ENGLEWOOD — In 2018, the Broncos’ season in tatters, head coach Vance Joseph’s foot dangling off the ledge, Von Miller guaranteed a victory over the Arizona Cardinals and delivered.
Tuesday, with the season teetering and the heat turning up on coach Vic Fangio, Miller stopped shy of going full Joe Namath, but conveyed tangible confidence about Thursday’s game vs. the Browns.
“I have played in all types of games and performed well in all types of games. I will play well in this game. I am going to go off,” Miller vowed when I asked him about embracing this challenge.
“I don’t want to put the pressure on my teammates this time. I want the pressure on me. I am going to have a great game, get a couple of sacks. And I if do that, then we will win.”
A declaration can be traced to the past three weeks. Miller, as the most accomplished and experienced player on the team, is seeking to provide a jolt.
The Broncos’ plummet to earth with a thud the past three weeks has been beyond disappointing.
The schedule provided the Broncos a paved road to redemption. They opened with three of the NFL’s worst teams, taking care of business with double-digit victories that calloused them for the move up in weight class.
They hosted Baltimore, a chance to restore homefield advantage. The Ravens punched them in the mouth, and, for good measure, rubbed their noses in it by extending their 100-yard rushing streak on the game’s final play.
They traveled to Pittsburgh where talk centered on whether gimpy Ben Roethlisberger should be benched and the listless run game. The Steelers trampled the Broncos on the ground, and Roethlisberger connected on multiple long passes.
Then, they welcomed the Raiders on the weekend coach Mike Shanahan, who hates the Silver and Black, went into the Ring of Fame. If any game should have been personal, this was it. The Raiders were coachless, and the Broncos looked clueless, outclassed and booed as they fell behind 31-10 in the third quarter in their third consecutive loss.
The slump remains concerning on multiple levels. It draws into question Fangio’s future, allows for little elasticity with the remaining road schedule, and makes clear the Broncos cannot be taken seriously until they beat a good team.
Hello, Thursday night. In primetime, the Broncos have more than a puncher’s chance against Cleveland, which began this season with Super Bowl expectations and owns, like Denver, a 3-3 record.
The Browns are reeling and hurting.
This week, Cleveland’s top running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were ruled out with injuries, quarterback Baker Mayfield sounds like he will attempt to play through a painful left shoulder problem that is impacting his mechanics — Case Keenum is his backup — and the defense has allowed 84 points in the past two games, both losses.
So a sliver of hope exists for the Broncos. But they talked a good game before facing the Steelers and Raiders and came out flatter than Kansas.
“For sure, it’s a blessing that we are able to move on and get to this Thursday night game. The game on Sunday was just awful in so many ways,” said safety Justin Simmons, who promised to iron out the communication issues on the defense between the linebackers and secondary. “I know they are dealing with a bunch of injuries, but to go against them in primetime is exciting.”
This week figures to tell a lot about what we can expect from the Broncos moving forward. As brutal as the current stretch is, the Broncos goals remain in front of them — a winning season and a playoff berth. But neither is realistic until you triumph over somebody of merit.
“I don’t know who the tackle is I am going against, but I am going to kill him,” promised Miller. “And the other guy on the other side, too. I am going to make plays for my team and set us up to win for sure.”
Miller’s confidence represented a juxtaposition to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s health. He limped to the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse for practice and was moving gingerly as he stepped to the podium for his press conference. He did not commit to playing, though the expectations remains he will start, saying he would trust the recovery and rehab process.
Bridgewater explained that his foot/ankle went numb last Sunday as he threw a touchdown to Noah Fant. He joked to turn the cameras off as he left his media session because of his compromised state.
Bridgewater has been sacked seven times and hit 22 times the past two weeks. The veteran prides himself on toughness, but he cannot be effective under these circumstances, averaging 44 pass attempts vs the Steelers and Raiders.
In the Broncos’ wins, he averaged 32 attempts. That reflects balance and is a realistic ask of Bridgewater’s talent — he’s not built to win games by himself in the passing game.
“I have got to get the ball out faster,” Bridgewater said of avoiding contact. “As players, we have to lock in on what we are trying to execute one play at a time. We can’t look too far ahead to the third quarter, the fourth quarter or what we are doing after the game. We have to be where our feet are. We have to be efficient on first and second down, running or passing the ball, to give ourselves a chance to put drives together.”
The numbers in the three losses raise the question of why the Broncos don’t run more. Not every first and second down as they did in the first three first half drives at Pittsburgh. But, the stats suggest they should pass to set up the run, and stick with it.
The Broncos averaged 127.3 yards rushing in their wins, and 108 yards in their losses with 5.6 yards per carry. They rank 14th in the league at 117.5 yards per game.
“I think running is really something that’s important. We had some really good runs the other day,” Shurmur said. “We just need the opportunity to get more of them.”