Between the mismatch in offenses, injuries to Derek Wolfe and Aqib Talib, and the unfamiliar artificial turf, the Denver Broncos are going to have a difficult time defeating the New Orleans Saints on Sunday (11 a.m. kickoff) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But it can be done as they are listed as a 3-point underdog by the majority of oddsmakers.
Here are 9 Keys to the Broncos going into their bye next week with momentum by defeating the Saints:
1. Stop the run
This is ridiculous fellas. In their last two games, the Denver D has allowed 218 yards rushing to Latavius Murray and the Raiders, and 123 yards to Melvin Gordon and the Chargers.
Now the Broncos must play without their best run-stuffer in Derek Wolfe while the Saints’ running back duo of Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower are coming off rushing games of 248 yards against San Francisco and 123 yards against Seattle.
Besides needing rookie defensive end Adam Gotsis and second-year defensive tackle Darius Kilgo to step up, look for Broncos’ safeties T.J. Ward and/or Darian Stewart to help out in the box.
2. Run first, then play-action pass
The Broncos have only run the ball well in two of their nine games this season – the opener against Carolina and week 7 against Houston. They only rushed for 90 yards combined in their last two games. For the sake of their beleaguered offensive line and young running backs Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs, the Broncos have to establish the run early. If they do, quarterback Trevor Siemian can hold the pass rush and open up route lanes with the play-action fake.
3. Mix up defensive looks on Brees
Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees has seen all the blitzes. That doesn’t mean Wade Phillips from his sideline position can’t mix up his pass rushers at the same time he is mixing up his coverages. Plus, safety Shiloh Keo and tight end John Phillips, who played for the Broncos earlier this season, were signed by the Saints within the past week.The Broncos will have to change up their on-field audibles and signals on both sides of the ball.
4. Von and Ware time
The idea of mixing up the coverages and the blitzes is to confuse Brees enough so he holds on to the ball an extra half-second. If he does, then it’s up to edge rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray to get to him.
Brees has only been sacked 12 times in eight games. The Denver D, second in the league with 28 sacks, have to dump Breen between two and four times to pull off the upset.
5. Look often to Thomas, Sanders
Not Michael Thomas, the Saints’ second-round rookie from Ohio State who is on pace for more than 90 catches and 1,100 yards. We’re talking about Demaryius Thomas and his Broncos’ receiving partner Emmanuel Sanders.
The Broncos’ top two pass catchers should have an impactful game against a Saints’ pass defense that is the worst in the league.
The Saints are tied for last in the league with 11 sacks and are No. 32 alone by giving up an even 300 passing yards a game.
6. Big game from Harris, Roby, Webster
After winning one game without cornerback Aqib Talib, the timing of his back injury couldn’t have been worse. The Broncos didn’t cover well last week against Oakland quarterback Derek Carr and his multitude of targets led by Amari Cooper. The Broncos now take on the Saints who have a terrific receiver trio in Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, plus two good tight ends in Coby Fleener and Josh Hill.
The good news for Denver is No. 4 cornerback Kayvon Webster returns from his hamstring injury to move up to No. 3 this week. Webster will play the right corner so Chris Harris Jr. can quarterback from the slot.
The Broncos also need a better game from Bradley Roby, who was picked on by Carr last week.
7. Win field position
Poor field position may have been the No. 1 reason why the Broncos lost to the Raiders last week.
The Raiders’ first three possessions started from their 48, 42 and 43. They scored off each possession for 13 points. The Broncos’ first two possessions of the second half started from their 2 and 1.
8. Red zone!
New Orleans is second in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns 71 percent of the time. The Broncos’ offense is 21st in red zone touchdown conversions at 50 percent.
The Broncos should reach the red zone area several times against the porous Saints’ defense. They need to finish.
9. No turnovers
Bad as the Saints’ defense is, it does rank 9th in the league with 13 takeaways. The Broncos have committed 13 turnovers.