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Wilson's wristband, stopping run, Dulcich's emergence central to Broncos' upset

Denver seeks first road win in the U.S. this season
Broncos Football
Posted at 11:46 AM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-13 11:11:12-05

ENGLEWOOD — The question lingers like a London fog: Did the Broncos' win over Jacksonville reflect movement or a moment?

Denver's schedule offers a chance for them to paw their glove onto the ropes and rise from the canvas. The Broncos are 3-5, hanging on to relevancy by a knotted piece of dental floss.

Lose to the Titans on Sunday, and the Broncos, realistically, would require a 6-2 finish with three games remaining against the Kansas City Chiefs (home and away) and Baltimore (away).

Denver is an underdog this week for a reason. The Broncos have yet to win a road game in the states, and Tennessee is allowing 17.7 points per game at home. Injuries and illness took center stage on Friday. The Titans ruled out four defensive starters, including elite defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and edge rusher Bud Dupree. The Broncos are dealing with a potential illness breakout. Four players are sick — likely starters starting outside linebacker Nik Bonitto and receiver Kendall Hinton, reserve cornerback Darius Phillips and practice squad outside linebacker Jonathan Kongbo. Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett would not confirm whether it was COVID-19, though sources have not painted it as a such, meaning ill players could still return Sunday.

There remains a path to an upset. My Denver7 keys to victory:

Get in The Zone
The Titans play zone coverage roughly 70 percent of the time. The Broncos' passing game has been awful against zone, with three touchdowns, three picks and scant explosive plays. The key is for Russell Wilson, who spent Friday in the locker room playing the Uno card game with four teammates, with to lean on rookie tight end Greg Dulcich to find the soft spots underneath. They will be there based on how the Titans drop their linebackers. K.J. Hamler would have been ideal this week in the slot, but won't play because of a hamstring injury. So, use Courtland Sutton, who has six catches for 50 yards over the last three games, and Jerry Jeudy (216 yards over his last three games) on quick slants.

Check yourself
With zone coverage, there are layups. This is the week to take them with check downs to Melvin Gordon and Chase Edmonds. Take the five yards. Keep the down-and-distance manageable and stay on the field. Even if the drive doesn't result in a touchdown, if it soaks clock it will keep the defense fresher vs. Derrick Henry.

Slow down The King
Derrick Henry is running back royalty. He boasts 763 yards and eight touchdowns over his last six games. The Titans are 29-4 when he rushes for 100 yards as he did in the 2020 season opener vs. Denver. However, the Broncos have bottled him up for the most part, holding him to a 3.21 yards per carry on 58 attempts. They have to do it again, and it starts with D.J. Jones. He's elite. The Broncos rank 21st against the run, and have been blitzed by Josh Jacobs and Travis Etienne, leaving much improvement required.

Win the turnover battle
The Broncos' argument for a better record starts with close losses and a zero takeaway margin. The Titans are plus-3. The Broncos must find a way to get a big interception from Justin Simmons or Pat Surtain II.

What a Rush
No Bradley Chubb this week won't help. He sets the edge and gets after quarterbacks. If Ryan Tannehill starts, as expected, he will be compromised with his ankle injury. The Broncos must pounce on this, forcing Tannehill into poor throws, especially on third down. Watching the Titans' tackle play the last few weeks, there will be opportunities. It won't be easy as the Broncos depth will be tested. Look for newcomer Jacob Martin and Jonathon Cooper to get plenty of reps. "The standard is the standard. It's next man up," Cooper told Denver7 on Friday.

Clean it up
The Broncos' special teams are not good enough. Games can be won in the margins so stupid delay of game penalties and holding calls are paralyzing. The leash must be short with Montrell Washington at punt returner, and Brandon McManus needs to channel his 2015 season with clutch kicks.

Keep it close
Wilson sprinkled pixie dust on two games this season — in the fourth quarter vs. the 49ers and Jaguars. That is who Wilson was before arriving in Denver. He will wear a wristband for a second straight game — it helps get the play called sooner, allowing for more time at the line of scrimmage rather than snapping at 1 second on the play clock. Wilson has a history of playing well when it matters most. Can he pull off another fourth quarter win? If he was at home, I'd say yes. Alas, the Broncos have to prove it on the road before they can be trusted. Hope I am wrong.

RENCK'S PREDICTION: Titans 18, Broncos 15