BUFFALO, N.Y. —Friday afternoon, the Broncos shuffled off to Buffalo in advance of their Sunday afternoon duel with the Bills.
Eastbound trips to play in early-afternoon games have not caused any unusual problems for the Broncos in their recent history. Since the start of the 2011 season, the Broncos are 14-4 in games that begin at 11 a.m. MT.
Ultimately, the time and the trip won't decide the game. What happens on the surface at New Era Field will.
What are the keys to the game?
- Contain the Bills' pass rush**
There are plenty of ways to do this, starting with the obvious: take care of pass protection up front. If left tackle Garett Bolles cannot play because of the lower-leg contusion he suffered last week, the Broncos will have to adjust their personnel, but the task against a Bills front will remain the same.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will not play because of an ankle injury, but the Bills still pack plenty of punch, with Kyle Williams, Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander capable of wreaking havoc. Through two games, that quartet has 16 quarterback hurries, according to the numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus.
A strong running game and a quick-timing passing game with screen passes could help neutralize Buffalo's pass rush, giving Trevor Siemian time to operate while allowing Denver's offense to maintain the balance that has kept its opponents off-kilter the last two weeks.
- Limit the Bills' explosive runs**
No team has ripped off runs of 20 or more yards and 10 or more yards at a higher rate since the start of the 2015 season than the Bills. Running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor have combined for 110 of those runs in that span — 66 for McCoy, 44 for Taylor.
How they accomplish these runs has changed since the Bills hired Rick Dennison as their offensive coordinator after two years in the same position with the Broncos. Buffalo now runs a zone-blocking scheme similar to the one Denver's offense utilized the last two years. Fortunately for the Broncos, their defense can tap into a reservoir of experience from training-camp and OTA practices in 2015 and 2016.
"I think it helps a lot," said inside linebacker Todd Davis. "Not only did I see zone blocking, I saw the exact offensive coordinator, so I think it's going to help us a lot. He might try to throw some different things at us, but I think we're ready."
The biggest key to defending the zone-blocking scheme? Discipline. "Overpursuing the ball and going out of your position, trying to do too much. I think if you play your position, and everybody plays their position, one way or another, it will all come back to you," Davis said. "So you just need to get in your gap, play your gap and play from there."
3. Continue the third-down success
The Broncos sit atop the league in third-down conversion percentage on both offense (57 percent) and defense (23 percent). Buffalo sits in the middle third of the league in both statistics.
But Buffalo offers a stern test, particularly on offense. The Bills have the league's fifth-best defense on first down through two weeks, allowing just 4.1 yards per play. Their second-down defense leads the league, permitting just 3.3 yards per snap.
To set up success on third down, the Broncos will have to find success where the Jets and Panthers could not on first and second downs in Weeks 1 and 2, allowing them to keep third downs in the "third-and-makeable" range.
Von Miller vs. rookie tackle Dion Dawkins is just one matchup to watch when the Broncos battle the Bills on Sunday.