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Ultimate Fan Guide: Defense, run game must be on fire to beat 49ers

This week's matchup against the 4-2 49ers is not just a huge test for the Broncos. It's also for family bragging rights for Ultimate Fan Art Vanndelay, and we all know what a big deal that is!

Ezra Shaw

In the first game of a super-tough three-game stretch, the Broncos play host to the 49ers in a primetime Sunday Night Football matchup that is a crucial mid-season game for both teams.

The 49ers have gotten the best of Denver 7 out of 13 times, including that horrific Super Bowl in 1990 that many Denver fans would like to erase from their memories.

But this is no NFC-AFC mismatch from 24 years ago. These are two teams with many similarities, which  promises a salivating showdown at Mile High. For another excellent edition in our Ultimate Fan series, Art Vanndelay gives us a preview for a game he really, really, really wants the Broncos to win.

Denver Broncos v. San Francisco 49ers

MHR - The Jets game was a little Jekyl and Hyde with some flashes of brilliance on offense followed by head-scratching play calls and play execution. What three takeaways should the Broncos be focusing on from their win over the Jets?

  • Minimize penalties!!!! Penalties only serve two purposes and neither of them is good. Penalties either kill your offensive drives or extend offensive drives for the other team. JUST STOP IT ALREADY.
  • Continue establishing the run game.
  • Get Wes Welker more involved in the passing game. I think he only had one catch, albeit a very important one, in the Jets game.

MHR - The early season "rust" should be done and consistency should start to be the norm. Which improvements do you think are a must from the Broncos if this team is going to make a Super Bowl run?

  • Offensive line play absolutely NEEDS to improve, especially in the run department. Ryan Clady just does not look comfortable out there. I wonder if he's still feeling effects from his injury? On the bright side, I think Orlando Franklin is playing well at guard.
  • Jack Del Rio needs to be more aggressive in his scheming. Thankfully, we saw some of that against the Jets. He disguised his blitzes well and brought pressure from different areas. We have a defense with DeMarcus WareT.J. WardAqib TalibVon Miller, Chris Harris Jr. Let them make you look smart, Jack.
  • Broncos NEED a consistent run game. I think we are starting to see that now. I think Ronnie Hillman andJuwan Thompson can provide a solid one-two punch. Both are fresh and motivated. It will be interesting to see how this plays out when Montee Ball returns.

MHR - For the second time this season, penalties on the Broncos were very costly in the game. What needs to happen in practice/coaching/game-time play for this trend to stop and stop now?

Art Vanndelay: Penalties are directly correlated to bad coaching and a lack of discipline. Players need to be held accountable. You can still be a "Player's Coach" as well as hold your players accountable. Those things are not mutually exclusive. Not sure John Fox knows that.

MHR - Peyton Manning needs two touchdown passes to tie and three to break Brett Favre's TD record. What are the chances Manning reaches one/both of those this game? Any guesses on who gets TD No. 509?

Art Vanndelay: I think Peyton will break the record against the 49ers. I don't think there is anyone to fear in the Niners' secondary, and I fully expect Manning to exploit them. I'm going to say that Jacob Tamme will be the lucky recipient of 509.

MHR - Once again, the Broncos face a tough pass rush in the Niners D. How do you think the Broncos offensive line can hold up to them without holding penalties?

Art Vanndelay: I think you will see a lot of 2 TE sets, maybe bringing Virgil Green into the backfield to block. The 49ers are a lot like Seattle in that they can bring pressure up the middle with their 3-4. And their defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are versatile; they can line up and bring pressure from the middle too. Ian Williams is a handful at nose tackle and has proved an adequate replacement of Glenn Dorsey.

MHR - The Broncos have faced four mobile quarterbacks this season and now they have a fifth. What needs to be the approach by this defense for containing Kaepernick, currently leading the NFL among rushing quarterbacks with 250 yards?

Art Vanndelay: I would like to see Del Rio use a spy on him. I think the Defensive Line needs to try to keep him in the pocket as much as possible (easier said than done) and force Kap to beat us with his arm. I'm not so sure that blitzing is the answer, though Kaepernick's numbers show he excels against the blitz, and his numbers are worse when he does have time to throw.

Kaepernick is probably the fastest quarterback in the NFL. He's not afraid to call his own number, and if he sees a hole, he will exploit it . He is not without his weaknesses, though. Kap has a very, very strong arm and to his detriment, can get over confident. He isn't afraid to throw across the field while on the run. I can definitely see some interceptions to be had.

MHR - The Broncos had not been known for outstanding run defense, yet they held the Jets to 31 yards rushing on the day and have done an admirable job containing running backs all year. What will be the key to keeping Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde in check while also keeping an eye on Vernon Davis?

Tackling is the No. 1 priority. Gore and Hyde aren't burners but they get a lot of YAC and are a load to bring down. The defense needs to wrap up and tackle the ball carrier.   -Art Vanndelay

Art Vanndelay: Tackling is the No. 1 priority. Gore and Hyde aren't burners, but they do get a lot of yards after contact and are a load to bring down. The defense is going to need to wrap up and attack the ball carrier. They need a complete defensive effort. As for Vernon Davis, I wouldn't be surprised to see Del Rio use a combination of a linebacker (Corey Nelson?) and Ward.

MHR - Julius Thomas has been a great receiver every game, and Demaryius Thomas has come out on fire the last two games. Emmanuel Sanders has yet to score a TD but has been very productive in total yards. Which receiver will be the key weapon against the 49ers?

Art Vanndelay: Emmanuel Sanders. He's so important to this offense right now. He moves the chains, he can stretch defenses, he brings an added dimension that they didn't have last year. I definitely see him having a huge game, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a couple 30-yard plus receptions.

MHR- How will Denver's secondary match up against the 49ers receiving corps?

Art Vanndelay: I think Denver matches up really well. 49ers have a deep receiving corps and can go four wide. Fortunately we have the DBs to match up with them. Kaepernick isn't afraid to throw the deep ball and will try to stretch the field with Brandon Loyd and Steve Johnson. Rahim Moore will have to play the centerfielder role and provide support for the potential deep play. I think the biggest x-factor will be Vernon Davis. I look for Kap to go to him early and often.

Here's how I would try to match up with them:

Anquan Boldin - Aqib Talib

Michael Crabtree - Chris Harris Jr.

Steve Johnson - Bradley Roby

Brandon LloydKayvon Webster

Vernon Davis - T.J. Ward/Lamin Barrow

MHR - Last week Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson actually showed fans a running game can exist in Denver. What is your prediction for the running game's success in this matchup?

Art Vanndelay: I think Denver can find success against the 49ers defense, especially if Patrick Willis is out. The Rams combined for 93 rushing yards and a respectable 3.9 yards per catch.

Ideally I'd like to see Thompson used more in short yardage situations. I nearly had an aneurysm seeing Hillman rushing up the middle for no gain. I can see our backs combining for 109 yards and a TD.

With the loss of Navarro Bowman to injury last season and Patrick Willis most likely missing the game because of injury, it looks like the Broncos are going to catch a lucky break (no pun intended, Navarro). This is a very different Niners defense from the last few years. They lost Donte Whitner (free agency), Glenn Dorsey (injury) Navarro Bowman (injury), Aldon Smith (stupidity), and CB Chris Culliver is coming off a major knee injury last year.

Super Bowl XXIV made me cry (give me a break, I was 10). It stands as the biggest margin of victory in Super Bowl. Last year's loss to the Seahawks didn't affect me that bad. I always felt the Seahawks were the worst possible matchup for the Broncos.   -Art Vanndelay

MHR - Which was your least favorite Super Bowl loss - Super Bowl XXIV against the 49ers (55-10) or SuperBowl XLVIII against the Seahawks (43-8)?

Easy. Only one of those losses made me cry - Super Bowl XXIV (give me a break, I was 10 years old).

It stands as the biggest margin of victory in a Super Bowl - a fact my wife and in-laws are all too happy to remind about - and every kid at my school was a 49ers fan.

Last year's loss to the Seahawks didn't affect me that bad, to be honest, and I know my fellow MHR-ers are not going to like this, but I always felt the Seahawks were the worst possible matchup for the Broncos. Even with the "record-breaking" offense we had, I went into that game fully expecting a Seahawks victory (not a 43-8 blowout mind you), but Denver just had far too many injuries, and the Seahawks had the defense as well as a massive chip (in the form of Adderall) on its shoulder.

MHR - Which Broncos player is most like Kramer from Seinfeld? Von Miller. He has a funky style all his own and is the proud owner of a chicken farm. That definitely sounds like Kramer to me.

Season predictions

Ultimate Fan Peyton Manning stats Manning TDs/INTs # yards by RBs WR with most yards # sacks by Broncos D # sacks by Cardinals D Most tackles by Broncos player Broncos player with most INTs # penalties by Broncos Final score
ArtVanndelay 30-44, 327 yards 3, 1 109 yards Emmanuel Sanders, 10/147, 1st TD 3 3 T.J. Ward (10) Rahim Moore (1) 7 34-20 Broncos

The Favorites:

Favorite matchup for the Broncos? Kansas City - Nothing warms my heart like killing the hopes and dreams of KC. It's like chicken soup for the soul.

Team you most hate for the Broncos to lose to? Raiders. SHOULD. NEVER. HAPPEN.

Favorite NFL coach of another team? Jeff Fisher

Favorite coach to beat on another NFL team? Pete Carroll. It hasn't happened yet, but I did experience it as a UCLA fan. SPOILER ALERT: it's awesome!

Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Demaryius Thomas (Please re-sign him)

Favorite Broncos player of all time? Steve Atwater. It's a crime he's not in the Hall of Fame. He changed the way safeties played the game. Walked the line better than anyone. Was a mean SOB on the field without having to be dirty.

It's a crime Steve Atwater is not in the Hall of Fame. He changed the way safeties played the game, walked the line better than anyone and was a mean SOB on the field without being dirty.   -Art Vanndelay

Best Broncos game ever played? Super Bowl XXXII against the "vaunted" Green Bay Packers. There is nothing better in football than the other team knowing you are going to run the football and they can't do anything to stop you.

Which game this season has been your favorite so far? Seattle. I know it was a loss, but I was impressed by the comeback. They went into a hostile environment and almost stole a win. They dealt with the noise, the WRs weren't intimidated by the Legion of Boom. They showed a lot of heart.

Favorite thing to eat during a game? My wife's Chili Verde Pork Nachos

Favorite game-day ritual you do for every Broncos game? Going to church with my wife.

Your "Hall of Fame" Broncos team?

QB- John Elway

RB- Terrell Davis

TE- Shannon Sharpe

WR- Demaryius Thomas and Rod Smith

Center - Tom Nalen

Tackles - Gary Zimmerman and Ken Lanier

Guards - Keith " We got'em right where we want ‘em" Bishop and Mark Schlereth

DTs- Dave Kragen and Rueben Carter

DEs - Rulon Jones and Lyle Alzado

LBs - Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Karl Mecklenburg

CBs - Louis Wright and Champ Bailey

FS - Steve Atwater

SS - Dennis Smith

Final thoughts?

Art Vanndelay: This will be a very fun game for me to watch. My wife and her family are huge 49ers fans, but to their credit, they do root for and watch the Broncos because of me, and I appreciate their support. I don't have the hate for the 49ers I had as a kid (due to the fact that my wife and inlaws are such incredible people and so supportive of the Broncos).

However this isn't some meaningless preseason game, this one counts. The strength of my marriage will be tested, family bragging rights will be on the line. This may determine if I get really cool Christmas gifts from my sister-in-laws or not. The pressure is on, the time is now, a George divided against itself cannot stand!!!!

To quote Jim Harbaugh " Who has it better than us?!"

Well, you gonna find out on Sunday night.