The Denver Broncos are coming off their bye week, and in typical fashion for this season they’re somehow not actually looking refreshed. At least, losing KJ Hamler for at minimum one game due to a hamstring issue and Justin Simmons also banging up a knee in practice is not a very refreshed look.
But the Broncos are, at least, coming off of a victory after waking up a bit and remembering how to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago in London. With any luck, the bye won’t prevent them from carrying over some momentum from that.
It may be no understatement to say that this may be one of the crucial games of the season. If the Broncos can pull out a W in Nashville, they’ll welcome a Raiders team to Mile High next week that features a putrid defense and an increasingly hampered receiving group. Back to back wins here would bring the Broncos back up to .500 on the season and a 5-5 record with a very winnable game against the Panthers coming up before things get tough in the final third of the season.
#1: Contain Derrick Henry
Ryan Tannehill is trending toward playing, and while that’s an upgrade on a very not ready Malik Willis, his presence won’t make the Tennessee Titans’ offense significantly more dangerous on Sunday. The guy who does make them dangerous, Derrick Henry, is already the Broncos’ main concern. And that’s a significant concern given how the defense has fallen off against the run in the 2nd quarter of the season.
The biggest question mark right now is on the edge. As the Broncos prepare to play their first game since the Bradley Chubb trade, rookie edge rusher Nik Bonitto will be tasked with filling at least part of Chubb’s shoes. And while he’s a quality young pass rusher, run defense has never been a strength for him.
Either way, unless Russell Wilson & company can generate a heretofore unprecedented offensive explosion for these 2022 Broncos, the defense is going to have to find ways to patch up its holes against Henry & the Titans offensive line or the Broncos’ odds of victory will fall sharply.
#2: Avoid fits of narcolepsy on offense
It apparently took switching continents, but we finally some some consistent offensive output against the Jaguars in London. It wasn’t all game, but it was more than we’d gotten prior to that. The offense needs to build on that with a consistent, productive performance for at least 3 quarters this weekend. Ideally, they’d play well all game. But, hey. Baby steps.
What the team can’t afford is for the offense to suddenly fall asleep mid-game. Consecutive three-and-out drives, as mentioned above, would put our defense in a very rough spot against one of the premier rushers in the league. So when things go wrong, Wilson & company have to find ways to get back on track instead of getting totally derailed. If that comes down to something as simple and inane as a wristband play-sheet, then so be it.
#3: Get an early lead.
This would be an easy #1 against a run-heavy team like the Titans if it weren’t for our offensive issues and the defense’s vulnerability in the running game. In a more normal season for a team with a franchise QB, the best step toward victory would be clear: start fast, build a lead, and force the other team into a pass-heavy game flow in an increasingly desperate attempt to catch up.
As things stand, that will still be a very important element. Though it’s one that the Broncos haven’t been great at pulling off this season. Fortunately, there’s room to take advantage of the Titans’ merely average pass defense. If Russell Wilson can connect consistently with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Greg Dulcich and lead a couple of early scoring drives, that will give the defense an important opportunity to try and take the Titans’ offensive gameplan out of Derrick Henry’s hands.
That last element is key. If the Broncos can force the Titans to rely on a still-recovering Ryan Tannehill, or worse a totally unready Malik Willis, to engineer a pass-heavy comeback then the game it pretty much over. That’s not going to happen, from either QB, against the league’s best secondary. Pat Surtain and Justin Simmons would eat such an attempt alive