Separation is the name of the game this Sunday as the Denver Broncos play host to the Tennessee Titans in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
If the Bronco wideouts can find space against an imposing Tennessee secondary led by All-Pro cornerback Alterraun Verner, then it will be a long day for a Titans team that’s barely hanging onto postseason life.
On the flip side, if Tennessee can do what the Chiefs failed to do last weekend, and what the Colts did so perfectly back in October — control Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker at the line of scrimmage with man coverage and two high safeties over the top, then they will have a good chance at playing spoiler and keeping their dreams alive for one more weekend.
This will be easier said than done with Peyton Manning on the field, guiding the Denver offense in head coach John Fox‘s return to the team.
However, the Titans do stand a good chance in this pivotal matchup because of their superb cornerbacks Verner and Jason McCourty, along with safeties Michael Griffin and Bernand Pollard, who present probably the biggest challenge the Broncos high-octane passing offense will see in the regular season.
Not to mention, the team has a bevy of pass rushers who can wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage and exploit a Broncos offensive line that has been running hot and cold ever since the week 7 loss at Indy.
As great as the men up front were in the team’s sweep of the Chiefs, they have lacked consistency and may be over-matched against Pro Bowlers Derrick Morgan and Zach Brown this weekend.
Again, the difference maker may prove to be the Broncos rushing attack that has seen Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball eclipse the 200 and 100 yard mark, respectively, over the last two weeks.
If the Broncos can control the line of scrimmage early on and run the ball consistently — as well as work Moreno and Ball into the passing game, then it should be an easy day.
With that said, if Tennessee’s run defense holds its own and forces Denver into a lot of long third downs, then the pass rush will have its opportunities to go after Manning and create situations for the secondary to make game-changing plays.
Let’s be honest here, the Titans will need to win the turnover battle to win this game straight up. As important as it is for Verner, McCourty and nickel corner Coty Sensabaugh to contain Denver’s aerial attack at the line of scrimmage, it will be of equal importance for Tennessee to turn over Manning and give their offense extra chances to score points.
The Titans secondary has had success against TY Hilton over the last month, but this unit that hasn’t faced a three-headed monster like the Broncos have at the receiver position. Add in a healthy Julius Thomas, and it could be a long day for the men in light blue.
However, I predict Tennessee will leave it on the field and present the Broncos with a substantial obstacle by limiting Manning in the short game.
If they can cut off his first and second reads and force him to loft wobbly throws deep down the field, then they will have a chance to prevent heading home 5-8 and looking ahead to next season.
As for the Broncos, they need to ensure that they never allow a team to do what Indianapolis did to them earlier in the year. This will be a good test for a receiving core that has the capability of lifting the Broncos to Super Bowl champion status. It all comes down to getting some separation at the line of scrimmage and finding enough space for Manning to capitalize on.
My prediction: Broncos 31, Titans 21.