Three Keys to Broncos-Rams

DENVER -- Thirty is more than just the age for a quartet of key starters in Sunday's clash: quarterback Case Keenum, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, safety Darian Stewart and Rams guard Rodger Saffold. It is also a number that has been magic for the Rams and elusive for the Broncos.

Thirty is a benchmark number in today's NFL. The Rams have scored over 30 points in each of their regular-season games this season, and boast a league-leading 14 30-point tallies in the last two seasons. When they reach the 30-point milestone under second-year head coach Sean McCoy, they are 13-1.

The Broncos, meanwhile, have just one 30-point game in the last two seasons. Last week, they lost a streak of eight consecutive games in which they allowed fewer than 30 points, but saw their run of games without hitting 30 extend to 19.

To rookie receiver Courtland Sutton, the key to ending that streak is in the nitty-gritty of the offense.

"It's just sticking to the game plan, understanding that the things that are put in will work, and we've just got to go out and execute even the smallest details," he said.

"In the offense, there are small things that we've got to make sure that we lock in on. In the run game and the pass game, it's the smallest things, like getting 12 [yards] on a route and not 11, blocking a certain shoulder on a run play. Just small things that a lot of people don't see that we see on the film that we know we're supposed to be doing."

Defensively, the Rams offer a stern challenge to the Broncos. If they hit 30 points, they put the Broncos in a perilous spot; Denver has lost nine consecutive games dating back to Dec. 22, 2014 when allowing 30 or more points.

Los Angeles' potent offense, blessed with weapons such as quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and wide receivers Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, leads the league in net yards and first downs per possession.

Under McVay, the Rams are 10-0 when they gain at least 400 yards from scrimmage, 10-0 when Goff completes at least 65 percent of his passes, 11-1 when he throws at least two touchdown passes and 12-1 when he has a passer rating of 90.0 or better. The Rams have also won 12 consecutive games when Gurley amasses at least 140 yards from scrimmage, a streak that predates their return from St. Louis.

If the Broncos are to recapture the form they desire, they will have to do so against a team at the top of its game -- which can provide the Broncos a bit of extra fuel.

"There's always a sense of a little bit of extra motivation, a sense of happiness. You get happy that a team is undefeated, and you have a chance to end that," safety Will Parks said.

"This could be our turning point right here."

What are the keys to making Sunday that turnaround moment?

1. SUSTAIN THE START

The Broncos have outscored their opponents 24-13 in the first quarter over the last three games. Their second-quarter scoring margin is minus-25, as foes have outscored them 38-13 -- including the Jets' 21-3 sprint through the second quarter last week.

Unlike last year, the Broncos have led at some point in every game this season.

"We're doing things well, obviously, in the beginning of games," wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. "We get the ball rolling, get the ball to our guys in space, get [Phillip Lindsay] and Royce [Freeman] rolling and obviously get [Emmanuel Sanders] and [Demaryius Thomas] and all of those guys involved.

"I guess it's really just us sustaining it, us not shooting ourselves in the foot."

2. FOCUS ON THE BRONCOS

The Rams have been successful at deceiving opponents, not only for big plays, but intermediate, possession-extending gains.

One example came on the Rams' first possession against the Chargers in Week 3, when Gurley gained 11 yards on a draw play that was set up by the threat of the jet sweep. Before the snap, wide receiver Robert Woods came in motion. The safety and edge rusher on the right side to which Woods motioned both reacted to his sprint, giving the Rams a numerical advantage in the box.

The Chargers overreacted and paid the price. If the Broncos are to succeed, they must focus on playing their game and executing rather than getting sucked into playing as the Rams want.

"I think the biggest thing about this game is that we've got to focus on ourselves," Parks said. "We've got to focus on fixing our mistakes, focus on attacking the day."

3. LIMIT MISCUES

Penalties short-circuited three drives last Sunday against the Jets. One saw an offensive-pass-interference call that wiped out a 47-yard Keenum-to-Sutton connection. The other two possessions stalled in Jets territory after the infractions.

"Penalties have hurt us the last couple of weeks. We have big gains and long, sustained drives and we have a penalty that will stall us," Hamilton said.

"Honestly, if we just play disciplined football and go in and make sure that we're assignment-oriented and detail-oriented, as well, then I think those penalties, those mental errors and all those little things [when] one or two people on one play didn't do something the exact right way [will vanish].

"We'll get all 11 guys playing together, and then those plays will be successful and we'll be able to sustain drives."

Denver must also try to win the turnover battle -- and not merely break even. Under McVay, the Rams are 14-1 when they are even or better in turnover margin -- and the only defeat came in a Week 17 game to San Francisco last season in which the Rams rested most of their starters with their playoff seeding sealed. Los Angeles' record with a negative turnover margin under McVay is 2-5.

Goff has thrown at least one interception in three of his last four games, so the Broncos should have the chance for a takeaway. If they can force at least one turnover while playing turnover-free football for the first time this season, the Broncos could be prime position for a season-redefining win.

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