DENVER—It’s the Denver Broncos with the NFL’s best defense regardless of statistics against the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 1 offense and the stats to prove it.
It’s also Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch and his first NFL start against the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, who made his first start when Lynch was a freshman in high school.
The Broncos and Falcons kick off at 2:05 this afternoon at soon-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Here are 9 keys to the Broncos emerging victorious:
1.Rough up Ryan
Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Broncos, they win games like no other because of their defense. Ryan is the league’s leading passer at the quarter pole, throwing 11 touchdowns against two touchdowns while averaging 368.2 yards per game. He threw for 503 yards and four touchdowns last week in a 48-33 win against Carolina.
But Ryan hasn’t faced a pass rush like the one Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and the Denver D bring every week. Quarterbacks can pick apart any secondary given time. The key is the Broncos can’t give Ryan time.
2.Stop the run
The Falcons with Donta Freeman and Tevin Coleman also have the No. 6-ranked running game with 124.5 yards per game. And it’s not all because they have big leads and run the ball late. So far this season all opponents have tried to counter Miller’s fearsome pass rush by establishing the run. Unlike past opponents, the Falcons have the kind of running attack that can execute.
3.Talib outplays Julio
This might be the man-on-man matchup of the year. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib is the best cover corner in the league right now. Atlanta’s Julio Jones has been right there with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown as the league’s top receivers for the past three years. Jones had 300 yards receiving last week against Carolina’s inept secondary. If Talib holds him to one-third of that total today, he would do well.
4.Wade outsmarts Shanahan
Atlanta’s offensive coordinator is Kyle Shanahan, the son of former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, who groomed long-time offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak for an NFL head coaching job. Kubiak’s defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips, who was fired as Broncos’ head coach following the 1994 season and replaced by Mike Shanahan.
Phillips has been fired by eight other teams in his 38 seasons as an NFL coach, so he learned long ago to not hold grudges. But better believe Wade would like to outfox kid Shanny.
5.Let it rip, Paxton
Lynch came out firing off the bench in his NFL debut last week at Tampa Bay, completing 14 of 24 for 170 yards in about a 1 ½ quarters before the offense shut it down after the weather delay. He has the arm to get the ball downfield where the Broncos’ most talented offensive players, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, can make plays. Kubiak has not been conservative in his play calling with his young quarterbacks this season.
6.No picks, Paxton
Hey, this is the NFL. The job for quarterbacks is to be both aggressive, but also be careful to not turn the ball over. It’s a tricky balance, but this is big leagues.
7.Get C.J. going
For the first time since early in the week of practice for Indianapolis in week 2, Kubiak had his team put on pads for practice Thursday. The idea was to bring some physicality to the offensive line. Running back C.J. Anderson averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the first game, but 3.7, 2.6 and 2.6 yards per attempt in his next three games. With the Broncos’ quarterback making his starting debut, a running game is imperative.
8.Contain Eric Weems
The Falcons have a very good returner in Weems, who ranks 8th in the league with a 23.2-yard return average on kickoffs and third with a 17.1-yard average on punt returns. That means Broncos rookie Riley Dixon will have to be careful to not outkick his coverage.
9. Control the tempo
The Falcons like shootouts. They have allowed 33, 32 and 28 points in their last three games and won all three. The Broncos can slow them down by having their offense huddle up, run the ball, pick up third downs and put together at least two 7-minute drives.
Copyright 2016 KUSA