It is GAME DAY - a chilly one! - and to help us fully appreciate the magnitude of what has become an annual rivalry game with the perpetual leaders of the AFC East, we have not just two fans but two regular commenters around MHR who love to both critique and cheer our favorite team.
But lest you think I’m implying critiquing is a negative, quite the contrary. Stay22 and Calikula (also know ‘round here as The Emperor) are not just ultimate fans, they are true fans - fans that are not afraid to find faults but also not afraid to stand up and cheer NO MATTER the circumstances.
Both of this week’s ultimate fans recognize plenty of places for the Broncos to improve, but like Gary Kubiak, they’re "staying positive" and "getting back to work" to help us have some insight and entertainment as we anticipate possibly the most important game of the season (until next week, of course!)
But before we get to their excellent analysis and predictions, here’s mine: Broncos' running game improves drastically, the offense gets rolling early behind a suddenly improved line and the defense does what it loves - sacking Tom Brady! Is it unlikely? Maybe. But it's my Christmas wish, and I've been good this year - really good - so I think it will happen. Broncos 24, Patriots 21.
Week 15: Denver v. New England
MHR – Is it even worth rehashing that Tennessee game? No. But give the ONE thing that absolutely must improve from that game to this one in order to beat the Patriots.
stay22: Just one? Oh boy, I guess I’ll go with the running game. I don’t think it will be too hard to improve upon either. Nine rushing attempts - for eighteen yards. That sounds like it could be easily improved upon. I am loosing faith in Booker to be the "Bell Cow." Appears to me, Kubiak went full panic after Forsett fumbled. That long first drive of Tennessee probably started his panic. We got behind, and the run game was abandoned.
Calikula: We absolutely must stop the run game. Hear me out. I know all about the offense and how bad it is. But, our defense, as worn out as those warriors are, must find a way to stop Tom and Blount and get off the field. They cannot allow 7+ minute drives in the first half. Obviously, our offense needs to do their part.
MHR – There’s been a lot of debate this week on whether the main problem is execution (as Kubiak says) or coaching/play design to account for the offense’s struggles. Where do you come down on that and why?
stay22: I think it is both. However, I’m not 100 percent convinced the solution is as far away as many here have stated. First off, I do agree some better play calling could help against the offense’s struggles. Putting the receivers closer to the sidelines, more passing plays to the running backs in the flats. Less A-gap runs, less WR screens. I think all of these could help.
Execution stands out to me in these past two losses. Subtract Forsett’s and Derby’s fumbles, and we likely beat Tennessee. Subtract Norwood from the Kansas City game and we likely have another victory. Two winnable games is the difference between Super Bowl aspirations and even making the playoffs.
Calikula: I feel like it's coaching. I listen to a lot of Stink on the radio, and he's great at helping fans to understand the game better. He broke down a whiff on Ty Sambrailo's part early in the game last week. Basically, Ty was not supposed to let the defender cross his face. Ty did, and the run on 3rd and 1 was stuffed. Stink, and our own Jeff Essary, have pointed out these guys are not making the most basic of plays – which tells me we have a coaching issue, namely Barone.
MHR – Tom Brady is not looking like age is slowing him down any, and A.J. Derby noted the other day that playing with that playbook for 17 years has really helped No. 12. What weaknesses in Brady are there to exploit?
stay22: Not playing at home is his biggest weakness. The Patriots in Foxboro, not a good place to be if you are a AFC contending rival. Hasn’t been for a long, long time. He isn’t playing at home fortunately for us, as I see no chance in hell we could beat them there.
Brady plays well under pressure, but I don’t think that should be a reason to not apply as much as we can. We need to hit him as often as we legally can, that with the noise from the crowd has been a good way to weaken Brady in the past.
Calikula: Brady has never been good with the long ball. I honestly feel he will have a pedestrian day. If there's anything the Pats do, it's exploit the weaknesses of the opposing team. They are going to try and run it down our throats with Blount. Like any other QB, you hit Brady enough and he will start hearing footsteps.
MHR – Following up on that, even without Gronk, Brady and the Patriots have found huge offensive success. Belichick is a mastermind but Wade Phillips has gotten the better of him the past two games. Do you see Phillips and this defense being able to outsmart Belichick and Brady again?
stay22: I’m not sure I can see Phillips being able to outsmart Belichick once again, but I’m certainly hoping for it. The last time we met the Patriots, Wade threw everything but the kitchen sink at Brady. This year he’s going to have to toss the kitchen sink as well, unfortunately it’s missing the faucet.
Once again Wade is going to need to be creative in his coverage schemes. Being out Marshal and possibly Davis makes that task a difficult one. This is probably the part of the game I am most interested in watching unfold.
Wade is also going to need help from the other units, special teams and offense. The offense is going to need to do more than the repeated three and out. New England turned the ball over on a punt and a kick return against the Ravens. Special teams need to seize any opportunity allowed them.
Calikula: Yes, I believe they can outsmart them again. The crowd noise will play a factor and our pass rush must get there. My main concern is with the run defense and whether or not they can limit Blount. The offense must help them out by sustaining drives in the first half that result in points...even if they are just field goals.
MHR – Tom Brady this week called the Denver defense one of the toughest he has ever faced, but the Patriots have a much-improved running attack this season (ranked 7th in yards right now versus 27th this time last season), which has been the Achilles Heel for the Broncos. Can Derek Wolfe and the D-line – along with Denver’s backup linebackers – handle this threat?
stay22: I have complete confidence in Wolfe, not so much in Crick. PFF graded Crick at 36.4 against the run in Tennessee. Loosing Walker really hurt our rotational depth here, as I subscribe to the notion that we would have been fine when Jackson left. That said, the defense has stepped up in the second half against one of the best backs in the NFL. This seems to be a trend this year. So, it appears to me they can handle the threat. They just need to do it for an entire game.
Calikula: I believe they can. I'm hoping Wade can counter their run game with a jumbo look like the Texans did against the Raiders (hat tip to Jeff Essary for pointing this out to me). What I really want for Christmas though, is for them to IR our long snapper and activate Peko so we can have a better rotation on DL. Those guys are getting worn out. Kubiak has more sense than this, which is why this issue of keeping Kreiter as long as we have is perplexing to me.
MHR – How much will a short week, cross-country travel and altitude be an advantage for the Broncos? And how can Kubiak and his coordinators use that in their game planning?
stay22: I have often heard if you give Belichick enough time to game plan, he can’t be beat. If that’s the case, then having a short week should be a huge advantage. Sherman was just complaining about traveling on a short week, so that makes me think players don’t like it. The altitude has always been an advantage, Kubiak needs to come up with a game plan to keep New England’s defense on the field as much as possible. Siemian was labeled early in the season as a dink and dunk QB. That might be what we need to keep drives going as long as possible.
Calikula: I think that will play a huge role in this game. It's well known that Mile High is Brady's house of horrors. I would like to see them try and stretch the field horizontally on offense with lead tosses, jet sweeps, and RB screens to try and get that defense gassed on NE's side. Maybe open up the game no-huddle and really throw em off and keep em in base personnel. I think Trevor has the ability to run that.
MHR – Last week the Patriots defense easily neutralized any of the Ravens’ weapons. Do you agree their same zone coverage could be a nightmare for the Broncos offense if there is no running game? And what does the offense need to do to beat the Patriots defense, which has been rounding into form?
stay22: If we can’t get a run game going with that kind of coverage, then we have no business even thinking about the playoffs. We should see less of a pass rush if they do indeed run this formation. It would be nice to see what Siemian can do when not having to run for his life. I think New England will make a strong effort to minimize Derby. I would like to see some passes to our running backs, they were targeted 5 times last week with 5 completions. Ball control needs to be priority number one.
Calikula: Yes. This defense would be a nightmare for a young QB. It'll be compounded if the Broncos can't run. Our receivers will need to help Trevor by finding the soft spots in that zone D. Perhaps with such a soft shell our offense can counter with a heavy package and try and run it down their throat. Use Juwan as a fullback and go six offensive linemen. Get Juwan involved in the passing game with some rollouts and easy reads for Trevor.
MHR – A loss this week would make an already tough road to the Wild Card spot close to impossible, but as Ultimate Fans, let’s consider the flip side – a win. How would beating the Patriots give this team extra motivation for KC at Arrowhead and Raiders at home?
stay22: There has been a lot of talk this season about leadership, and the void left by Manning’s retirement. This team is not the only team who has been left without a clear leader. Well-run teams survive until the next leader steps up. In my opinion, the best way to fill that void is by winning games. A win here would tell me yes, we can make the playoffs. I would bet it would do the same to every player on the Broncos.
Calikula: It would be huge. This team knows what it takes to win in the clutch, and a win here would be a huge boost for them going into Arrowhead and then closing out the season.
MHR – Which Broncos defensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
stay22: Von Miller, it’s times like these we need to rely on the best player on our team.
Calikula: Sly, Crick and the linebackers. They need to be able to hold down Blount and that Patriot rushing attack. I'm not too worried about the pass rush and the secondary...they'll get it done.
MHR – Which Broncos offensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
stay22: Justin Forsett, we need a running game. I don’t think Booker is ready to take the reins.
Calikula: Really not one player. This OL needs to be the star. They MUST open up running lanes for Forsett and Co. if the Pats are giving soft two-high safety looks.
Predictions – stay22:
Stats for Trevor Siemian? 28 for 340yds 2 td 0 int
Number of carries/yards rushing for Broncos? Forsett 24 for 90, Booker 10 for 30
Number of yards receiving for Broncos? Thomas, 85; Sanders, 90; Derby, 30
Number of sacks to Siemian? 0
Number of sacks to Tom Brady? 3
Broncos player with the most sacks? Von Miller
Broncos player with the most tackles? T.J. Ward
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos defense? 2/3/1
Final Score? 27-24 Broncos. If we don't win this game, this is the last of my Kool-Aid.
Predictions – Calikula:
Stats for Trevor Siemian? 20/35 240 yards, 2 TDs 1 INT
Number of carries/yards rushing for Broncos? Forsett, 15 carries for 65; Booker 5 carries for 10.
Number of yards receiving for Broncos? DT, 100 yards; Sanders, 85; Virgil, 15.
Number of sacks to Siemian? 4
Number of sacks to Tom Brady? 3
Broncos player with the most sacks? Von Miller
Broncos player with the most tackles? Todd Davis
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos? 1 pick, 1FF for the good guys
Final Score? Broncos 24, Pats 21
The Favorites – stay 22:
Favorite win you’ve watched the Broncos accomplish? 2015 AFCCC
Favorite game you’ve traveled to watch? Only attended local games most when I lived in Denver. Attended a pre-season game in AZ, but I lived there at the time.
Team you love to beat? KC, just because it keeps the trolls away.
Game most looking forward to this season? New England
Game most worried about this season? All of them
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Von Miller, because he is the best player on the team.
Favorite rookie/young guy on the team? Siemian, he has exceeded my expectations.
Favorite Broncos player of all time? Elway, because he won the first Broncos Super Bowl.
Superstitions on game day? Avoid making potato skins (see super bowl 48).
Favorite Broncos jersey color combo? White pants, either jersey is fine.
Favorite TD celebration? I like when they just give the ball to the referee.
Favorite Von Miller sack dance? I like his Newton Superman mock.
The Favorites – Calikula:
Favorite win you’ve watched the Broncos accomplish? Easily Super Bowl 50. I wasn't really a fan until Elway's last two years, so I didn't fully appreciate how special those wins were. Very few people gave the Broncos a chance in that game, and it was about the only game they finished that year that wasn't a nail biter.
Favorite game you’ve watched? I enjoyed watching Manning set the TD record against Houston a few seasons ago while I was at a BWWs in MO.
Team you hate to lose to the most? I hate to lose to them all. That said, probably a three-way tie between the Pats/Raiders/Chiefs
Team you love to beat? The Pats, because they're so damn good.
Game most looking forward to this season? This one. I think it will make or break the 2016 season.
Game most worried about this season? This one. For the same reasons above
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Von Miller. Love his goofy attitude and just how good he is. The newest Empressette is named after him ;)
Favorite rookie/young guy on the team? Jano is usually the crowd favorite...I'm gonna go with someone else. I really like what I'm seeing out of Justin Simmons so far. I think he, Stewart and Parks will make a fearsome three-headed monster for years to come.
Favorite Broncos player of all time? TYJE. Do I really need to say why? Since that is an easy one, I'll go with Manning. This season has really gotten me to appreciate what he has done for us in Denver, namely, by spoiling us with success.
Superstitions on game day? Had superstitions last year with wearing different jerseys. Decided that was silly and haven't done that this year. I think I'm to blame for these woes now, so I'll be sure to wear the lucky TYJE and socks on Sunday.
Favorite Broncos jersey color combo? Those color rush jerseys are awesome...if they had white pants. Also a big fan of the blue on white.
Favorite TD celebration? Mile High Salute baby
Favorite Von Miller sack dance? Hingle McCringleberry FTW
How did you become a Broncos fan?
stay22: Born into it, grew up in Colorado.
Calikula: I jumped on board during the Super Bowl years. I didn't know anything about the game back then, but the Broncos were winners so it was easy to jump on board. My cousin and I watched most of the ‘98 season. I didn't pay any attention after that for YEARS...someone gifted a Raiders beanie, and I didn't think twice about it (to give a clue about how little I knew about football.) Whenever I was away from Colorado, I would be homesick. So when people asked me who my favorite team was, I always said the Broncos because they were where home was.
I already covered about how I became the diehard fan I am today back during my MHR HOF introduction, but it was during the ‘07 season when Shanny iced the Raiders. My friend and I whooped and hollered for three hours. The Raiders' Sea Bass lined up to kick and it went straight through. We were crushed. But then, we saw they lined up to kick again! It went wide, and from then on I was hooked. I found MHR in 2010 and it helped me to much better understand this game, thanks to authors like Bronco Mike, Styg50 and Shasta77, among others that I am sure I am missing.