Wow, it seems like months since we’ve had a Broncos game and longer since our Ultimate Fans chimed in. But the good news - no, the great news - is that even though we still have two days until game day, we have two fans to give us plenty of awesome reading material until game time! (and OrangeandBluesBros, you’re definitely going to want to get a couple of Snickers™ for this one!)
Also, this week’s Ultimate Fans include one lucky enough to live on the right (left) side of South Dakota and one who is a converted Niners fan - but both are new to the UFG, so give them a big welcome and enjoy another fabulous edition.
Week 6: Houston at Denver
MHR – So what is your take on what went most wrong last week against the Chargers?Todduscraig: If the loss to Atlanta was a fart, then the loss to the Chargers was the turd that followed. The Atlanta game felt a bit more competitive at least. In San Diego, the offensive line looked shaky, Siemian and the receivers looked out of sync, and the defense gave up another quick first score before settling down. Penalties shackled our running game, and two sacks from our defense ain’t gonna cut it against a divisional foe.
What specifically went wrong? Lots. But basically, it was the first time in well over a year that we lost our aggressiveness and our poise, both offensively and defensively. The offensive line, which keyed our early 4-0 success, has floundered as a result of injuries and juggled line-ups. Until the men up front work as a cohesive unit and avoid costly holding penalties, the occasional losses will continue.
TheRealist2015: Without either Peyton Manning or D-Ware on the field, the team’s inspiration comes from domination and intimidation by the defense. Lately however, that inspiration, especially early on in the game, is simply not there. When both the Falcons and Chargers are immediately made to look like the re-incarnation of the Walsh-Montana offense, the Broncos’ swagger is gone. The D must start with a couple of three-and-outs to set the tone. The second cause underlying a chronic issue is the misplaced confidence the front office and coaching staff have in the ability to turn anybody into an all-pro offensive lineman. Aside from a somewhat ill-advised second-rounder on Ty Sambrailo, the organization is not investing in its offensive line. We got out of the gates well this year, but by Week 3 or 4, opposing defenses had our line figured out. It is somewhat inexplicable that, knowing we would have a young QB behind center, we ignored the obvious imperative to provide the necessary talent on the O-line. This problem is not going away anytime soon, so creative play-calling is the only solution.
MHR – Coach Gary Kubiak is back after a week off for a migraine condition. How much of a difference will that make in this team’s performance?
Todduscraig: As far as Kubiak is concerned, I don’t think that we can overestimate his importance and influence. His play-calling was sorely missed, and the team seemed lost and uninspired without him. I’m not sure why Kubiak doesn’t get the credit for being one of the top coaches in the NFL, but I like our odds far better with him on the sideline. He represents our steadying influence, our sharp eye at spotting the opponent’s weakness, and the brilliance of knowing when and how to go in for the kill shot. I, for one, feel far more confident with him on our sideline than not.
TheRealist2015: Kubiak’s presence is huge. He is the subtle blend between a player’s coach and a disciplinarian. He has both drive and intelligence, and I think the players not only understand this, they gain confidence by his presence on the sideline. Aside from D-Ware, he is the one true leader on the team.
MHR – Many of the guys on the team have voiced anger at their disappointing performance, such as Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Anderson. Do you think talk is cheap at this point or a good sign of a turnaround?
Todduscraig: Talk is cheap, but the first step is admitting you have a problem. This week, a brilliant writer for this blog talked about the lack of player leadership on this team. That’s a real and tangible void left behind by Manning’s retirement, Ware’s injury, and Kubiak’s migraine. The good news is that Kubes is back, and we’ve had a longer week of preparation to right the ship. I’m confident that this team will find its swagger again.
TheRealist2015: Emmanuel and C.J. have their hearts in the right place but any talk of getting things done individually is pretty much hot air. It takes a roster of talent to win in the NFL. Inspiration and confidence play a huge role and provided the D comes up big early instead of sleep walking through the first half, things will come together for the team.
OK, enough of that…On to the Texans:
MHR – Many have criticized the play-calling for being a major problem. Agree
Todduscraig: I’ll agree on the weak play calling to an extent - I've never been a Rick Dennison fan - but even the best play calling would be for naught with the sloppy level of execution and listless style of play that we witnessed in San Diego - missed blocks, dropped passes, penalties, throwing short on third down, etc. That said, all of Broncos Country is waiting for the coaches to dial up the aggressiveness again. We want Booker exploding around the corner. We want DT exploding through the secondary. We want Wolfe stuffing runners in the backfield. We want Von to dance with the stars after another strip-sack and MVP-like performance. Those plays don’t happen if you’re handing the ball up the middle again and again. Those plays don’t happen when you play Del Rio defense instead of Phillips defense. It’s time to get aggressive and go win games, and aggressive play-calling is a great first step.
TheRealist2015: It is in vogue to attempt to limit the play selection to those that play to your young QB’s strengths. I think this philosophy can be taken too far, and as a result, the Broncos have lost the element of unpredictability. I think we do need to shake it up with more deep balls, get the tight ends in the game, etc. We can’t be afraid to spread the D with some higher risk plays.
MHR – Although the Texans have taken a big hit in injuries on defense, they are still one of the better defenses Broncos have faced so far this year – second against the pass but 29th against the run. How would you game plan our offense for this
Todduscraig: I’ve watched a couple of Texans games against Indy and KC, and their defense looks legit even if it burns with a lesser Watt-age. Those stats you mentioned suggest that C.J. could be explosive, but my guess is that we’re going to face a lot of stacked fronts until Siemian proves he can beat you with the passing game. Atlanta and San Diego proved that. I’m guessing Kubiak will be looking to pass early and often at the start with some medium range and deep throws to loosen up the defense. It will be crucial for us to take an early lead passing and build the running game from the second quarter on. I’d love for our tight ends to step it up; the last couple of weeks it seems like they’ve disappeared both as blockers and receivers.
TheRealist2015: We need a healthy and inspired O-line to step up to the challenge. Additional screens will keep an aggressive D line in check but bottom line, the O line needs to come to play. Getting Trevor out of the pocket will help.
MHR – A lot of Broncos fans want to make this game about Brock Osweiler coming back to Denver. Good idea or is it getting old?
Todduscraig: In a way, I feel a bit for Osweiler. A player’s time in the NFL is so limited, and he spent his first few years as a backup to one of the all-time greats and never saw anything other than limited reps at practice. Then, when he did get a chance to contribute, he performed OK, even leading the team to a huge win against the Cheatriots. There’s no way we win the Super Bowl last year without Osweiler.
That said, Osweiler was never going to be able to replace Manning any more than Bubby Brister was going to replace John Elway. He was never going to have the fans’ hearts; no one was going to name their dog Brock. Houston had to offer a great escape for him - no pressure to replace a legend, a low bar for quarterback play, and a great defense supporting him. Throw in a dump truck load of money, a sense of hurt at being benched for an old guy who was playing more like Archie Manning than Peyton Manning, and I can understand his decision.
Will this be an emotional deal for our players? I doubt it. But I think it gives the No Fly Zone a clear advantage. They know exactly who he is, how he throws, and that he is far from being a polished quarterback. That’s gotta equate to a Broncos advantage tactically, if not emotionally.
TheRealist2015: It is absolutely a grudge match. Brock did not handle the break-up well, got a chip on his shoulder and forgot that he was part of a team that won the Super Bowl, something I am sure will not happen for him again. While he had outstanding moments, he clearly gives himself far too much credit, and his arrogance cannot be concealed. He needs to be driven to the turf a few times to be gently reminded how important it is to be team player. His play has been for the most part dreadful this year, and I for one, was elated when Elway did not budge on the money.
MHR – Oz aside, the Texans’ biggest weapon might be Lamar Miller given his huge game last week (149 yards) and our defense’s struggles with the run game. What does our defense need to do to stop him?
Todduscraig: As far as Lamar Miller goes, he scares me. The guy looked fresh and feisty last week against the Colts. Our run defense has taken a step backward, and while most people point to the loss of Malik Jackson, not too many have talked about the injury loss of Vance Walker. Since Walker went out, it’s as if the interior of our defensive line is held together with duct tape and baling wire. That put the onus on our linebackers to hold their assignments, and occasionally bringing up safety help to bolster the run defense. Solid tackling, lane discipline, and safety help should keep Miller contained enough to force the game onto Osweiler’s arm.
TheRealist2015: (*editor’s note, TheRealist forgot to answer this one, probably because he is not worried in the least about our run defense stepping up, but I’ll add in his real answer after he wakes up - in Abu Dhabi - and responds to my email!)
MHR – The defense has held its own but has gotten into a habit of "wait and see" on the first drives. Players are talking about "playing fast" and changing that stat. Do you expect a big performance from the defense this week?
Todduscraig: Wade Phillips’ greatest strength has been his aggressive play-calling. He puts players in a position to succeed, and then lets them attack. This is a defense that’s built on solid fundamentals and a system that allows them to work as a unit. As a result, it adapts to various challenges readily and with a high level of success. My belief is that teams are able to open these games with a little trickery of their own. Quick, timing passes and Phillip Rivers firing bullets put our D on its heels early. But that didn’t last long; Rivers ended up with only 178 yards passing. Sure, we’d love to hold the opponents on every drive, but we’re averaging giving up 18 points a game. That’s damned impressive over six games against some offensively explosive opponents.
But to answer the question directly, yes, I think we’ll come out and dominate this game as we did in Tampa Bay. This defense has to be a little salty after losses like these last two, and I wouldn't be surprised to see our defense outscore Houston's offense.
TheRealist2015: D-line play is the key. The linebackers have had to cheat up for run support due to ineffectual line play, and they are caught out of pass protection as a result. The D play has to be huge early on or we will lose our third in a row! The D must lead and provide the offense with the sense that the D has the game under control.
MHR – Which Broncos defensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
Todduscraig: The obvious answer for a defensive star is ALWAYS Von Miller. My secondary pick (pun intended) will be T.J. Ward. He should be huge in stopping Lamar Miller, and I wouldn’t be surprised were he to track down a tipped Osweiller fastball in centerfield for an interception.
TheRealist2015: I look for Shane to have a two-sack game. Von will get the double teams, but Shane must come from the other side and rattle the Wizard of Oz, so he starts doing his patented dump downs for one or two yards. Better yet, throwing balls right to Harris and Talib.
MHR – Which Broncos offensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
Todduscraig: The offensive player who needs to star? One of our running backs. CJ’s off to a slower start again, although in his defense he’s had some beautiful runs called back by holding penalties. Devontae Booker looks like he’s about to explode sometime soon. I’d love to see him bust a couple big runs for touchdowns. And if one or both running backs has a big day, then consequently the o-line has resolved a few issues, too.
TheRealist2015: The whole TE corps needs to step up. I see two TDs going to tight ends.
MHR – What do you think of Broncos wearing their blue jerseys with white pants?
Todduscraig: I like the orange home jerseys and white pants best. The predominantly blue look seems the least like us, in my opinion.
TheRealist2015: Any Super Bowl-winning jersey combo works for me. Especially one that immediately brings back a mental image of the Elway helicopter move versus Green Bay.
Predictions – TheRealist2015:
Stats for Trevor Siemian? 24/190, 2TDs, 0INTs
Number of carries/yards rushing for Broncos? Anderson, 19 for 85; Booker 7 for 45; Bibbs 2 for 9; Janovich 3 for 18.
Number of yards receiving for Broncos? Thomas 6 for 65; Sanders 7 for 60
Number of sacks to Siemian? 4
Number of sacks to Brock Osweiler? 5
Broncos player with the most sacks? Shane Ray
Broncos player with the most tackles? Todd Davis, 7
How many turnovers for the Broncos D? 1 INT, 2FF, 2FR
Final Score? Broncos 24, Texans 17
Predictions - Todduscraig:
Stats for Trevor Siemian? 17/25, 235 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Number of carries/yards rushing for Broncos? Anderson, 17 for 84, 1 TD; Booker, 10 for 90, 1 TD.
Number of yards receiving for Broncos? DT, 7 for 60; Sanders, 7 for 80 + 1 TD
Number of sacks to Siemian? 3
Number of sacks to Brock Osweiler? 6
Broncos player with the most sacks? Von Miller
Broncos player with the most tackles? Brandon Marshall
How many turnovers for the Broncos D? N2 INTs, 2 FF, 1 FR
Final Score? Broncos 38, Texans 18
The Favorites – TheRealist2015
- Favorite win you’ve watched the Broncos? Last year’s Super Bowl victory
- Favorite Super Bowl win? SBXXXII versus the Packers
- Team you hate to lose to the most? Patriots
- Team you love to beat? Patriots
- Game most looking forward to this season? This one against the Texans
- Game most worried about this season? Patriots
- Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Von Miller. He’s a true star, can take his game to a level few can match .
- Favorite Broncos player of all time? John Elway, a true competitor and team player
- Superstitions on game day? I always try to watch with my sons despite it coming on in the middle of night where we live (Abu Dhabi)
- Favorite Broncos jersey color combo? Orange jersey, white pants
The Favorites – Todduscraig:
- Favorite win you’ve watched the Broncos accomplish? Denver versus Pittsburgh in the playoffs in January 1990. I was 18, and it was my first live Broncos game ever. My parents had scraped up enough money in really tough times to purchase a bus trip vacation package from my hometown of Rapid City, S.D., to Denver, and they had surprised me with these playoff tickets as a Christmas present. The game was a furious battle, and watching an Elway comeback in person, in the playoffs, at old Mile High was the absolute greatest joy I had ever experienced. Best Christmas present ever, and it was my first live Broncos game ever.
- Favorite Super Bowl win? 32. Dave Logan’s call on the helicopter play ("Head first, he DIIIIIVES!") still makes me misty-eyed. That one was for John and all of us who lived and breathed for him for all those years.
- Team you hate to lose to the most? The Raiders. I hate the Cheatriots, but losing to them is going to happen. Losing to the Raiders is always unacceptable.
- Team you love to beat? The Cheatriots. Those two wins against them last year were both sweeter than the Super Bowl victory.
- Game most looking forward to this season? That’s gotta be New England at home again. Three wins in a row against New England would have to be a record or something, right?
- Game most worried about this season? Christmas at Kansas City. Let’s hope Santa isn’t wearing a red suit this year.
- Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Emmanuel Sanders. The dude plays his heart out, bleeds orange and blue, and like Eddie McCaffrey before him, makes the tough catches.
- Favorite Broncos player of all time? Elway. He went from being our heart-and-soul as a player to being the brains of the operation as our GM. In Elway We Trust.
- Superstitions on game day? I don’t eat during games. I have a lucky shirt that my mother-in-law bought for me for Christmas last year. I always post "Go Broncos" on Facebook before the game begins, and I text with my best friend, Chris Shute, during the game.
- Favorite Broncos jersey color combo? I like the old-school orange jerseys, white pants, with the D logo.
How did you become a Broncos fan?
TheRealist2015: I moved to Denver in 1995 after living in San Fran and enjoying so many great years supporting the Niners. I had no intention of shifting allegiance but a work friend sold me season tickets in the lower deck of old Mile High on the 35-yard line for the next six seasons, and gradually my allegiance began to shift. The night I knew the shift was complete was when I woke up on the floor of a Denver PD holding cell, every inch of which was covered by semi-comatose Broncos fans. It was the night of the Super Bowl win vs. Green Bay. I have never looked back and have enjoyed every minute.
Todduscraig: Like I said, I’m originally from South Dakota, which is a state divided in two by the Missouri River. If you’re from West River, you got Denver channels on your cable. If you’re from East River, you got Minneapolis channels. So as a result, South Dakotans are either Broncos fans or Vikings fans. I was 12 in 1983 when Elway arrived, and I remember being mesmerized by his competitiveness, his scrambling, and his never-say-die style of play. I was hooked then, and I’m proud to share the fun and energy of Broncos games with my own son now, who turns 10 on Halloween!