Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals presents the Broncos with a must-win situation. A 2-5 start would essentially bury Denver in the playoff race, and with an upcoming game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, jobs are undeniably on the line tonight.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, the team will be playing on short rest and Thursday night games are generally not an easy task. In the last ten Thursday Night Football matchups, road teams are just 2-8. And in the Broncos’ last 12 road games, the team is 1-11 under head coach Vance Joseph.
Here is preview of the strengths and weaknesses for the Broncos in Thursday night’s game.
The Cardinals do not have one of the strongest rosters in the league, but skill players like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald can always keep an opposing defense honest.
Johnson was one of the best backs in the league two seasons ago, but missed most of last year with a fractured wrist. Arizona was banking on a bounce-back season from Johnson. It has been a slow start for the talented running back though. Through the first six games, Johnson only has 135 receiving yards and 297 rushing yards, which likely has less to do with him and more to do with the surrounding talent.
That being said, Johnson could look to get going against Denver’s poor rush defense, which currently ranks dead last in the league after allowing more than 500 yards rushing over the past two weeks.
On the defensive side, Chandler Jones is the most underrated defensive lineman in the league. The Cardinals’ edge rusher was traded by the Patriots before the 2017 season, and has been a monster since his arrival.
Last season, Jones led the league in sacks (17) and he’s currently tied with Von Miller for the fifth-most sacks in the league. Jones will certainly present a schematic problem for a Broncos offensive line that has allowed the seventh most hits on their quarterback (42) and is already down two of their best offensive lineman.
The Cardinals’ roster does not have a ton of depth, which should give the Broncos an opportunity get back on track after a four-game skid, especially if the defense can get the pass rush going. After last week’s standout performance, edge-rushers like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should be licking their chops for an opportunity to go after after a rookie quarterback playing behind the worst offensive line in the NFL.
The Cardinals’ offensive line ranks dead last in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking rankings by 4.1 points. The average separation between offensive lines in this metric is .49 points. The offensive line also ranks last in pressure allowed (48.37 percent).
When also considering the Cardinals will be without starting left guard Mike Iupati this week and two other guards are listed as questionable or out as well, Arizona’s line should be brutally thin on a short week of rest. Look for the Broncos to try and take advantage of
The Cardinals’ receiving weapons are also among the worst in the league. Larry Fitzgerald is a surefire hall of famer but it looks like Father Time has finally caught up with him. On the other side, rookie Christian Kirk has built up a nice report with quarterback Josh Rosen but appears to be more of a complementary receiver. The Cardinals also have one of the weaker tight end groups in the league, as it’s headlined by Ricky Seals-Jones. There’s a strong argument to be made that the Cardinals’ best receiver as of now is running back David Johnson. Just like the Broncos’ pass rush, the Broncos’ secondary should look to get healthy this week against the Cardinals.