Another week, another quarterback.
For the 10th time in franchise history, the Broncos will start three different quarterbacks in consecutive weeks. For this game, as the 0-3 Broncos head to MetLife Stadium to try to earn their first win of the season against the winless New York Jets, they'll turn to second-year quarterback Brett Rypien.
Rypien found success late in the game Sunday, but he'll face a bigger challenge as he makes his first career start. Even against a Jets team that may be as beaten up as the Broncos, this won't be an easy game to win. The Broncos are forced to go on the road to the East Coast, and they'll be playing the game on just four days' rest.
Denver has found success during short weeks, though. The Broncos have won 10 of their last 13 games played on Thursdays, and they hold an 8-5 overall mark on "Thursday Night Football."
These are the questions that will decide if Denver can close the first quarter of the season with a win.
CAN BRETT RYPIEN BE EFFICIENT RUNNING THE OFFENSE?
Denver struggled mightily to move the football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Broncos went three-and-out on consecutive drives in the first quarter and added another three-and-out in the second frame. Denver scored a late first-half touchdown to cut Tampa's halftime lead to 23-10, but they were unable to narrow the gap any more. The Broncos finished with just 226 total yards — including 42 yards on the ground — and a 36 percent third-down conversion rate. They also allowed six sacks, and the lack of protection often derailed drives.
When Rypien entered in the fourth quarter, though, the team showed a flicker of life. Rypien began the drive 8-for-8 before throwing an end-zone interception on a fourth-and-1 play, and the team picked up three of its 13 total first downs on that lone drive. On that possession, Rypien made quick throws and got the ball into the hands of his playmakers. He'll likely have to contend Thursday with a series of blitzes from Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but if he can get the ball out on time and to players like Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Noah Fant, the Broncos should have the chance to move the ball.
With improved quarterback play, Denver should be able to move the ball against a defense that ranks 27th in the NFL in scoring defense. The Broncos' offensive line should get a welcome reprieve, as New York has recorded just two sacks per game. The Broncos should be able to survive that type of production, but they would still be well-served to rely on their running game. The Jets rank 24th in rushing yards allowed per game.
"I think the run game is important, and when we run the ball early, we have to get more out of the runs early in the game," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We have to use the runs to help us get in the end zone. We have to do a better job of running the ball throughout the game, especially early in the game in my opinion."
CAN THE BRONCOS FORCE SAM DARNOLD INTO MISTAKES?
In Week 3 against the Colts, thethird-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft put his team in an early hole. Sam Darnold threw a 44-yard pick-six on the Jets' first drive, and he threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second half. In the 36-7 loss, Darnold finished 17-of-29 for 168 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 47.0 rating. He was also sacked twice as the Jets finished just 3-of-12 on third down. The Broncos forced two turnovers against the Steelers in Week 2, but they failed to earn a takeaway in a Week 3 loss to the Buccaneers. If they can force Darnold into making a mistake or two, they should earn the upper hand in Thursday night's game. Making Darnold uncomfortable, though, will not be easy.
"I see a very talented and good quarterback who is a good runner," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Tuesday. "He has really good arm strength and makes a lot of plays for those guys. I was watching tape from not just this season but last season, and they've got their quarterback."
The Broncos have faced Darnold just once in his young career, but he went 10-of-22 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a 34-16 win for the Jets.
CAN THE BRONCOS AVOID THEIR OWN BIG MISTAKES?
As successful as the Buccaneers were on Sunday, the Broncos didn't do themselves any favors. They allowed a punt to be blocked that gave Tampa the ball on the Denver 10-yard line, and the Bucs scored a touchdown on the short drive. Denver has also given up safeties in consecutive games.
In a game the Broncos are desperate to win, they can't afford to give the Jets free points — whether that's via a turnover or another big play. If the Broncos can play a clean game, they should be talented enough to win Thursday's game.
Denver, though, hasn't won the turnover battle yet this season. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the Broncos haven't been able to earn a win.
They're dedicated to fixing their errors, though. On special teams, Tom McMahon is taking responsibility to make sure they're clean in his phase of the game.
"What it comes down to is that I've got to do a better job," McMahon said. "There are three letters when it comes to the fault and that's T-O-M. We've got to be ready for that on game day, and it comes down to me."