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Burning Questions: Broncos at Bills

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the aftermath of the Broncos’ loss to Minnesota in which Denver gave up a 20-point halftime lead, Von Miller made it clear how much the game stung.

“We came up short, and nobody hates losing more than Von,” he said in the visiting locker room.

But Miller said he also saw encouraging signs, ones that could foreshadow success. The Broncos’ focus had been good, and their first-half performance had few blemishes.

The loss, though painful, showed that success may not be far off.

Miller echoed those sentiments Thursday ahead of Denver’s matchup with the 7-3 Bills, who sit in the first wild-card spot in the AFC.

“Honestly, simply the energy that we have, the type of players that we have and the type of coaches that we have,” said Miller when asked why he feels hopeful about the team’s future. “It’s just a matter of time before we become a great team again. Great coaches and great players usually equal success. I’m still waiting for that, hoping for that and I know that it’ll happen for us.”

As the Broncos continue a stretch in which they play four of five games on the road, they’ll aim to find that success.

These are the questions the Broncos must answer in Buffalo if they hope to have their fortune change this week:

WILL THE BRONCOS’ SECONDARY BOUNCE BACK?

In the second half of Denver’s game against the Vikings, Kirk Cousins completed 18 of his 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. During Minnesota’s four second-half drives — all of which resulted in touchdowns — Cousins completed five passes of at least 20 yards. He also struck quickly. The Vikings’ final two touchdown drives took just 35 seconds and two minutes and 14 seconds, respectively. On the first of those drives, Cousins found Stefon Diggs for a 54-yard touchdown. On the next drive, he hit Kyle Rudolph for a 32-yard score.

Both of the touchdowns were the product of blown coverages as the Vikings ran a hurry-up offense. On Thursday, Head Coach Vic Fangio downplayed the impact that the no-huddle offense had on the Broncos’ defense.

“I don’t really think that was the case as much as maybe it’s being alluded to,” said Fangio when asked if the tempo impacted the defense. “Yeah, there was some there where [it caused issues], as always is going to be the case when a team goes no-huddle. Really, [on] the significant plays in those drives, that wasn’t an issue.”

The Broncos, though, must shore up their communication against Josh Allen and the Bills. Allen won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 21-of-33 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.

Allen has a dangerous weapon in John Brown, who entered Week 12 leading all AFC players in receiving yards. In the Bills’ Week 11 win, Brown caught nine passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

Chris Harris Jr. could shadow Brown, but the rest of the secondary must be up to the task as well. Davontae Harris was replaced by Isaac Yiadom against Minnesota, but Fangio said Harris will start against the Bills.

"He’s still working through his issues that he had," Fangio said Friday. "He had a good week of practice and he’s focused and ready to go.”

Denver’s defense still ranks fourth against the pass despite a difficult second half against Minnesota.

Can Denver’s usual passing defense return for the matchup in Buffalo? Or will the second-half woes in Minnesota continue? The answer will play a major role in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game.

CAN THE BRONCOS’ OFFENSE SCORE ENOUGH AGAINST THE BILLS’ TALENTED DEFENSE?

In the two games with Brandon Allen under center, the Broncos' scoring output has improved to 23.5 points per game. Compare that to the first eight weeks of the season — when Denver averaged 15.6 points per game and met the 20-point threshold just twice — and it’s clear the offense has taken a major step forward.

Denver, though, still has not scored more than 24 points since a Week 7 win over the Cardinals last season. They’ve crossed that barrier just four times since the start of the 2017 season.

The Broncos came close against the Vikings, as they had three chances to throw the ball into the end zone with 10 seconds or less remaining in the game. If Allen had connected with Noah Fant or Tim Patrick, the Broncos would’ve ended the streak and walked away with a comeback win. All three passes, though, fell incomplete.

Against Buffalo, the Broncos may be hard-pressed to break that 24-point threshold. The Bills rank third in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense. Buffalo has allowed just 17 points per game this season, and they’ve allowed 20 points or more on just three occasions. Two of those three games came against the Dolphins, and the Bills secured double-digit wins in both contests.

If the Broncos want a chance to score more than 20 points, they’ll need to hit on more chunk plays to weapons like Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and Phillip Lindsay. Sutton ranks second in the AFC in receiving yards, and Lindsay could have an opportunity to make plays against Buffalo’s 17th-ranked rushing defense.

Perhaps most importantly, the Broncos must avoid turnovers and perform better on third down than the 28.5 percent conversion rate they currently hold. If Denver can do that, the team should have a chance to be just the second team this season to post 20 points against the Bills in a winning effort.

CAN VON MILLER ADD ANOTHER QUARTERBACK TO THE LIST?

When Miller took down Cousins in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Vikings, he added a new quarterback to the list of signal callers he has sacked during his nine-year NFL career. Cousins is the 50th player on that list, and Miller can add another new player to the list in Week 12.

For the first time in his career, Miller will match up with Josh Allen, the second-year quarterback who was drafted seventh overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Allen won’t be easy to bring down, though.

“He’s about 6-foot-6,” Miller said Thursday. “I don’t know how much he weighs, but he’s got a mean stiff arm, especially going to his right. I hate making player comparisons. I hate when people compare people to me and I hate comparing people to other players and stuff, but the guy’s got a lot of — I don’t even want to say like [Panthers QB] Cam Newton or anything like that because Josh Allen is his own player. He is definitely up there as one of the most [difficult to tackle]. I wouldn’t even say elusive because guys are getting on him, but they’re not able to take him down. He’s definitely a tough tackle, and he’s definitely a special talent. I don’t want to make any players comparisons. He’s a unique player, he’s able to throw the ball down the field, got a strong arm and got a great group of receivers and running backs around him. It’s going to tough for us out there in Buffalo.”

Miller, who has five sacks on the season, could turn the Broncos’ fortunes drastically if he’s able to force a fumble or make another game-changing play. It’s been a quiet year in that regard for Miller, who has made a living off tearing the ball away from the quarterback. Through 10 games, Miller has yet to record a forced fumble.

The Bills have lost just four fumbles this season — which ranks third in the NFL — but Allen has thrown eight interceptions. He currently holds the second-longest active streak in the NFL for passes without an interception. If Miller can snag a pick or force a fumble, it could swing the game in Denver’s favor.

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