What makes a non-conference game against Tampa Bay paramount to the Broncos' AFC "elite" status? Jeff Legwold of First-and-Orange reminds fans that a Broncos team has not won seven consecutive games since John Elway led Denver to its second-straight Super Bowl victory in 1998. For Broncomania, achieving this milestone symbolizes the Mile High City's rich football tradition – the long-awaited rebirth of an NFL dynasty.
The palpable buzz around this 2012 Broncos team is momentous for the greater Denver community. However, "it's not over til' the fat lady sings." Although the Buccaneers are barely above .500 and playing for a wild-card playoff bid at best, Tampa Bay's five losses were decided by a total of 23 points (4.6 points per game). Moreover, these losses came against teams with a combined record of 33-24 (.727 winning percentage). Don't expect Josh Freeman and this young Tampa Bay team to hand over the seventh-game, like Brett Favre gifted Michael Strahan his record-breaking 22nd sack. Simply put, Tampa Bay at Denver – Game of the Week.
Spoiler Alert – Peyton Manning will dismantle Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked secondary at Sports Authority Field on Sunday. However, Josh Freeman & Co. possess a comparably high-powered offense (over 28 points per game) accented by Doug Martin, the NFL's fourth-ranked Running Back. A Mile High "Shoot-Out" seems inevitable. Look for key turnovers in the second-half to determine the final outcome at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Broncos Defensive Keys
1. Consistent Pressure on Josh Freeman
Von Miller's reputation commands attention from opposing offensive lines. Despite this reality, the AFC Defensive Player of the Month (November) has posted 14.0 sacks on the season (8.0 in November). Early pressure from Miller will force consistent double-teams, opening gaps for Jack Del Rio's blitz packages. Additionally, defensive line success restricts the offense to Shotgun formations, lessening Doug Martin's impact at Running Back. Finally, if the Denver defense can maintain pressure through the first half, Tampa Bay's young Quarterback, Josh Freeman, will likely make a crucial mistake.
2. Woodyard – Maintain WLB Gap Responsibilities (Negate Counters/Cutbacks)
In Week 12, the Kansas City Chiefs exploited an overly aggressive Broncos defense – over-pursuit on the weak-side. Jamaal Charles was able to cut-back through running lanes with up-and-coming linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan out of position. Expect Woodyard's patience on the weak-side to directly impact the Broncos' success against Tampa Bay's premier backfield.
3. "Bend-Not-Break" AttitudeDespite Kansas City's success driving into Denver territory in Week 12, the Broncos defense refused to allow a touchdown, holding the Chiefs to three field goals (Final: 17-9). If the Broncos defense failed to stop those three drives, allowing three touchdowns instead, the Chiefs win 21-17. Despite spending a majority of the first half on the field, the Denver Broncos defense showed its strong character. Look for the defense to continue this trend under the tutelage of Jack Del Rio and key veterans like Champ Bailey.
Denver, more than just a city - The 5280 Ethos.