ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — All of Broncos Country has been looking forward to the team's "Sunday Night Football" contest against the 49ers, but perhaps no one is as eager as D.J. Jones.
The defensive tackle spent the first five years of his career in San Francisco, where he made a name for himself as one of the top run stoppers in the NFL. Now, he gets the opportunity to compete against his former teammates at Empower Field at Mile High.
Knowing the significance of this matchup, Jones was asked about it all the way back in May during OTAs. Even though the game was months away at that time, Jones already had plans to dominate.
"Simply put, I'm going to go crazy," Jones said. "I love that organization, but everybody, when you play your former team, it goes down."
With the game now mere days away, Jones' red-hot enthusiasm has morphed into a more subdued focus. In a game so strongly defined by mental fortitude, he understands the importance of regulating his emotions.
Controlling excitement is no easy task, but Jones' strategy is a simple one: treat this week like any other.
"It's another game," Jones said Thursday. "It's just another game. If I look at it in any other way, I might not play good, so I'm looking at it as another game. … Just locking in, worrying about what I can worry about, stopping the run, making it third-and-long, second-and-long, just making sure we, as a defense, are ready."
Jones may hold the mindset that this game is no different, but defensive end Dre'Mont Jones noted that his teammate almost certainly has a little extra motivation to earn a victory.
"It's his old team," Dre'Mont said. "I know in the back of his mind, I'm pretty sure he's thinking about all his former players, … coaches and everything. I know he's eager to get this win."
As an elite run stopper, this matchup is a perfect opportunity for Jones to showcase his greatest strength. If there's one thing the Broncos can expect from head coach Kyle Shanahan's squad with certainty, it's that they will commit to running the ball.
The 49ers have the most rushing attempts of any team this season, and they rank fourth in total rushing yards. While second-year running back Elijah Mitchell is on injured reserve with a knee injury, San Francisco employs various strategies to run the ball — often feeding the likes of wide receiver Deebo Samuel or fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the backfield. Their versatility in the run game will pose a challenge to the Broncos' defensive line, but Jones is prepared to meet them with force.
"We've got to bring our A-game," Jones said. "I'm pleased the way we played the first two weeks, so I'm not worried. We've just got to go in with a good game plan, which we are, and just see what happens at the end when the clock hits zero."
Much of the 49ers' rushing success stems from Shanahan's offensive scheme. The sixth-year head coach implements a lot of pre-snap motion and complex formations, which consistently keeps defenses on their toes.
"First and foremost, they are unbelievably well coached," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday. "They know how to run off the ball and be able to be aggressive down the field at the same time with their run blocking. They are trying to get across the line of scrimmage, both in their inside zone and their outside zone. Then you add in all the different groupings, formations, shifts, [and] motions. Deebo is in the backfield, all kinds of different people are in the backfield. I think they cause that consternation, as like we like to say, along with that they execute at a high level and they are very well coached."
Having played for Shanahan for five seasons, Jones has tremendous respect for his offensive strategy.
"We're dealing with a hell of a coach," Jones said. "He's a genius mind, so he's all about his details."
San Francisco's offense will pose a different type of threat to Denver's defensive front than the previous teams they've faced this season, but they have looked strong through the first two games — particularly against the run. They rank top-five in opponent rushing yards allowed, giving up just 78 rushing yards per game. The Broncos' defense also had the chance to practice against a similar scheme during the entirety of training camp, as Denver's offense runs a variation of the same system.
"It's definitely very helpful seeing a lot of the same schemes — the jet motions, and the outside zone," Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero said Thursday. "It's great that we got all of that work this camp and offseason. It's going to be helpful."
Jones has particularly been a nightmare for opposing rushers. He leads all defensive tackles in ESPN's run-stop win rate, and he is likely performing exactly how General Manager George Paton envisioned when he signed Jones in the offseason.
"I think everybody up front is just being physical," Jones said. "Linebackers are feeling [it], we're not allowing [running backs] to get to the second, third level, so I think everybody up front, our front seven, is doing a great job."
With No. 97 leading the first line of defense against a talented rushing team, "Sunday Night Football" should be a thrilling contest in the trenches.