DETROIT, Mich. — A road game was a place to lose. A road game was a map to nowhere.
From Nov. 7, 2021 to Oct. 1 2023, the Broncos failed to win a visiting game in the United States, a streak spanning 12 games. Then they beat the Chicago Bears, rallying from a 21-point deficit. It was Denver’s first win this season. Now, victories on the road – a hallmark of a contender – remain common. The Broncos are 3-3 in visiting stadiums entering Saturday’s primetime game against the Detroit Lions on Denver7.
This represents a steep climb. The Broncos are 4.5-point underdog against an angry Detroit team looking to rebound from two ugly losses in its past three games, knowing a victory with some help would clinch a playoff spot. The Broncos can lose and remain in the postseason mix, though they would have to run the table. If Denver wins Saturday and the Texans lose, the Broncos move into a playoff position. Couple a victory with a Bills loss against the Cowboys and the Broncos will be guaranteed a postseason spot if they win out.
After six straight losing seasons and seven years without a playoff berth, Broncos players are embracing these high stakes. The Broncos boast six wins in their last seven games, making them the NFL’s hottest team. Can they continue scalding? Let’s look at my Denver7 keys to victory:
Keep Goff Off
Jared Goff revived his career when traded from the Rams to Lions. He is a different quarterback at Ford Field, posting 48 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, including 12 and six this season. He will stand in the pocket, will not run, and get the ball to weapons in space. He has struggled in his last four games, turning the ball over nine times (five interceptions, four fumbles). The Broncos must keep Jared Goff as Jared Off, forcing at least two turnovers, like a Justin Simmons interception. The Broncos are tied for first in takeaways since Week 6 with 19 and will be facing a Lions team that could feature its 10th different starting combination on the offensive line.
Three and out
Get off the field. Besides turnovers, nothing inspires a defense like stops. Since Week 6, the Broncos have held opponents to a 27 percent conversion rate on third down, best in the league. The Lions, who were shut out in the second half last week, convert at a 43 percent rate. Denver needs to continue its success on the money down.
Two things make this game dangerous for Denver: The Lions run the ball well and they are alarmingly fast. The Lions rank fifth in ground yards with 137.5 per game. David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs have combined for 1,492 yards and 16 touchdowns. Montgomery is a bruiser and Gibbs is a burner. Denver’s rush defense showed improvement against the Texans and Chargers, but those teams were not physical upfront.
Tackle the task
Tackling well is paramount. It seems simple. But the speed of Gibbs and receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is real. The Broncos lack of speed showed up in losses to the Dolphins and Texans. Gibbs becomes critical because Goff could turn to him on screens and swing passes against the aggressively blitzing Broncos.
Don’t Run From It
The Broncos have created a plan to win. Take the ball away. Don’t give it away. And soak the clock with a strong run game. Javonte Williams leads the Broncos with 650 yards rushing, but he has not averaged 4 yards per carry in six weeks. Samaje Perine, who has dealt with a knee issue, has faded in the run game, posting two or fewer rushes in six of the past seven games. On turf, it’s possible speedy rookie Jaleel McLaughlin could provide a spark. The Lions allow 113 yards per game on the ground.
For the Broncos blueprint to work, the offense must do just enough. That’s where the deep strikes come in. Russell Wilson, who has 11 touchdowns and four interceptions over the past seven games, completes fewer intermediate passes than any starting quarterback. He is a dump down, let it eat passer. Detroit struggles against short air yards, so that helps Wilson. Courtland Sutton has also made the deep ball pay off, delivering unthinkable catches and 10 touchdowns, four shy of the team record. Can Sutton sprinkle pixie dust again or will this be the week that Marvin Mims Jr. and Jerry Jeudy step into the spotlight, taking a short pass to the house?
Sean and Dan
Broncos coach Sean Payton has long relationship with Lions boss Dan Campbell. He coached him Dallas and New Orleans and brought him onto his staff with the Saints. He has nothing but respect for Campbell and how he has built a team in his image. When Campbell was on Payton’s staff, the Saints won four NFC South crowns. This is their first matchup as head coaches. Payton wants the win, obviously, but will he show restraint and stick to his team’s strengths of a fiery defense, ball security offense and stellar special teams? I believe so.
Troy’s Prediction: Broncos 24, Lions 22