Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
When: Sunday, September 7, 2014 @ 8:30 P.M. Eastern Time (NBC Sunday Night Football)
This time of year I am compelled to reminisce by what I can only describe as a smell in the air that the end of summer brings. Maybe it is only a feeling that brings back the vivid memories of the two-a-day football practices of my youth. It happens every year about this time. I can’t exactly describe it, but the unforgettable smell in the air harkens back a time when I poured out my heart to make a football squad in the heat and freshly cut grass. So many years later it still feels like it happened yesterday. Even if I was shut off to the world, I would know from this feeling that football season is ready to begin.
Although there is no attempt to make a football team this year or for many years for that matter, I am still excited knowing that the National Football League is going to be on TV every week. For the Denver Broncos, the season officially kicks off with gusto on Sunday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Their long road back to the Super Bowl begins as Peyton Manning’s old team pays a visit to Mile High (I still don’t like calling it “anything” Field at Mile High). The same team, led by Andrew Luck that gave the Broncos their first loss last season is coming to Denver. Two of the game’s premier quarterbacks are set to dual in prime time. It is shaping up to be a great opener for a promising season.
This first game is as good a time as any for the Broncos to set the tone for the season. The barrage of touchdowns in the opener against Baltimore set the tone for last season’s record breaking offense. It is true that the championship is not won in September, but for the Broncos it is important to show that they have cured the ills that ailed them last season and mentally set themselves up for the long haul to the playoffs. There is much to be said about building confidence early.
Keys to the game (season):
Frankly, I couldn’t stand Stephen A. Smith before he called the Broncos soft a few days ago. His rhetoric has gotten so old I am forced to change the channel. It begs the question, does this blowhard really believe what is he is saying or is he just trying for shock value? His bravado and false toughness is agonizing and his verbal diarrhea has reached epic heights lately. But he did issue a challenge of sorts to the Broncos. I am sure the team could care less what Stephen A. Smith has to say. However, the Broncos did seem to lack mental and physical toughness a year ago as I have written about on a few occasions.
This year it will be different or at least it should be. John Elway has built a team that can deliver nasty. The team appears to be taking on that persona as evident by the feistiness in practice and preseason games. Even Manning showed some uncharacteristic edginess by running down field after a touchdown pass to yell obscenities at a Texans safety who he felt gave Wes Welker a preseason cheap shot. That is something I have never seen from Manning and, as a critic of his mental toughness for years, made me feel good inside. As a fan, I have been screaming for more toughness on this team for what seems like a decade. The Broncos must go out on Sunday to prove their toughness and make Stephen A. Smith eat his words.
The revamped secondary vs. Andrew Luck
Luck ruined Manning’s home coming last season by carving up the Broncos secondary to the tune of 228 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos spent big money to bring in Aqib Talib and TJ Ward to improve a porous secondary. This game will be a good test to see if the improvements on paper translate to the field. It has the makings of a pass happy shoot-out. That would make for great TV watching, something the NFL would love to see evident by the rules they are “emphasizing”, but for the Broncos it would be much better to see a shut-down secondary. The Broncos defensive backs need to shut down Luck and Co.
The pass rush needs to live up to the hype
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware turned loose on opening day will be a sight to behold. These two could easily be the best pass rushing duo in the league. Pressure on the quarterback was lacking last season, especially in the Super Bowl. Make Luck run for his life and live up to the hype.
The shuffled offensive line needs to prove its mettle
The offensive line is much improved just by having Ryan Clady back. However, Orlando Franklin is playing a new position at left guard and Chris Clark has yet to prove himself at right tackle. The line is going to be better than last season just based on the players they are fielding, but it still needs to be seen in a real game to know how much better. Can the line jell after the changes? Will Clark protect Manning from the right tackle position better than he did from the left side? Will they be able to open up running lanes when the opposing defense is not lining up six or less in the box? Is the line going bring the nasty that has been talked about so much this off-season? Those question need to be answered.
The running game must hold its own
Last season the Broncos put on an aerial show that was a sight to behold, but they really could have used more balance in the offense. They had a tough time running against the Colts in that first loss of last season. They also had a tough time running when it counted. They need to show that they can run the ball when critical rushing yards are necessary. Furthermore, the Broncos need to prove that they will have a more balanced attack that the coaches have been preaching all off-season.
Plus margin in turnovers
The Broncos were bad in the turnover ratio early last season. They had far too many fumbles and were not opportunistic enough on defense. That ratio was ever apparent in last season’s loss in Indianapolis. The Broncos coughed it up three times including a fumble at the goal line late in the game, thwarting their comeback bid. The Broncos have been built to be a takeaway machine. The pass rush should be fierce, therefore forcing interceptions, the secondary has some more ball-hawking players and just a more physically violent defense should jar balls loose. It is said that takeaways come in bunches so start them coming early in the first game of the season.
If the Broncos want to be the first Super Bowl loser in 42 years to win the Lombardi Trophy the very next year these are the keys to the season. Set the tone early and don’t look back. Do this and it will be a great season for Broncos’ fans.