Denver, Colorado 2020-10-18 12:05:40 –
DENVER – Finally.
After interruptions, two rescheduled schedules and a battery of positive COVID-19 tests, the Broncos face the Patriots on Sunday at 11 a.m. in Foxborough. It represents the Broncos’ first game in 17 days. This time allowed Drew Lock to heal his tense right rotator cuff and return to the starting lineup. However, it also paved the way for Patriots stars Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore to erase COVID-19 protocols.
The Broncos arrive as heavy underdogs, aiming for their second straight win as they attempt to return to relevance.
It will not be easy or fair. The Broncos were clearly inconvenienced, if not the tree, with the adjustments. Three of their games were moved, they lost their week off, and this Sunday should have been a home rebound game against the Dolphins. That said, the team that becomes comfortable with being uncomfortable will win. No excuses.
A look at my Denver7 keys for a Broncos win:
Stifle the race
The Patriots rank second in the NFL rushing with a multi-layered offense. Newton is the hub of the wheel with 149 yards and four touchdowns. Without Newton against the Chiefs, the Patriots almost fell into place. It brings a unique versatility. The Broncos smothered him in Super Bowl 50 with a straightforward game plan – hit him multiple times, even after the much-needed whistle. Newton lost his appetite to carry the ball. However, the Broncos don’t boast the same type of fierce tackles. If linebacker Alexander Johnson or defensive end Shelby Harris can give it a big hit, maybe that will slow Newton’s roll. Former first-round pick Sylvester Williams is active today as the Broncos look to strengthen their interior.
Running in the light of day
Melvin Gordon had the kind of week that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. He was arrested for a DUI on Tuesday, held out of practice on Wednesday, missed Friday with a non-COVID-19 illness and did not travel because he was contagious. While many fans are furious with Gordon, a newcomer to the team this season, he has played well, punctuating the team in rush and touchdowns. With Gordon absent, Phillip Lindsay recovers the starting role he occupied in his first two seasons. He understands this is a chance to grab the job as he plays for the first time since the first half of the season opener due to a turf toe injury. Royce Freeman will also be needed for races 7-10 as Lindsay’s workload will be monitored.
Win, lose, draw
If the Broncos establish the run it will open up some deep strikes for Lock. The Patriots don’t rely on quarterback pressure, but they make life difficult with disguised covers. They are the masters of creating unenlightened looks. When a deep strike appears, Lock cannot miss. Lock did not perform well in the season opener and recorded just five quarterbacks this season. He can’t wait to take that first shot and get on the right track. The Broncos offense has been brutal this year, using three quarters in four games. Denver ranks 28th in points and 29th in yards per game. But Lock’s return creates hope. If he completes 65% of his passes, the Broncos have a chance. But Lock can’t return the ball and needs to keep an eye on where the Patriots’ Chase Winovich is lined up.
Few large spaces
Belichick is the master of eliminating an opponent’s best players. He employs a variety of strategies. Sometimes he uses his top corner to cut off a team’s second receiver, while also shuffling searches for the main threat. So will Gilmore keep Tim Patrick or Jerry Jeudy? One of those two has to have a big day for the Broncos to win.
High and tight
Without tight end Noah Fant (high ankle sprain, expected to play against the Chiefs) and wide receiver KJ Hamler (hamstrings), the Broncos are in jeopardy. Fant’s injury means rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is active for the first time. He and Lock formed a dynamic tandem in Missouri. It would be nice to see offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur employ Albert O in the red zone or in third as a shift on a safety or linebacker. He could tell the difference even with just two or three takes.
It’s one of the few games of the year where the Broncos special teams are ranked ahead of their opponent. It is said weekly in this space, and it is worth repeating. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Broncos played flawlessly on special teams, meaning there weren’t any blocked kicks, snaps dropped, silly penalties or punts taken inside the line? 10 yards? Play a game that makes the Patriots nervous.
Road to nowhere
The Broncos must survive the first punch. They’re not made to rally on the road, where they are 11-23 since Super Bowl 50. For the Broncos to face each other, they need to put pressure on a Patriots team that has had limited practice time. over the past two weeks.
Renck’s prediction: Patriots 24, Broncos 17