only his second real week of practice this season. Denver could also be without fullback Spencer Larsen, who was injured last week against Indianapolis.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: Broncos
This is another no-brainer. The Broncos have arguably the best group of wide receivers in the league. No quartet has ever accomplished what they have through three games in the history of the NFL. Four players with at least 10 catches and 140 yards has never been done before in this league, and this unit has done it.
Brandon Lloyd leads the team in yards and is averaging 24 yards per reception. Jabar Gaffney has been very solid in two of three games, and the same holds true for Eddie Royal. Demaryius Thomas has looked good for the Broncos in very limited action, and he could be a star in the making. We have yet to even see third round pick Eric Decker, but we did see Matthew Willis make his first catch of the season last week.
The Titans have some bigger receivers in Justin Gage and Kenny Britt, but Nate Washington leads this team in receiving. Even still, most of his production came from one game, and this is not the best group the Titans have had out there.
At the tight end position, the Broncos feature Daniel Graham and Dan Gronkowski, and neither has really stood out this season.
I like the Titans' duo of Bo Scaife and Jared Cook as pass receiving tight ends, and Vince Young is going to need to look their way in the passing game often.
Offensive Line: Push
The Broncos are arguably the league's best pass protecting team, but they have not yet made strides in the running game. The Titans are fantastic at run blocking, but don't have to worry a lot about pass protection due to the fact that Vince Young is such a mobile player, but I wouldn't say they are bad at it either.
I give this area a push. I think the Broncos have a very good offensive line, and they are getting healthy. I also think the Titans have a good offensive line, and a great one in tackle Michael Roos. Still the Titans rank only 28th in total offense, so some of that has to be attributed to the offensive line.
Defensive Front Seven: Titans
I have to give the Titans a slight edge here. While the Broncos are better against the run, the Titans simply find a way to apply pressure. Linebacker Will Weatherspoon leads the team with three sacks, and Jason Babin and Dave Ball are not far behind with two each.
The Broncos have two sacks as a unit through three games.
The Titans' linebackers are always fast, and they are an aggressive group. The defensive line is definitely tough to contain, and I maintain that they are one of the most well coached lines in all of football, either side of the football. Tennessee does a great job rotating defensive linemen, and plugging guys into their system. They are very well coached.
I love the Broncos' improvements in this area despte Elvis Dumervil's absence. They have performed more than admirably against the run, and I think D.J. Williams could be in line for his first ever Pro Bowl appearance. Robert Ayers has also stepped up this season.
The Broncos are really going to need to step up their game with the speed of the Titans offensively.
And really, this one isn't all that close.
For the Titans, I love Michael Griffin and Chris Hope as a safety tandem, and it's no wonder they are two of the team's three top tacklers. They are fast, physical, and dangerous in the passing game. Cortland Finnegan is a solid coverage guy, but he only has one pass defensed this year.
The big story here is that rookie Alterraun Verner (who was mocked here quite a bit) will be getting his first start this week in place of the injured Jason McCourtey, who was one of three Titans players to record an interception this season. The rookie will have a tough time against the Broncos' passing offense, and likely will be picked on quite a bit.
The Broncos' secondary is led by Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, who need no introduction. I think Renaldo Hill may have lost a bit, but he has been decent for the Broncos this year. Andre' Goodman should be back for the Broncos this week, boosting their depth in the defensive backfield even further. Perrish Cox got rocked last week against Indianapolis, which was a good learning experience for the talented rookie.
Nate Jones is one of the team's top tacklers, and has been pretty good for the Broncos as a nickel and dime defensive back. I love the depth the Broncos have at safety with Darcel McBath and David Bruton, and I think this is a very tough unit.
Special Teams: Push
Both teams have been shaky in kick and punt coverage as a whole this season, but both have a good punter and kicker. The Titans have a familiar face punting balls in Brett Kern, who is averaging 47 yards per kick this season with four inside the 20. Rob Bironas is an elite kicker, and has yet to miss this season.
The Titans' return game is a one man show with Marc Mariani, who has been very impressive so far this season, averaging over 10 yards per punt return and over 24 yards per kick return.
The Broncos have one of the NFL's best kickers in Matt Prater, who also has yet to miss this seasn. Prater and Bironas are both good kickoff men with great leg strength. Denver's punter is Britton Colquitt, who has done a great job this season, averaging 47.3 yards per punt with four inside the 20, and no touchbacks.
Eddie Royal is one of the league's best punt returners, but the Broncos have yet to find a groove in kick returns, and they've only had four attempts this season.
Home Field: Titans
Playing on the east coast has been a huge issue for the Broncos, especially when they have to play in the early game. That is an advantage for the Titans, who are obviously used to that. It will definitely be an adjustment for the Broncos, and we will see if they can escape another game with record heat.
So for those keeping score at home, the final tally in all of these areas has a virtual tie. The Broncos and Titans each with three categories in their favor, and two went to a push. In that case, I think this will be a fantastic game. It will all come down to execution on Sunday, and whichever team makes the fewest mistakes. The Broncos are currently at 0 in the turnover margin, while the Titans are at -2. That could certainly be the difference in this battle between AFC teams.
- Josh McDaniels was 3-0 in the month of October in his first year as a head coach
- The Titans are 14-4 when Chris Johnson rushes for over 100 yards
- Vince Young is 7-2 since 2008 in home starts
- The Broncos are 2-0 against the Titans since the team changed their name in 1999
- Tennessee is allowing only 25% conversion rate on third down
- The Broncos have lost 5 of their last 6 games on the road
- The Broncos are tied for the league lead with 13 red zone appearances (4.3 per game)