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Burning Questions: Broncos vs. Jaguars

DENVER — As the Broncos fell to 0-3 following a 27-16 loss to the Packers, Head Coach Vic Fangio told his team they’d have to “deal with everyone thinking we suck.”

And indeed, in the days that followed at UCHealth Training Center, the external noise grew louder and louder.

Inside the building, though, as the Broncos prepared for the Jaguars, the resolve was different. The team could have won each of its first three games, and players in the locker room vowed to stay the course.

“At the end of the day we have a lot of football left,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “If you haven’t played this game, then you just don’t know. You’re looking on the outside. We have a lot of games left and we can still be in the playoffs and we can still make a big run for it.”

If the Broncos are going to make that run, it may have to start Sunday against the Jaguars. The Texans showed last year that an 0-3 start isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but only the 1992 Chargers rebounded from 0-4 to make the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, though. As the Broncos welcome the 1-2 Jaguars to Empower Field at Mile High, they’ll be without cornerback Bryce Callahan, tackle Ja’Wuan James and perhaps several other starters, as well. Safety Kareem Jackson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, linebacker Josey Jewell, fullback Andy Janovich and linebacker Joe Jones are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

With or without the slew of starters listed as questionable, these are the questions the Broncos will need to answer if they hope to earn their first win of the season.

WHAT DOES VON MILLER HAVE IN STORE?

The Broncos’ All-Pro outside linebacker is usually a terror early in the season. In two of the last three years, Miller has tallied four sacks in the first two games of the season. Last year, in the season opener against the Seahawks, Miller recorded three sacks, three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in a win.

Miller hasn’t found the same production this season. Through three games, Miller and Bradley Chubb have been held without a sack. The Broncos are the only team in the NFL to not record a sack this year.

The Broncos’ All-Pro outside linebacker is also usually a riot at the podium. Miller tends to crack jokes and offer compelling sound bites and creative comparisons.

Not this week.

Miller appeared on the podium to deliver a statement and then headed back into the facility without taking questions.

“I feel good,” he said. “Got a great week of preparation. We’ve got great teammates, great coaches. I’m excited about the opportunity this week vs. the Jaguars. We’ve got a great game plan in. I’m excited to play.”

No. 58 has been this focused and locked in before. Ahead of a game against the Cardinals last season, Miller promised the Broncos would go to Arizona on a short week and “kick their ass.”

Miller and the Broncos did just that, as he tallied two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in a 45-10 win.

If he has a similar performance up his sleeve, the Broncos could find themselves in good position to earn their first win of the season and inch back toward .500.

CAN THE BRONCOS BREAK OUT ON OFFENSE?

Through the first 49 games of the 2019 season, winning teams have averaged 28.1 points per game. Twenty points seems to be a line of demarcation, as teams have scored fewer than 20 points and won on just six occasions this season.

The Broncos, meanwhile, have not scored more than 16 points in any of their seven consecutive regular-season losses dating back to last season. Denver last scored more than 20 points in a 24-10 Week 13 win over the Bengals in 2018. The Broncos have crossed the 28-point barrier just four times since the start of the 2016 season. That, of course, is not the only way to win. During the Broncos’ 2015 season, which culminated in a Super Bowl win, the team scored 28 or more just three times.

Scoring another touchdown per game, though, would certainly help the Broncos’ cause. Against the Jaguars, that task won’t be easily accomplished. The Jaguars lead the NFL in sacks (13) and have allowed 10 points per game over the last two weeks. Denver South High School alum and the AFC’s Week 3 Defensive Player of the Week Calais Campbell leads a defensive front that also features talented players like Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus. In the secondary, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey was listed as questionable for the game but reportedly traveled to Denver with the Jaguars.

Joe Flacco and Co. improved in the red zone last week, scoring touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the Green Bay 20-yard line. But the offense must avoid turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble doomed Denver against the Packers — and turn explosive plays into points.

CAN DENVER SLOW DOWN ‘MINSHEW MANIA’?

Gardner Minshew’s mustache, fashion sense and general brashness may garner most of the headlines, but Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback can flat out play.

Since taking over for Nick Foles early in Week 1 after Foles broke his collarbone, Minshew has been on a tear. He’s won two Rookie of the Week awards in three weeks and has the highest ever completion percentage (73.9) and passer rating (110.6) for a rookie quarterback through their first three career games. Minshew has also thrown five touchdown passes to just one interception.

If the Broncos are going to get a win on Sunday, they can’t let the “Minshew Mania” hype train keep rolling. And despite the Broncos’ historic sack-less start to the season, blitzing Minshew may not be the answer.

“There’s a common thought out there that you get after rookie quarterbacks,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. “Sometimes that’s the wrong thing to do because you make it easier for them. They see pressure and it makes it easier for them to decide where to throw the ball. This guy’s really good at his decision making. I think [the defensive plan has to be] just a good mix of everything.”

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