DENVER — The Denver Broncos will face the Tennessee Titans at Empower Field at Mile High in tonight's season opener with Broncos Von Miller out indefinitely.
There will be no fans at tonight's game. To simulate the environment, teams are permitted to run pre-recorded crowd noise made available by the NFL, and the Broncos plan to do so. The noise plays on a continuous loop through the PA systems at 70 decibels, starting at kickoff. Those attempting to manipulate the audio volume, higher or lower, are subject to penalties, including loss of draft picks.
Our News5 team will bring you the stories of this unusual game atmosphere tonight in the brand-new News5 at 4 p.m., News5 at 5, News5 at 6, and News5 at 10.
There were no preseason games to iron out the wrinkles. There were no scrimmages with full contact as a concession to injuries. But just when it looked like there was no way the Broncos' passing game would be ready for the Monday night opener against the Tennessee Titans, something 'clicked' for quarterback Drew Lock.
Lock provided hope that Denver will boast much-needed balance tonight followed by a five-game cameo last season where he showed the lights weren't too bright for him.
The Broncos lack experience, but not motivation. Few are giving them a chance to end their three-year playoff drought after Von Miller suffered a dislocated ankle tendon that will sideline him indefinitely and Courtland Sutton, while hopeful of playing, sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder Thursday.
Here are the keys to Broncos win tonight:
Run with purpose, patience
Even if Sutton plays, he could be limited. It places the onus on the Broncos to run the ball, control the clock and take the pressure of Drew Lock and the defense. The Broncos added Melvin Gordon to complement Phillip Lindsay. Both are former Pro Bowlers and want to start. They need contributions from the pair to win. Denver averaged 103 yards on the game last season, ranking 20th. They need to produce 120 yards a week to return to the playoffs.
Slow the D Train
When Derrick Henry gets going downhill, it conjures images of a boulder rolling down a mountain, leaving a swath of carnage. The Broncos limited Henry to 28 yards on 15 carries last season. Six of his runs lost yardage. With no fear of Marcus Mariota beating them, the Broncos swarmed Henry. Mariota was benched in that game, and Ryan Tannehill prevents a different problem. There are two keys to stopping Henry: linebacker Alexander Johnson must excel, and there's added pressure without Todd Davis, and get hats to the ball, as safety Kareem Jackson said. Make Henry go East-West, and the Broncos' arrow could be pointing north at night's end.
Drew Lock takes high IQ risks
Lock will take shots. Shurmur designs them. But this requires intelligent risk-taking. Byard will look to bait Lock into tight windows. Lock has the moxie and ability to deliver dimes, but losing the turnover battle will result in a disappointing loss. We all want Lock to grip N' rip it. And as the season advances, he will be more bold. But against the Titans, he must be very wary of the middle of the field. In this case, whichever team throws the most will lose. Let Lock gain his rhythm with short passes and designed screens to Gordon and Lindsay.
Bouye corners market
A.J. Bouye enjoyed a terrific training camp. He looks comfortable in Fangio's read-and-react defense. That said, A.J. Brown is a tough assignment. He has had big plays against Bouye when playing Jacksonville. Brown will make catches, but Bouye has to prevent any of the 30-yard plus variety.
Feeling the pressure
With Von sidelined and Bradley Chubb on a play count, where will the pressure come from? Fangio likes to rush four even when he blitzes. So when Johnson gets his number called, he must reach Tannehill either with a sack or forced throw. However, Malik Reed and Jeremiah Attaochu must play well. The Titans will slide protection to Chubb when he's in the game. Reed, who looks like he's taken a big jump in year two, needs to create chaos to create openings for Chubb in his limited opportunities
Just for Kicks
Brandon McManus has been one of the NFL's most accurate kickers for the past two seasons. And he improved from 50-yards plus a year ago. He has a new contract. With Von hurt, he's the only active player remaining from the Super Bowl 50 title. Wouldn't it be something if he won the game in the fourth?
Football represents the ultimate sport. It's hard for one player to make a huge difference, save from a sizzling quarterback. But in the case of Jurrell Casey, he is highly motivated to dominate against his former team, which shed the five-time Pro Bowler for a seventh-round draft pick. Casey was a one-man wrecking ball in the Titans' playoff upset over the Ravens. If he plays anything close to that Monday, the Broncos will extend their streak of season-opening wins at home to eight.