FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- **The Broncos have plenty of obstacles to overcome in order to snap their seven-game losing streak Sunday, including an illness that has affected several players in recent days, and the guaranteed absence of four starters from the lineup because of injury or suspension.
But perhaps the biggest hurdle to get past is mental, a product of the psychological toll that such a skid can have on players, particularly on a team unaccustomed to such on-field struggles.
"Winning is everything in this league. Regardless of anything else, winning is the only thing that matters, and we haven't done that since the first of October," safety Justin Simmons said. "That's definitely in our minds. It's ingrained in our practices and everything that we do, and we're hungry for that win."
Five games remain in a season that has not gone according to plan or expectation. But there remains plenty of motivation -- starting with recapturing that winning feeling that was once so familiar and hasn't been experienced since before most of the leaves began falling in Denver.
"At this point in time, it is all about pride," Simmons said. "You don't want to just go out there and lay it down and let teams walk all over you. We still have so much to achieve -- especially defensively. Before that game in Oakland [last week], we were a top-five defense, both run and pass, so you look at that stuff, and you're like, 'We've got to get over this hump.'"
They will have to do that without defensive end Derek Wolfe, nose tackle Domata Peko Sr., guard Ron Leary and cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib had a two-game league suspension reduced to a single game after an appeal, but his absence will still be felt as the Broncos move Bradley Roby up to the base defense and Brendan Langley to the No. 3 cornerback role.
"You can't replace someone like Aqib, character-wise and leadership-wise," Simmons said. "He's such a great leader for us in the locker room. I know the record doesn't always show it, but his hard work and dedication to the defense -- especially to the secondary, helping us out so much -- is going to be missed this week, for sure.
"We're just going to have to lean on guys like Chris [Harris Jr.] and [Darian Stewart], which we've been doing all year, and we're just going to have to get ready to go.
Whatever it takes to make sure we get a win in Miami, that's what we've got to do."
What are the keys to doing that?
- Win the turnover battle -- and capitalize on takeaways**
This, of course, has been a persistent problem for the Broncos this season, and they rank 31st in the league in giveaways (24) and turnover margin (minus-16) as a result of their issues in that area. Miami is 29th in giveaways (20) and 30th in turnover margin (minus-10) and has eight giveaways in its last two games.
But if the offense can't capitalize on takeaways or explosive special-teams plays, the defense knows it can't be gashed the way it was after Paxton Lynch threw an end-zone interception after Shaquil Barrett's strip-sack fumble last week. Instead, the defense knows it has to respond in kind.
"We've got to get it back," Simmons said. "That's the first thing that pops in our head. ... All we can control is when we're out on the field, so that's the No. 1 thing we talk about: a quick change. We get a turnover, and if we're back on the field a couple of plays later, all right, let's get another one.
"That's the mentality you have to have. That's what great defenses do. That's what this defense has done in the past. The Super Bowl run, it was amazing defense that year. There's no reason why that can't be replicated this year. We've just got to find a way to maximize our opportunities."
- Contain Miami's pass rushers**
With Connor McGovern replacing the injured Leary at right guard and Donald Stephenson stepping in for Allen Barbre at right tackle, the entire right flank of the Broncos' defense will take on a different look.
The task for McGovern and Stephenson is stern as the line prepares to face a solid defensive line featuring defensive end Cameron Wake -- who has 8.5 sacks this year -- and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is credited with a team-leading 26 quarterback hurries, as calculated by Pro Football Focus.
3. Create explosive plays in the passing game
For Trevor Siemian and his receiving targets, an opportunity exists here, as Miami has allowed opposing offenses to move the chains once every 2.64 pass plays, the worst rate in the league.
The Dolphins have also allowed at least 7.0 yards per pass play in six of their first 11 games this season, and came within a last second Younghoe Koo missed field-goal attempt of losing all six of those games with that dubious statistic.