At 1-4, it seems odd that anyone would expect the Broncos to have an easy victory. After all, this is a franchise that had lost eight straight games prior to last week’s win over the Chargers.
Nonetheless, most people in Denver are bullish on the team’s chances this weekend. The Broncos are a 2.5-point favorite at home against the Titans, a game that the media and fans seem to think won’t be that close.
But before putting another hashmark in the win column, Denver will have to take care of business on the field. And there are plenty of reasons why it won’t be easy, as Tennessee is better than their 2-3 record indicates.
Here are the five things the Broncos need to be concerned about on Sunday:
1. Derrick Henry – At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, Henry is a big, bruising running back. That’s a concern for Denver, given that Leonard Fournette rushed for 225 yards against the Broncos defense just two weeks ago. Fournette is 20 pounds lighter than Henry, so it’s going to be a long day for Denver; they’re going to have to be prepared for tackling the Titans running back over and over and over again. On the season, Henry has 388 rushing yards on 98 carries, a 4.0 yards per carry average. Tennessee will try to control the game on the ground, until the Broncos prove they can stop the big back from moving the chains.
2. Delanie Walker – Normally, it would be a good sign if an opposing team’s leading receiver was their tight end; that would suggest that they don’t have a lot of playmakers at wideout. But for the Broncos, a team that has historically struggled to cover tight ends, this is troubling news. Last season, the 49ers didn’t boast any wide receivers that would make defensive coordinators lose sleep, but they did have a top-flight tight end. Against Denver, George Kittle had seven catches for 210 yards and a touchdown. Walker isn’t as athletic as the Niners tight end, so he’s not the big-play threat; but the Broncos will still have to prove that they can cover him. NOTE: The Broncos could catch a break, as Walker didn’t practice on Thursday due to a knee injury.
3. Pass Rush – As a team, the Titans have 17 sacks through their first five games, the fourth-highest total in the league. The Broncos have struggled to protect Joe Flacco at various times this season, mainly because their two tackles have been shaky at best. Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson will have their hands full on Sunday, as Tennessee can bring pressure from a number of players. Second-year linebacker Harold Landry leads the way with 4.0 sacks on the season, with Cameron Wake bookending him on the other side with 2.5. In part, this duo is effective because Tennessee is stout up the middle, led by veteran defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, a player who has earned a Pro Bowl invite in each of the past four seasons. NOTE: Wake didn’t practice on Thursday due to a hamstring injury, which could be good news for the Broncos.
4. Marcus Mariota – Any list of the top quarterbacks in the NFL is unlikely to include the Titans signal caller, but that’s because his stats don’t jump off the page; he’s not posting 400-yard games or tossing five touchdowns on a single Sunday afternoon. For the most part, that’s due to the fact that Tennessee doesn’t play that type of football; they’re a defensive-minded, run-first team. In that system, Mariota is very effective. This season, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns and is yet to toss an interception; he’s also rushed for 125 yards and can buy time in the pocket with his elusiveness. That sounds a lot like Gardner Minshew II, a quarterback who came into Denver and beat the Broncos two weeks ago.
5. Stingy Defense – Through five games, the Titans have only surrendered 76 total points, the third fewest in the AFC. The Jaguars put 20 on the scoreboard against them in Week 3, the most of any opponent so far in 2019. Tennessee’s defense overwhelmed Baker Mayfield and the Browns in the season opener, holding Cleveland to just 13 points. And two weeks ago, they dominated Matt Ryan and the Falcons, holding Atlanta to just 10 points. Both of those performances came on the road, proof that their defense can travel and isn’t intimidated by unfriendly environments. Joe Flacco and a Broncos offense that is averaging just 18.0 points per game this season will have their hands full on Sunday.
Does this mean the Broncos can’t win on Sunday? Of course not. They’re favored for a reason, as the Titans are a mediocre team that is beatable in Denver.
That said, Tennessee plays a brand of football that will pose some problems. They like to run the ball, throw it to their tight ends, keep it close and rely on their defense.
So another low-scoring game that comes down to the final minutes, see the Broncos-Bears in Week 2, seems like it’s in the cards. Here’s hoping the Broncos can finally pull out one of those games.
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