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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After taking on one of the best teams in football on Sunday, the Denver Broncos turnaround to play one of the worst teams in football, the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals.
The Broncos won’t catch a break, however, as it’s one of the most difficult games to play in football: A Thursday night road game.
There is a bright spot. Denver’s lone road victory in the Vance Joseph era was a Thursday night road win in 2017’s Week 15 against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos hope to remain undefeated in those games under Joseph despite riding a four-game losing streak.
Something’s got to give.
The BSN Broncos crew breaks down how the game will unfold on national television.
WILL JOSH ROSEN MAKE THE BRONCOS REGRET NOT DRAFTING HIM?
It won’t be hard to — What does Rosen really have to do to make the Broncos regret not taking him? Even if Case Keenum outduels him, Rosen would have to look really bad for it not to be obvious to all that he’s on his way to being a much better quarterback than anything the Broncos currently have in the fold.
There’s a really good chance that after this season the Broncos will still be in search of their QB of the future while the Cardinals will be all set in that department and ready to build the rest of their team around him.
As we said countless times on the podcast before the draft, no matter how good Bradley Chubb becomes, if Rosen solidifies himself as a franchise quarterback, that was the better pick.
He already has — But it’s not because of what Rosen himself has or hasn’t done. With seven touchdowns to eight interceptions, Case Keenum’s simply not been the quarterback John Elway was hoping for when the team signed him to a two-year, $36 million contract.
Instead of taking Rosen at No. 5 overall in April’s draft, the Broncos went with Bradley Chubb hoping Keenum would be their signal caller for years to come.
Instead, Keenum and Rosen have similar statistics in 2018. The only difference is Rosen’s only getting started.
Not if Denver can help it — Rosen regret will be a thing for years to come, and early signs from the young QB have been very encouraging—or discouraging from a Broncos perspective. However, in this head-to-head bout of top-ten teams—that is, top ten in the 2019 Draft—Rosen will have a tough test unless David Johnson can turn his season around this week.
If the Broncos are smart and take the quick passing game away from Rosen—which is far from a given, considering how they didn’t do that against Darnold and the Jets—and put some pressure on the former Bruin, I don’t think this rookie version of Rosen will hurt Denver too much.
Not biting on play action will be key for the Broncos defense, as that’s where Rosen’s been able to do most of his damage deep.
A LOSS MEANS…
The Broncos suck — Listen, the Arizona Cardinals are hot garbage. They are really bad. They might be the worst team in the NFL right now. If the Broncos lose this game, it means that they, too, are hot garbage and no coaching change, coordinator change or quarterback change can change that.
In fact, losing this game might actually make it less likely that Vance Joseph gets fired because of what I just said above. They would officially be no-hopers.
If they lose this one and go to 2-5, though, it might be time to open up every option when it comes to rebuilding this team.
The Broncos look for their very own Josh Rosen — If the Broncos fall to 2-5 after Thursday’s game, the season will be all but over as they will then face the Chiefs in Kansas City the following week, nearly ensuring a 2-6 start to the season.
In the big-picture view, Denver will have to quickly turn their sights to finding their next franchise quarterback, likely through the draft.
The rest of the season should be focused on seeing and developing the young talent on the team, while management finds their quarterback in the draft.
Everything’s wrong… everything must be rebuilt — If Denver loses to these Arizona Cardinals; sporting a -57 point differential and a 1-and-5 record, this whole thing has to be torn to the ground.
A loss would put Vance Joseph’s road record as a head coach at 1-and-10, for a proud franchise that’s not going cut it. First things first, a loss on Thursday likely spells the end of Joseph’s tenure.
The trickle-down effect from there will be interesting. At 2-and-5 the Broncos can’t salvage anything and are forced into a position of having to rebuild; see what the youngsters, including Chad Kelly—or Kevin Hogan for that matter—can do, and should almost lead to the rare NFL tank.
Sure, this team is probably better than their record, but a loss in the desert should put everyone on notice.
HOW LONG DOES A WIN PREVENT MAJOR CHANGES?
Two weeks — Nobody in their right mind is going to expect them to go into Arrowhead and beat the Chiefs, but if they get blown out there and then come home to an empty stadium against Houston and lose that one too, all options are back on the table.
A win throws a splash of water on the fire, but it certainly doesn’t put it out.
Until the Bye Week — A win buys Vance Joseph, Joe Woods, Case Keenum and anyone else on the hot seat at least another two weeks.
If there are going to be major changes made, doing it after a short week or during the bye week is the most sensical time to do so. However, making a major move after a win is unlikely, especially with the bye week just two games away.
10 days is a long time — Even with a win to the lowly Cardinals on a short week, changes could still come. If you were to circle the most likely time for Denver’s front office to make major changes, the 10-days between Thursday’s game and Week 8 at the Chiefs would be the first week where that would be possible.
A win, especially a close one, wouldn’t necessarily prevent that. More likely, the Broncos don’t want to rush into anything unless their hand is forced and would wait until the Week 10 bye, assuming Joseph’s team can pull off their second road win in two years.
Broncos’ secondary vs. Christian Kirk — If there’s one thing that’s given this secondary fits over the last couple years, it’s speedsters. Heck, they gave up a long touchdown last to some scrub on the Raiders who doesn’t even play receiver anymore, but he was fast.
Christain Kirk, the rookie receiver out of Texas A&M, can flat out fly. He already has a touchdown of 75 yards this year, and he has four total catches of over 20 yards.
The Arizona offensive line sucks, but they can hold long enough for Rosen to let one fly on a couple 9-routes to Kirk. The Broncos need to prevent the big play, something they were unable to do in their last road contest in New York.
Broncos’ defensive front seven v. David Johnson — David Johnson got paid just before the start of the season. Since, he and the Cardinals’ offense have been nothing but a massive disappointment.
Johnson’s $13 million per year average is the third-highest in the league among running backs, only trailing Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley, yet the Cardinals have the league’s worst rushing offense as Johnson is only averaging 49.5 yards per game.
However, if he’s ever going to have a breakout game, it would be on Thursday against Denver’s defense that’s given up 593 rushing yards in the last two games.
If Johnson breaks out, the Cardinals will certainly have a chance. If he’s held to his season average and all of the pressure is on Rosen’s shoulders, it could be a tough day for the rookie quarterback going up against Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
The Broncos depleted OL against a formidable Cards front — If there’s one area in which this Cardinals team is legit, it’s their defensive front where they’ve out-sacked the Broncos with 18 on the year—good for fifth best in the NFL.
They even scored a touchdown off of a Chandler Jones strip sack last week, playing the Vikings much closer at home than anyone would’ve expected.
Garett Bolles will have his toughest test of the season against Jones, which is pretty scary. Case Keenum will have to do a better job picking up the blitz pre-snap, and the guard duo of Max Garcia and Connor McGovern will have to play their best now that they don’t have the excuse of going against dominant DT’s like Aaron Donald, Leonard Williams, and Ndamukong Suh.
THE BRONCOS WIN IF
The rest of the team shares Von Miller’s mindset — On Tuesday Von Miller threw down some heat when he boldly stated, “We’re gonna kick their ass,” three separate times during his meeting with the media.
We haven’t seen fire like that from a member of the Broncos in a long time, and that’s the mindset they need to have. Not that they’re going to get of the schneid, not that they have the talent to pull one out on the road, they need to believe they’re going to go in there, rip the Cardinals’ will away from them, and win by 40.
If the rest of the team can match that fire and that intensity, they will beat a bad Arizona team.
Their offense drops 20 points — If the Broncos weren’t on a four-game slide right now, the answer to this really should be the Broncos win if they show up.
But, at 2-4, it’s hard to argue Denver is in any position to beat an opposing team by just showing up.
Fortunately, the Broncos average precisely 20 points per game, along with putting up 20 points against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
They get back to the ground game — The Broncos run game is coming off their worst performance all season, and against Arizona’s run defense, that’s allowed 151-yards per game, they have to flip the script.
Denver will still face plenty of eight-man boxes, but they have to re-establish their running identity, regardless. Get back to using Phil Lindsay creatively, and the line has to establish themselves.
Broncos 28, Cardinals 17 — Before Miller’s comments, I was sitting at 24-21, Broncos, but after hearing that fire come from a normally laid-back player, I think they might come into this one like a stirred up bee hive,
Maybe I’m falling victim to a trap here, but if you’re one of Von’s teammates, there’s no way you can go out there and not lay it all on the line when you see him fired up like that.
Broncos 20, Cardinals 16 — It’s hard to predict the Broncos winning just their second road game of the Vance Joseph era, but that’s just how bad the Cardinals have been to start the season.
Their defense isn’t awful, but their offense is. Although it’s been better since Rosen took over the squad in Week 4, it’s still really bad.
Entering Thursday night, Arizona has the fewest yards by any team through six games since 2009.
If the Broncos are going to win any road game, it will be this one.
Cardinals 23, Broncos 19 — I’m done believing in the Broncos ability to win on the road. They’ve played down to their opponent every game, and on a short week, this is going to go south.
The offense crumbles, and Keenum can’t make the Cardinals pay for stacking the box, throwing two INTs, one that goes for six—the Cardinals have scored two defensive TDs the last two games and are eighth best in the league with 11 takeaways.
If I were gambling, the home-dog Cards would look very appealing.