Thanks to their last place finish in the AFC South last year, the Tennessee Titans will host the last place AFC West team, the Denver Broncos, this Sunday. It will be a rematch from last year, a game which the visiting Broncos won with a late comeback, 26-20.
There are some similarities between the two teams. Each has a new coaching staff. Each team has a veteran starting quarterback and a good receiver. Each has problems on the o-line. Each has new schemes on defense. Each has a 1-1 record, trying to improve to 2-1.
New head coach John Fox is a traditionalist who likes to run the football and rely on a strong defense. Eventually, that’s what I see the Broncos trying to do but so far this year, it hasn’t happened, as Denver has passed 71 times and run the ball only 49.
Part of that can be attributed to yet another injury (hamstring) to starting (when healthy) RB Knowshon Moreno, who has only eight carries. The Broncos are fortunate to have an experienced backup in Willis McGahee, who leads the team with 32 carries.
The injury bug has also hit the Broncos’ receiving corps. How thin are the Broncos at receiver? Denver’s starting WRs, Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal, both have groin injuries. Last week, third-string QB Tim Tebow actually had to line up as a wideout. 2010 third-round draft pick Eric Decker, who had monster stats against the Bengals last week, should be on the field a lot.
How often will Broncos QB Kyle Orton throw the ball? Among other considerations, it may well depend on the health of the WRs. Let’s hope Orton won’t throw more than he did in Denver’s first two games. Orton has a history of playing well early in the season before fading. Last year he torched the Titans in Week Four for 341 yards and two TDs.
On defense, Fox has changed the Broncos back to a 4-3 after they spent two years in a 3-4 under former head coach Josh McDaniels. There are four guys on D that bear watching, two very good players, one who used to be, and one who could be.
Champ Bailey was, in my opinion, the best corner in the game until Nnamdi Osumugha surpassed him. The three-time first team All-Pro and ten-time Pro Bowler can still play at a high level, being selected to his latest Pro Bowls in the last two seasons. I know, the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest, especially for older players, but he was probably still worthy. Bailey is injured (hamstring) this week, though, so there’s no telling if he’ll play.
Elvis Dumervil was an All-Pro two years ago as a 3-4 OLB. He’s now a DE in the new scheme and should be Denver’s best pass rusher, at least for now. Michael Roos will have the responsibility of blocking him this week.
Brian Dawkins used to be a great free safety, earning four first team All-Pro honors and eight Pro Bowl appearances. Dawkins is now 38 years old and in his 16th NFL season. This should be our last chance to see him at LP Field, but you never know. I thought the same thing one time about Brett Favre before he unretired to play as a Jet the last time they visited Tennessee.
Von Miller is the young player who could become great. The second overall pick in the draft this year, Miller showed outstanding ability to rush the passer in college and we’ll see how much the Broncos use him in that capacity and how much he’ll be a traditional 4-3 Sam.
In his review of the Broncos’ last game, Tom mentioned their injuries to key players and something that will bear watching this week, more so than most weeks, is the injury report. We’ve already noted the Bronco injuries on offense, to Moreno, Lloyd and Royal. On defense, the big question mark for Denver is Bailey.
In watching the film of the Titans/Ratbirds game, the Broncos have seen what happens when backup corners try to cover Kenny Britt. Denver will sorely need a healthy Bailey to play Sunday.
If Bailey plays, I expect the Titans to test him if he covers Britt. If not, I expect the Titans to pick on whoever is on Britt.
We’ll see what the final injury report looks like tomorrow evening and what everybody’s status is, and we’ll probably post something about it here.
Also stay tuned for Tom’s upcoming question and answer exchange with Ted Bartlett of It’s All Over, Fat Man! for more on the game.