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Three Keys to Broncos-Cardinals

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals have yet to win at home in 2018, losing all three of their games at State Farm Stadium so far this season. The Broncos have lost 11 of their last 12 road games, with their only triumph in that span coming in a Thursday-night game like they face against the Cardinals.

But what is most relevant about the teams' showdown Thursday night is that both teams are looking for a ledge on which to climb and find safety before their 2018 seasons tumble into a canyon.

"We solve everything with a win," defensive end Zach Kerr.

And the quality of the opponent does not matter after four consecutive defeats; a win stops the bleeding that has become more profuse after a 2-0 start.

"We're not really worried about who it's against," Kerr said. "We just want to get a 'W,' man."

The Broncos will have the potential advantage of facing an offensive play-caller they know well: Arizona's Mike McCoy, who was the Broncos' offensive coordinator for the first five games of the 2017 season after handling the duties from 2009-12.

The Broncos know McCoy well. But he also knows the Broncos. Still, the Broncos could have an advantage.

"Yeah, I guess if you go back and look at camp from last year when we were going against [his offense], but you never know in this league. Guys change up their scheme all the time," Kerr said.

"He's thinking that he was here last year, so he's going to try to throw a little chink in the armor to get us off schedule. So you never know how that stuff is going to go. You've just got to go in and play the blocks that you're going to get and hopefully you're successful."

What are the keys to success Thursday night in Arizona?

Run and contain the run 

There is no need to belabor the performance by the Broncos' run defense against the Jets and Rams the last two weeks. They became the first team in NFL history to allow a pair of 200-yard rushers; you know that. You also may know that they allowed more rushing yards in that span than all but one team (the 2006 Colts) in any two-week span of the last 57 seasons.

The Broncos cannot undo what was done to put them at the bottom of the league statistical rankings in rushing yardage per game (161.3) and per carry (5.6). All they can do is diagnose the problem and attempt to fix it against a Cardinals ground attack that features David Johnson but is struggling, averaging a league-low 3.2 yards per carry and 63.8 yards per game.

“You’ve got to have disciplined run fits," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "Everyone has to be disciplined with their gaps and tackling, and the rest is just mindset, really -- [to] have that mindset that we’re going to beat our guy up front, push him back and try to win that battle."

Denver struggled to establish the run game last Sunday, but can use it to dictate the tempo of the game. If the Broncos lead or the game otherwise remains close, they can stick with the run long enough for it to become effective if it struggles to generate explosive gains early.

Force Arizona into third-and-long

Last Sunday in Minnesota, the Cardinals failed to convert any of their 10 third-down opportunities. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen went 1-for-7, absorbing two sacks and throwing not interception, and a run of 8 yards was not enough to overcome a second-and-10 situation in the second quarter.

But third-and-long has been a problem for Arizona all season, whether Rosen or Sam Bradford has worked at quarterback. The Cardinals have converted just three of 24 third-down chances when they needed eight or more yards, a success rate of 12.5 percent that is second-worst in the league.

If Denver's defense can do what other defenses have, it can put Rosen and the Cardinals in position to try and chase big gains rather than taking a fairways-and-greens approach, which in turn will give the Broncos' pass rushers a chance for their third game this season with at least five sacks.

Win the turnover battle

If the Broncos can force Rosen into miscues and limit their own mistakes, they have a chance to post a positive turnover margin and win this statistical battle.

Since the start of the 2015 season, Arizona is 17-1 with a positive turnover margin, including eight consecutive wins -- a run that incorporates their only win of the 2018 regular season.

The Broncos have won 32 of the last 33 games in which they had a positive turnover margin; they saw their streak of 32 wins with that statistic snapped by the Jets in Week 5.

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