Good morning, Broncos Country!
Despite a two-game losing streak over the past two weeks and playing against a team on a win streak, there's a lot for Broncos' fans to be excited about with this weekend's road game against former Denver head coach John Fox and his Chicago Bears.
The main reason, of course, is the big test awaiting backup quarterback Brock Osweiler.
And if fans are half as excited as Osweiler is, then there's a lot of positive energy heading to Chicago.
And that's always a good thing.
"I'm not so much worried about the spotlight, but I'm very excited to be playing football again in the regular season," Osweiler said Wednesday in his first press conference as the starting QB. "I'm truly excited to go into battle with my teammates on the road in Chicago."
A native of Kalispell, Mont. - where it's safe to say that if any of the 20K residents weren't Broncos fans before last week, they likely are huge ones now - Osweiler is trying not to make this week or this game any bigger than it is.
"I think anytime you put the weight of the world on yourself saying, 'I have to perform,' or, 'I have to get a completion. I have to throw a touchdown.' Nine times out of 10, I think you're going to fail," Osweiler said. "I'm really keeping my focus small. I'm focusing on the things that got me to this point and just focusing on going into Chicago and doing whatever it takes to get that win."
A lot was made in the media of the fact that Osweiler and Manning had not spoken about the game plan for Chicago. Several even tried to make that into a rift between the two quarterbacks. For those looking to start rumors, here's some advice - you can't look at two days after a game and trump up assumptions about a strained relationship. So if you look at the two over the past four years, it's clear the two have spent significant study time together.
"The things that I've learned behind him - I don't know where a quarterback gets elsewhere. Like I've told you before, I really have not wasted a single day when I've been here in this building, in the room with Peyton. He has so much knowledge of defenses, how to be a professional and offensive football that if I wasn't locked in every single day sitting behind him, I'd be crazy," Osweiler said. "Certainly getting that time to sit behind him, learn the game and get a lot of practice reps really has helped me."
Virgil Green pointed out that Manning has taken a keen interest all along the way in helping his protégé.
"Peyton has [given him] a lot of little tips. He talks with Brock when we watch film, when we're going over plays about what to look for coverage-wise when we're running this play or that play," Green said, adding that Manning points out how to read coverages, how to anticipate things, how to get in good situations. "[Osweiler] has a lot of tidbits of information from a guy that, like you said, will be a first ballot Hall of Famer."
The tight end added that Sunday's new starter has been soaking that information up for that long as well.
"I think [Brock] tries to model exactly how Peyton takes the huddle," Green said, adding that Osweiler took control of the huddle the same way Manning has. "He came in and said, 'Let's keep fighting. Let's keep working. Let's keep grinding and do what we have to do.' That's all that you can ask for."
Osweiler's confidence in the game was evident from the start as he completed 14 of 24 passes for 146 yards. That poise continued this week - especially in the press room where reporters did their best to find/create a quarterback controversy.
And I can tell you from talking with players this week that Manning is a rallying point. Guys want to bring home a win for 18.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 20, 2015
"Certainly it is a dream come true," Osweiler said of his chance to start this week while Manning is out indefinitely to rehab several injuries. "But I kind of put that aside as of last night, and I'm just treating this week like a normal work week. I have a job to do and this team has a job to do. That's what we're focused on."
Reporters attempted to pull Demaryius Thomas into the fray, asking if he would have been frustrated by waiting four years.
"No, especially not if playing behind [Manning]," Thomas said, adding that to be frustrated would be like him complaining to play behind Hall-of-Famers like Shannon Sharpe and Jerry Rice or Ring-of-Famer Rod Smith. "Manning is a future Hall of Famer. Brock learned, and now he gets his chance."
When Osweiler was pressed about whether he saw this game as an opportunity to make his case as the starting quarterback - possibly even this season - the young QB stayed true to the team.
"Right now, I'm not out to prove anything. I'm solely trying to go into Chicago and get one win this week," No. 17 said, adding that he likes Gary Kubiak's mantra that you don't want to look too far ahead. "At the end of the day, you can only earn one victory in one week. I'm really taking that to heart. I'm only focusing on the Bears and whatever it takes to get that win."
And the Broncos know getting that win won't be easy.
Playing on a windy field where the weather is expected to be sunny but two degrees below freezing, the Broncos will be facing a team on the upswing with a quarterback finally playing up to his potential and a defense that could cause some havoc.
But both offense and defense are feeling some urgency to get a W this week after too bad losses.
Getting to Cutler will job No. 1 for the defense.
"When he gets pressure, he does a good job of finding the open receiver, stepping up and getting the deep ball," said rookie linebacker Shane Ray. "That's something that we've got to be really prepared for. I think our secondary is going to do a good job in their preparation to be able to prevent that and just give us extra time to get to the quarterback."
The pass rushers are definitely going to need that time, but if they can't get to Cutler, the No Fly Zone is going to have be in full gear because Cutler can be deadly with the long ball.
"He's always been talented. He's always had a chance - if you stopped everything else, he still might beat you. He's always been that kind of guy," said defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. "I think they've done a great job with him this year. He seems to have his confidence. He knows where he's going with the football and he's always been good at scrambling around to throw it and find people are open in coverage. It's going to be a real challenge for our pass defense."
Shaquil Barrett thinks part of the key will be for the defense to be more aware of the down and distance.
"We know that they like screens when it's second-and-long or third-and-long," Barrett said. We just need to be more aware on certain down and distances for the screen, but other than that, first downs and normal yardage, we're still going to be aggressive."
Chris Harris Jr. knows the secondary is going to have to be on high alert when facing the Bears receivers, especially Alshon Jeffery. With Aqib Talib back in the lineup after a one-game suspension, this will be easier.
"We have to bring our A-game, especially me and Talib," Harris said. "We have to have great games on the outside and eliminate him from making those highlight plays that he's capable of making."
Calling Jeffery "phenomenal" and the Bears as a whole "a great team," Von Miller believes the Bears are finally starting to click, which explains the two-game win streak.
"Jay Cutler - he's always been a great talent, but he's just had a knack for turning over the ball. He hasn't been doing that this year," Miller said. "He's been looking great."
The Broncos will of course be hoping to say on Sunday that their starting quarterback is looking great too. And they are planning on it.
"It's going to look a little bit different over there, obviously, with Peyton not playing, but we've got full faith in Brock," Miller said. "In the preseason, he looked phenomenal. When he got in the game, he was able to make some stuff happen, and he didn't even expect to be playing last week. That's pretty encouraging. I've got full confidence in him."
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