ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the Broncos' 2019 win over the Titans, safety Kareem Jackson preserved a shutout when he intercepted Ryan Tannehill in the red zone on fourth down with under two minutes to play.
Tannehill, who entered the game in the third quarter, threw just two other incompletions that afternoon as he went 13-of-16 for 144 yards.
Over the remaining 10 games of the season, Tannehill posted an NFL-best 117.5 quarterback rating en route to NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. He threw just five more interceptions over the rest of the regular season, as he protected the ball and later led the Titans to a berth in the AFC Championship Game.
As the Broncos prepare for another meeting with the Titans and their starting quarterback, the secondary realizes Tannehill won't give them many chances to make a play.
"Tannehill's a great game manager," Justin Simmons said. "In watching the film, he rarely makes mistakes that the defense can capitalize on."
How, then, can Denver force turnovers that may be so critical to their chances of winning?
"You have to go into that game just playing your rules, doing the right thing, not trying to get out of position to make a play because you haven't made one," A.J. Bouye said Thursday. "Some games it's going to be like that, but the one or two opportunities that we do have, we have to capitalize on it. That could change a game. You've seen what he did last year. He makes smart decisions. He's good on his feet outside the pocket and he's still looking down field. Those are the quarterbacks that are dangerous. We're just going to have to be on top of our game. When the opportunity presents itself we have to make the plays."
Tannehill and the Titans are particularly dangerous inside the 20-yard line. They scored a touchdown on 77.4 percent of their red-zone trips in 2019, which was nearly 10 percentage points higher than the second-place Packers. Denver, by comparison, scored a touchdown on 47.6 percent of its red-zone trips last season.
"They do a great job running the ball down there, which most teams that are successful in the red zone can do," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. "With the threat of that running game, it just opens up the passes when they choose to call them down there. Tannehill does a good job of understanding how the red zone works and where the ball has to go when the field is tightened up like that. They're really hard to defend down there because they're good at running it down there, and then the rest of their stuff plays off of that."
The Broncos, luckily, should be prepared. In 2019, no team allowed touchdowns on a lower percentage of red-zone trips than the Broncos' 39.1 percent.
CONTINUING TO RAISE AWARENESS
Throughout the offseason, the Broncos have called attention to the need to end police brutality, racism and other social injustices. From a march in downtown Denver to the announcement of the player-led Inspire Change program, the Broncos have advanced the cause via both their voices and actions.
Asked if the Broncos planned to continue to draw attention to social injustices during the national anthem on Monday, wide receiver Courtland Sutton said the Broncos decided as a team that each individual player would be free to make their own decision whether to kneel or stand.
"We met as a group," Sutton said. "We had a group that met with Coach Fangio and we discussed all the different things that we could do as a group and individually. We came up with the conclusion that we would allow everyone to do what they feel comfortable doing, because everyone has their own personal reasons for why they may stand or why they may kneel. I know we'll all be out there. Everybody is going to do what they feel comfortable [with] and voice their opinion of what's going on in the country right now. If they want to stand, they can stand. If they want to kneel, they can kneel. The only thing that was asked of us is that everyone be on the sidelines. I'm pretty sure everyone is going to go about it their own way. [We've been] hearing some guys' reasons for why they want to stand and hearing guys' reasons for why they want to kneel and [we're] understanding that we're going to support each other in whatever the situation may be. The understanding now is, if you kneel, it's not that you hate America. It's not that you dislike the military or that you're being disrespectful to them. You're kneeling because of the police brutality and the unjust racism that's going on in this country. We're using our platform to continue to bring light to that situation. The guys that stand, they're not [for] social injustice, racism and the things that's going on in this country. Understanding that and us being a team and understanding that we're going to support each other to the end, we know the guys that stand, they're not against what the guys that are kneeling are kneeling for. It's nice that everyone is going to be able to go out and show their support in whatever way they feel comfortable, whether it's a kneel or a stand."
Sutton was listed as limited for the Broncos' Thursday practice after leaving with a shoulder injury, but before practice, he said he would take a knee on Monday.
"I'm definitely going to kneel because of my own personal feelings about what's going on in the world and in the country," Sutton said. "It's one of those things where I'm going to use my platform in whatever way I possibly can — through social media, through Monday night, us having a game and using my platform — the best way I can to help bring awareness to what's going on. People might say, 'Well, the awareness has been brought.' People see it now, but I don't technically agree that everyone understands what's going on in the world. I think people know and they see it, but they don't fully comprehend what's really going on. When you still have people who ask the question or make statement of, 'Well, that person shouldn't have resisted,' or 'That person should have just followed commands and done what they were asked to do.' When you hear people who still have that opinion and make those statements, we're not close yet. I'm going to kneel and it's out of respect to all military personnel that have put their lives on the line so I can have the freedoms that I have to be able to sit here and talk to y'all and to be able to play professional football. I'm very appreciative. My uncle, who is in the Navy, has been in the Navy for 20 years, and I'm very appreciative of everyone who's served and everyone who is still serving because I know I would not be able to do what I do right now in this country without them. I support whichever way someone views it. How they look at it, I support it. I definitely want to use my platform to bring awareness through a kneel and still be very respectful of the flag, the national anthem and what it stands for."
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Fourth-year tight end Jake Butt posted an impressive training camp in his return from yet another knee surgery. The Michigan product didn't miss a practice and earned a roster spot in a talented position group.
Butt could soon take the next step in his comeback, as Fangio said Thursday the receiving threat could be active for the Broncos' Week 1 game.
"I think he's on the way to doing that," Fangio said. "I think he's ready to play on Monday night in any role that we see fit for him. He's a capable guy. He's capable of playing both tight end positions — both the wide tight end and the second tight end in the game. I'm sure we'll use him. He's been great. He hasn't had any issues physically. For a guy with his history, to be moving around the way he is and never seeing anything affect him is a great story and a great comeback. Definitely kudos to him for that. I know he's worked hard and he's feeling the best he's ever felt in a long, long time."