NASHVILLE — Quite the opportunity awaits.
An opportunity for the Broncos to earn a second consecutive win. An opportunity to defeat a division leader. An opportunity to show the rest of the league — and perhaps themselves — that the fate of the 2022 season has yet to be written.
The Broncos will face off against the Titans (5-3) on Sunday at Nissan Stadium as they aim to move within a game of .500, and the challenge will be great.
The Titans have made the postseason in three consecutive seasons, and they've got the makings of a playoff team once again. That will challenge the Broncos, who are looking for their first true road win of the season. But it's also a chance to earn their best victory of the year.
But it won't be easy — and ultimately, the Broncos must find a way to make the same plays they did against the Jaguars.
"They've been very close games and we were a couple plays away," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said this week. "In the end, that's what it comes down to. Guys have to make plays. Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations."
These are the questions that will determine if the Broncos can earn a critical win against the Titans:
CAN THE BRONCOS SLOW DERRICK HENRY?
The Broncos' defense is among the league's best, both in points allowed and passing defense. If there's one area, though, in which the Broncos must be better, it's against the run. Through Week 9, the Broncos ranked 21st in rushing yards per game, and Denver gave up 144 yards and two touchdowns to Josh Jacobs in Week 4. Travis Etienne, meanwhile, rushedfor 156 yards against Denver in their Week 8 meeting with Jacksonville.
The test only gets tougher this weekend. Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing yards, and the bruising runner is capable of breaking free for long gains. The 2020 Offensive Player of the Year enters Sunday on a hot streak, having posted at least 100 yards in each of the last five games.
For the Broncos to find success against the Titans, they'll need to be the first team to slow Henry since late September — and there are seemingly two ways to do that.
First, the Broncos must be able to make contact near the line of scrimmage and swarm to Henry when he gets the ball. Denver can't let Henry get to the edge or the second level, which won't be easy without Randy Gregory (on IR), Baron Browning (ruled out) or Bradley Chubb (traded to Miami). The Broncos also listed Nik Bonitto as questionable for Sunday's game, though he traveled with the team to Tennessee.
The other — and perhaps more effective — way to contain Henry is on the offensive side of the ball. Henry's least productive game this season came in a 41-7 loss to the Bills, as Buffalo jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead and forced the Titans away from the run game. While it's unlikely the Broncos will earn a 30-point road win, it's possible for them to make the Titans throw the football by building an early lead. If Denver can take Henry out of the game — and swarm him quickly when he does get the ball — it would tilt the scale in the Broncos' favor.
The Broncos hit the road on Saturday to travel to Tennessee for their Week 10 matchup with the Titans.
CAN DENVER USE AN UP-TEMPO PACE TO MAINTAIN SUCCESS?
In the Broncos' Week 8 win over the Jaguars, Denver mixed in a no-huddle approach on two of its three scoring drives. The up-tempo attack helped spring tight end Greg Dulcich for a big game, and the Broncos' offensive players said ahead of Week 10 that they felt a shift when they started to go fast.
"I felt like during the London game, when the tempo went up, they couldn't stop our offense," wide receiver Jerry Jeudy said Wednesday. "We were just driving down the field consistently and scoring, so I feel like that should be a big part of this weekend."
In their matchup with the Titans, the Broncos may look to replicate that approach. That's particularly true following the Titans' "Sunday Night Football" game in which the Tennessee defense was on the field for more than 90 plays against the Chiefs.
"It's going to be on us to go into the game … with a mindset of, 'We've got to lean on these guys,'" wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. "We've got to make them play to our tempo, make them stick with us and not drop down to their tempo."
With an up-tempo attack, the Broncos can also limit the Titan's substitutions and take advantage of favorable matchups.
The Broncos, though, must be able to convert third downs and stay on the field. If Denver goes up-tempo and is unable to record needed first downs, Tennessee could get the ball back in a hurry. And with the Titans' dangerous rushing attack, the Broncos can't afford to lose the time of possession battle by a significant margin.
Against a Tennessee defense that will be without several of its key starters — including Jeffery Simmons, Bud Dupree and Zach Cunningham — the risk may be worth the reward. The Broncos showed their ability to find success via this route, and against a strong defensive unit, it may be in their best interest to replicate it in Week 10.
CAN THE BRONCOS MATCH TENNESSEE'S PHYSICALITY?
On both sides of the football, the Titans will look to impose their will.
They're a run-first football team that also aims to own the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the football.
"They are an unbelievably physical football team," Hackett said. "That's what they pride themselves on. That's how they run the ball. That's how they do everything — from defense, offense, and special teams, also. They bring it. It's something you point out to the team. You let them know that these guys are going to bring it every single down. They love contact, they love being physical, and they pride themselves on that. It's a challenge for our entire team to go against a very, very good physical football team."
The Broncos must be able to match that physicality, but it may not be clear until game day which team will have the edge.
"You present all the different things that you want to attack through the game plan," Hackett said. "You present the mentality that you're going to be facing each week, and every team is physical. Every team wants to be physical. We want to be physical, [and] the Titans want to be physical. That's what you're always preaching. You never know till game day, but it's made aware that's what this team really thrives on."
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