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Broncos vs. Titans: Breaking down Denver’s game plan on Sunday

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The Broncos finally have a win under their belt. After beating the Chargers last week on the road, the Broncos return home to face a tough Titans team on Sunday.

The home crowd could make all the difference for the Broncos. This is going to be a tough, physical game and a win won’t be easy. However, getting two wins in a row would be a great boost for this team’s confidence – especially since they have a short week with the Chiefs coming up next Thursday in Week 7.

Let’s take a look at how the Broncos will attack the Titans on both sides of the ball.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello finally fed Phillip Lindsay the right way. It was the fifth-straight game that Lindsay was used more than Royce Freeman on the ground. Lindsay had 15 carries for 114 yards and one touchdown – his best game of the 2019 season. Freeman wasn’t bad either against the Chargers, rushing 13 times for 61 yards. Both of these backs helped wear down the Chargers defense as the game went on.

Having fullback Andy Janovich back in action has been a boost for this rushing attack. He’s a big piece of what the team wants to do on the ground, and that’s why the Broncos signed Janovich to a three-year contract extension on Friday. In the play below, you can see how Janovich helps blast open holes for Lindsay.

Before the snap, Janovich moves from an “I” formation to more of a “Power I” look as he goes to his right. He quickly identifies the safety he’s going to block and destroys his man. This is an easy five-yard gain for Lindsay and if the Chargers would have lacked discipline up front, it could have been cut back inside for much more. This play is simple, but it can allow the Broncos to move the ball in chunks on the ground that can wear out the Titans.

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The Titans rush defense is strong. Last week against the Bills, they held Frank Gore to 60 yards on 14 carries and he only had two runs of more than five yards. They do allow some longer runs later in the game as their discipline seems to break down. That’s why the Broncos need to keep running the ball in a close game.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

It will be interesting to see if the Broncos get rookie tight end Noah Fant more involved in ever before this week against the Titans. This game should not be won through the air, so it could be another down week for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Last week against the Chargers, Flacco posted a season-low 182 yards with one touchdown and one interception. We might see Flacco post similar numbers this week, hopefully without the turnovers.

The Titans pass defense features a strong secondary with talented cornerbacks and safeties. They can get after the quarterback, which means Flacco has to attack where they are weak – in coverage at the linebacker position. While the Titans have not allowed a 100-yard game to a wide receiver this year, they do give it up to tight ends like they’re handing out Halloween candy. They have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in four of five games this year. In the game they didn’t allow a touchdown to a tight end, they gave up 130 receiving yards to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper.

This is the play the Broncos need to use against the Titans. It’s a play they started out the game against the Chargers with. After executing a play-action fake, Flacco finds himself with great protection and two tight ends coming open.

This play goes for a 26-yard gain to Jeff Heuerman, and it was the right throw as he found the open window. However, if the linebacker in the middle drops into that window look at the one-on-one situation that Fant has on the outside with a defender who is turning his back to Flacco. I’d like to see that throw if Heuerman is covered. Flacco has a huge arm and could easily lead the more athletic Fant on what could be a touchdown play. They could even run a fade/stop instead for a big gain or a pass-interference penalty. Either way, get after the Titans defense with the tight ends.

The Titans defensive line is weakened with edge rusher Cameron Wake questionable. That could give Flacco a bit more time to get rid of the ball. The Broncos need to design plenty of plays for the tight ends this week.

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When the Titans Run the Ball

Expect to see a ton of Titans running back Derrick Henry on Sunday. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the “Leonard Fournette treatment” against the Broncos – and the results might not be too far off. Against the Broncos a couple of weeks ago, Fournette had a career-high 225 rushing yards. Henry is a similarly built running back and he might have more speed and natural talent as a runner.

The Titans have a reliable battering ram to soften up the Broncos defense. Henry is averaging just over 77 rushing yards per game and has scored in four of five games.

In the play below, you see a no-nonsense approach to running the football. Their tight end motions before the play from left to right and the strong side is now established on that side. Instead of following the heavy side of the formation, the play is designed to go weak side. Henry follows his fullback to the left only to see pass-rusher Jerry Hughes (No. 55) force the play back inside for only a three-yard gain. Had Hughes been properly blocked, Henry could have made that a touchdown run. The Broncos must maintain their discipline when trying to stop the Titans ground game.

The insertion of nose tackle Mike Purcell was a fantastic move by the Broncos last week. His play helped greatly as the Broncos stuffed the Chargers rushing attack and held their rushing attack to just 38 yards on 15 carries. The play of inside linebacker Alexander Johnson also helped greatly. These two, in addition to the other Broncos defenders, are in for quite the challenge against Henry in Week 6.

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When the Titans Pass the Ball

The Titans don’t have a great passing game. Starting quarterback Marcus Mariota is average at best and may be replaced at some point this season by backup Ryan Tannehill. Mariota is athletic and can extend plays, but he was sacked five times last week against the Bills. He doesn’t make mistakes with the football and rather than force the ball out under pressure, Mariota will at times just take the sack to live to fight another down.

The Titans have a talented tight end in veteran Delanie Walker. He should get plenty of work against the Broncos on Sunday. It’s been some time since the Broncos faced an opponent with a quality tight end, but their weakness against the position is still there.

The play below shows a 26-yard gain for Walker early in the game against the Bills. Walker motions over from right to left before the snap. After the snap, the linebacker in red is tasked with covering him on what he thinks is an in-breaking route. Instead, Walker runs a post-corner route and is wide open.

The Broncos secondary, led by Chris Harris Jr., has held down star receivers like Davante Adams, D.J. Chark and Keenan Allen this year. The Titans passing game features players who are not household names at the position like Corey Davis and A.J. Brown. Their young and talented receivers but may not do much against the Broncos banged up secondary on Sunday. This is why Walker and the tight ends – plus Dion Lewis out of the backfield – are the players to focus on for the Broncos defense.

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Summary

The Broncos are feeling good – but not overconfident – after their first win of the season. This team needs to stay on the winning track. They’ve let a couple of games get past them they should’ve won, and that would have created a much different narrative around this team after five games.

This game is going to be a hard-fought battle and it may come down to just a play or two. Will the Broncos be the team that makes those few game-changing plays?

If they run the ball consistently, even if the results are immediately there, it gives them the best chance to win and control the time of possession. This game must feature a lot of the tight end position since that’s where the Titans defense is the weakest. Fant must be used early and often in this contest if the Broncos want to get the victory a little bit easier.

I have the Broncos winning this game 17-13 on Sunday.

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All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Game screenshots from NFL Game Pass. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.