Three Keys to Broncos-Jets

If the Broncos are to succeed in 2018, they must start by flourishing where they failed last year -- on the road.

Sunday's game against the New York Jets marks the first leg of a four-week stretch in which the Broncos will hit the road three times, with their only home game coming against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams. In the bigger picture, this game also starts a nine-game run that includes six road trips.

Denver heads to MetLife Stadium lugging defeats in 10 of its last 11 road games dating back to Week 14 of the 2016 season.

"If you want to be able to be a strong playoff team, and you want to be up there as far as home-field advantage, you've got to be able to win away games -- or at least you have to split on the road," safety Justin Simmons said.

The Broncos haven't come close to that since they won four of their first six road games in 2016 in building an 8-4 record before their late-season tumble.

Their struggles away from Denver led to an increased emphasis on attention to detail, inside linebacker Shane Ray explained. That starts with punishing penalties in practice.

"If you jump offside in practice, you come out for a rep. Holding penalties, things of that nature. Those are things that we really work on. Situational football," Ray said. 

"So going on the road, you've got to execute things. If you don't execute those things, that's how you lose games."

And that helps explain the Broncos' 27-14 loss at Baltimore in Week 3.

"We had penalties. We didn't protect the football. That's how you lose road games," Ray said. "For us, going on the road, being disciplined, making sure that we play how we're coached to play without those penalties and mistakes, that's how you win road games. So we have to go into each one of these road games with the same mindset."

Without those miscues, the Broncos might already have a key road win in their back pocket.

"I don't want to take anything away from [the Ravens]; they won the game -- but honestly, I feel like we lost that game because of self-inflicted wounds and penalties," Ray said. That can be the difference in the game, and we don't want that."

A potential remedy to those issues is intensity -- and not simply what is evident at game time, but what took place in practice, too.

"Von [Miller] was saying [Wednesday], 'We've got to bring that same energy to practice that we brought all last week," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "[We need to] bring that same energy, that same focus and that same drive, and learn from our mistakes."

Added defensive lineman Zach Kerr: "That's the first thing that Von said [Wednesday] morning. It was seven o'clock when I saw him and he was talking about it.

"Guys are ready. Our leaders are ready. We've just got to follow suit."

Beyond bringing the right mindset, what are the keys to victory Sunday?

1. CONTROL THE GAME ON THE GROUND

Through four games, the core competency of the Broncos' offense is their running game, particularly when Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Andy Janovich are involved. Lindsay and Freeman both entered Week 5 among the league's top 15 rushers, making the Broncos the only team with two running backs in the top 15.

Janovich has been so effective as a blocker that the Broncos are averaging 6.6 yards per carry when the third-year fullback is on the field. That pace is bolstered by his blocks on a pair of Emmanuel Sanders end-arounds in the Broncos' last two games.

Denver has rushed for at least 120 yards in each of its first four games this season, and is one of only two teams (along with Carolina) to reach that output in each of its games. That number is significant, as the Jets are 4-16 when allowing at least 120 rushing yards since Todd Bowles became their head coach in 2015.

The Jets are also 1-16 under Bowles when their opponent runs at least 50 percent of the time and 2-19 when an opponent runs 30 or more times against them. Establishing the ground game once again could prove to be the Broncos' best path to success.

2. WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE

A key reason behind the Broncos' recent road woes has been their proclivity for giveaways and their struggles at generating takeaways.

In the Broncos' last 11 road games, they have a collective turnover margin of minus-11. In nine of those games, their turnover margin was negative; in the other two, it was even. The Broncos also gave away the football at least once in each of those 11 games; meanwhile, their defense failed to record a takeaway five times.

The Broncos have also lost 15 consecutive road games in which they had a negative turnover margin; that streak dates back to September 2014. Denver hasn't recovered a fumble or intercepted a pass since its three-takeaway performance in Week 1.

"We've got to take care of the football and we've got to take the football defensively. One thing that we've talked about [is that] we haven't taken the ball from anybody," Ray said. 

"This week, we've got to go try get the ball, try to make a difference-making play in the football game -- get a takeaway, maybe a fumble, an interception, a pick-six, something."

3. LIMIT EXPLOSIVE PLAYS IN ALL PHASES

It is not a coincidence that the Jets' only win came in Week 1, when they had five touchdowns that covered at least 20 yards -- two Sam Darnold passes of 41 and 21 yards, an Isaiah Crowell 62-yard run, a 36-yard Darron Lee interception return and a 78-yard Andre Roberts punt return.

The Jets only have one touchdown of 20 or more yards since then -- and a total of just four touchdowns in those games.

Containing Roberts could be the biggest task. With two punt returns of 40 or more yards in six opportunities, he boasts a 26.7-yard average that is second in the league among all players with at least two returns. Only Kansas City's Tyreek Hill is better.

That would ensure a stern challenge for practice-squad punter Colby Wadman, who is expected to play if Marquette King is not ready to go. King is doubtful with a thigh injury.

"The biggest thing is hang time, just making sure I give the front 10 [Broncos in coverage] enough time to get down there and tackle him," Wadman said. "I'd say it's hang time and getting it out to the sideline, so that you can corral him and use that 12th man -- the sideline -- like [Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon] always talks about."

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