The Broncos will open their season on the road in Jacksonville in front of a sold out crowd. It might not be Maurice Jones-Drew that is filling seats though.
It could be that Florida's gridiron god--Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow--is making a trip back to his home town for his first meaningful NFL game. Tebow is from the Jacksonville area, and is nothing short of a sports hero in that state. Regardless of whether or not he plays, the football fans in Florida will be there to cheer on their golden boy.
Despite what many may read, Tim Tebow is not the storyline for this contest. There is a game to be played between these two teams, and it should be a very good one. The Broncos have--at least judging by what we know now--a very favorable schedule, and Jacksonville is a good place for Denver to open their season, especially if it has to be on the road.
Here is a look at how the Broncos match-up against the Jaguars.
The Jacksonville offense is led by Maurice Jones-Drew, who is one of the top playmakers in all of the NFL. Jones-Drew is a fantastic running back, and he could create some mismatches if Denver's defense is as porous week one as it was in the regular season. Make no mistake about it, if the Broncos are not stout against the run, Jones-Drew will exploit it.
The Broncos made a ton of moves this offseason to fix the run defense that started so promising last year but wore down as the season went on. They signed Justin Bannan from the Ravens, and Jamal Williams from the Chargers. They also brought in Kevin Vickerson recently, formerly of the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks.
Denver also thinks it has a winning combination at linebacker with Jason Hunter and Robert Ayers on the outside, and Mario Haggan coupled with D.J. Williams on the inside.
On paper, the Broncos' front seven should be able to contain Jones-Drew. I won't go so far as to say they will shut him down entirely, but we have not really gotten a good look at the Broncos' front seven in the pre-season, as they have battled injuries.
Still, this unit was as bad as any in the pre-season, and if the big play is not limited, the Broncos could be in trouble.
Likewise, if the Broncos shut the run down, the Jaguars could be in serious trouble. Denver boasts one of the top pass defenses in the league, and they got even better over the course of the offseason.
Mike Sims-Walker is the Jags' top target in the passing game, but he should not be any match for Champ Bailey, who did not allow a touchdown last season.
Denver's pass rush is a huge question without Elvis Dumervil, but their pass defense should easily pick up the slack in this game. The only way for Jacksonville to hurt the Broncos in the passing game is via the surprise screen and short passes to the tight ends. Marcedes Lewis is a good receiving tight end, and he's a huge target. It would be nice if the Broncos could put Jarvis Moss on his side of the field in obvious passing situations as he would match up the best physically.
It will be interesting to see how the Jaguar offensive line handles Denver's defensive line. As bad as they were in the pre-season as a collective unit, the Denver defensive line is very powerful with Bannan and Williams specifically, and Ryan McBean responded to his solid first year with a great offseason. Jacksonville's offensive line is improved, but relatively inexperienced. It will be a matchup to watch for sure.
The Jaguar defense went through a nice little makeover this offseason, though I'm not sure fans are too happy about some of it.
Aaron Kampman, Tyson Alualu, and Kirk Morrison were brought in to fortify the Jacksonville front seven. Kampman and Alualu were brought in specifically to provide a spark to the pass rush, which was statistically one of the worst in the NFL last season. Even with these two additions, Denver's offensive line excels in the pass protect department. Ryan Harris' absence could hurt a bit, and Denver has two young guys on the interior in J.D. Walton and Stanley Daniels. It will be another solid matchup.
One area the Broncos could really take advantage of is a weak Jacksonville secondary. Credit should go to Rashean Mathis, one of the best and more underrated corners in the league, but the rest of the Jaguar secondary is over-matched by this Denver receiving corps, and more importantly by quarterback Kyle Orton.
Orton looks fantastic this season, and is showing a ton of confidence in himself. He appears to be playing with a chip on his shoulder (or like he just got paid). If Orton and the Broncos can get off to a quick start like they have in a majority of their pre-season games, they should be able to get control of this game very early on.
This should be an interesting matchup. Deji Karim averaged over 32 yards per return in the pre-season, and appears to be a keeper. The Broncos also had very good coverage units, and Matt Prater is a touchback machine on kickoffs.
Josh Scobee is a good NFL kicker, and Adam Podlesh is a capable punter.
The Broncos seem to have found a gem in punter Britton Colquitt, who had one of the best averages in the NFL over the pre-season. I don't expect Jaguars return men to have much success against this Denver special teams, which has been a huge focus of Josh McDaniels since he was hired to take over this team. They are quietly becoming one of the better units in the league.
This should be an exciting game for the Broncos, and one that they should win. Not to slight the Jaguars in any way at all, they could turn out to be a fine team, but based on last season and what happened over the course of the offseason, I'm confident the Broncos are the better team here, even as the visitors. They should be able to get off to a fast start with the passing game, and close them out with Knowshon Moreno and the running game.