It’s time for Broncos to be beasts
If the Denver Broncos are again to be relevant in the National Football League playoffs on a regular basis, they are going to have to again become beasts at home.
That’s what John Elway said when he came out of exile and took over as executive vice president of football operations in January 2011.
Saying it is one thing. Doing it is another.
Since Elway brought that point to light, the Broncos have won only four of 10 home games. Two of those came during the 2011 regular season. Another was in the first game of the playoffs last season, that unforgettable overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fourth win came only two weeks ago against those same Steelers in this season’s opener.
The last time Denver won more games at home than it lost in a season was when it went 5-3 in 2007.
One of the reasons for Denver’s long-lost home-field edge has to do with noise — rather, the lack of it. The noise has been lacking, in part, because of the new configuration of the stadium and because the team has simply given fans few reasons to cheer.
Those who remember the south stands at Old Mile High shaking, rattling and, yes, rolling, can remember the goose bumps. It hasn’t been like that, with few exceptions, since Elway had his own knees.
But if you listen real carefully, you’ll hear those pent-up old emotions creeping into New Mile High, perhaps to stay.
We’re all aware of what the acquisition of Peyton Manning has done to the team: It has given the staff, players and fans the belief that this team can win against any foe. Despite what happened in Atlanta Monday night (three Manning interceptions and four turnovers in the first quarter in a 27-21 loss), there is a sense out there that this team can compete in the second year of a rebuilding process Elway and coach John Fox say will take three years.
Elway’s dream of recreating home-field Beasty Boys, an advantage that was in effect through most of his Mile High career, isn’t all riding on the outcome today at New Mile High. But a win over Houston would build confidence needed the rest of this season and beyond.
The Texans make it a trio of nasty foes in three games for the Broncos. Gary Kubiak’s squad, yet another playoff team last season, comes in with fantasy football poster boy Arian Foster at running back, one of the league’s best receivers in Andre Johnson, a prolific passer in Matt Schaub and, oh yes, the league’s best defense through the first two games.
The Texans, along with the NFC’s 49ers, are the darlings of pro football to this point.
ESPN’s power poll has them ranked second behind the 49ers, with the Broncos 10th. The Associated Press Pro 32 poll also has the Texans ranked second behind the 49ers and the Broncos 11th.
If Denver is going to win this game today, the ghosts of Old Mile High have to start rearing their collective heads. And Manning is going to have to settle in from the get-go, not in the second quarter.
Manning shouldn’t be afraid of the Texans. He and his Indianapolis Colts beat up on the Texans for most of the last decade, winning 16 of 18 games. That bodes well for Denver.
A closer look at Houston might also make Bronco fans a bit more at ease.
The Texans have defeated two teams that are not exactly among the league powerhouses, Miami 30-10 and Jacksonville 27-7. Miami is a team led by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Jacksonville has second-year pro Blaine Gabbert at the helm, hence the top ranking defensively for the Texans, who gave up only 196 yards per game in the first two.
While Schaub is efficient as a passer, he has not gone downfield much. Johnson had a good game against Miami in catching eight passes, but caught only three against Jacksonville, and Champ Bailey certainly will be nearby. Foster, a real horse who normally wears foes down in the late going, is averaging less than 4 yards per carry.
Denver will have to come up with a few big defensive plays against Houston’s balanced attack: turnovers; third-down stops of Foster runs; and/or timely sacks of Schaub from Von Miller or the so-far dormant Elvis Dumervil.
I say Denver comes up with enough of those stops to allow Manning to drop Houston’s lofty defensive status a notch or two.
I’ll take my 1-1 record so far and say the ghosts are in the house. It’s Denver 27, Houston 24, setting up a matchup the following week against Denver’s biggest Mile High nemesis, the Raiders.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.