SEATTLE — The person looked familiar as he navigated the steep stairs. As his face came into view, it was clear. Seattle Seahawks star receiver Tyer Lockett was spending part of Saturday evening at breathtaking Kerry Park.
This wasn't just a date night. Lockett proposed to his longtime girlfriend with a candle-lit "Will You Marry Me" sign and the Space Needle providing the backdrop. She said yes to cheers from their families. There will be a wedding.
The Broncos season opener, however, has been defined by a messy divorce. Russell Wilson returns to Seattle where he posted eight playoff berths, a Super Bowl title and nine Pro Bowl seasons. He is the greatest quarterback in franchise history. But acrimony exists as some Seahawks fans and executives believe Wilson forced his way out of town.
It has led to stories with anonymous quotes about Seattle viewing Wilson as a declining player with lacking mobility, making him unworthy of the five-year, $245 million contract extension he landed from the Broncos this month.
Wilson has countered by expressing confidence in his ability — "I know I am one of the best in the world," he said — and explaining that the Seahawks were trying to trade him as far back as 2018.
The drama sells, but it does not determine who wins. The Broncos need Wilson to play well in coach Nathaniel Hackett's debut. What are the other keys to Denver claiming the season opener on Denver7 at 6 p.m.? Here you go:
Calm in the storm
Wilson employs a mental skills coach for a reason. He aims to find neutrality in games, to remain calmer than a lagoon as the hurricane whips around him. Wilson plays his best when it matters most. He's 19-4 in prime time games at Lumen Field. He's 10-3 overall on Monday night. And in his last 10 September games, Wilson boasts 29 touchdowns and one pick. If he resists the temptation to try to do too much, Wilson and the Broncos will pull away in the second half for a comfortable victory as Hackett becomes the fourth Denver coach to win his debut on the road.
Boo hoo, boo who?
Wilson acknowledged this will be a unique environment. While some fans will stand and cheer, more will boo him, all but encouraged by coach Pete Carroll do so in the name of competition.
This should not be an issue, unless the Broncos find themselves trailing late. I trust Wilson to excel, but his teammates must prove it. Most of the Broncos have played in only a few meaningful games in six years. The pressure will be real, and how young players handle it around Wilson bears watching.
Run With Authority
The easiest way for a road team to siphon a crowd's energy? Run the football. The Broncos are set up to grind out yards with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. Williams runs with violent intentions and cannot wait to break tackles. Gordon does not need Siri to find the end zone, and remains a weapon as a receiver.
Can the Broncos average 4.3 yards a carry? They should, but there are questions because of the transition to the wide zone blocking scheme. And, per a source, right tackle Billy Turner will not start tonight, his left knee requiring more time to be game ready. That leaves Cam Fleming and Calvin Anderson in line to play in a hostile environment.
"There’s a lot of pressure on this season, on this Game 1. For us as an offensive line, I am just excited for us to establish the run game, making sure we run off the ball and impose our will to get everything kicked off the right way," left guard Dalton Risner told Denver7.
Pound the Ground
Seattle's path to victory does not require squinting. The Seahawks want to run the ball and take care of it. Geno Smith won the quarterback job over Drew Lock because he committed zero turnovers in the preseason. Rashaad Penny is better than people think.
The Broncos were run off the field multiple times last year. It's why they signed nose tackle D.J. Jones. He is an elite run stuffer. Jones, Dre'Mont Jones and Mike Purcell need to provide a constant push to create better fits for linebackers Alex Singleton, who is starting in place of Josey Jewell (calf), and Jonas Griffith.
Attack the corners
The Legion of Boom is now the Legion of Whom? Seattle's safeties are strong — Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs — but the corners remain suspect. Rookie Tariq Woolen and Mike Jackson, who has played three games in two years, will be picked on.
Wilson should be able to get Jerry Jeudy going early on slants and short routes. And Courtland Sutton, Wilson's most trusted receiver this summer, will be counted on to snare 50-50 balls.
Wide open spaces
D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett boast better resumes than the Broncos wideouts. Metcalf is a walking mismatch and Lockett runs great deep routes. The difference is they now have Geno Smith throwing to them, not Wilson. The Broncos must show versatility and elasticity, moving cornerback Pat Surtain II to blanket Metcalf or Lockett, depending on the situation.
The Seahawks will test Ronald Darby. He needs to hold is own. And he could be helped out by a timely blitz or two from slot corner K'Waun Williams.
If the coverage is good, Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory, who nearly signed with the Colts this offseason before choosing the Broncos because of Wilson, will get home with drive-killing sacks.
Is this the season the Broncos' special teams stop serving as a tire fire? New coordinator Dwayne Stukes wants a special group. I would settle for serviceable. Don't sabotage the outcome. Rookie Montrell Washington is a dynamic punt returner. Brandon McManus remains trusted and steady. The questions exist on punt coverage and at punter where Corliss Waitman is making his Broncos' debut.
RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Seahawks 13.