Week seven’s Thursday Night Football matchup will feature two teams with a combined three wins in 2018. The 2-4 Denver Broncos will head to State Farm Stadium in Glendale to take on the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals.
Denver appeared to start off hot winning their first two games of the season but have since lost four straight, meaning the only thing hot as of late is the seat of Head Coach, Vance Joseph. Coming off a 5-11 season just last year, a loss to the lowly Cardinals on the primetime stage would put Denver at 2-5 and could expedite a coaching change.
Coaches on the home team sideline aren’t any safer. While it would be unlikely for the Cardinals to cut first-year Head Coach Steve Wilks so quickly, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy might not be so lucky. In the Cardinals case, it’s not necessarily that they’re losing, it’s how they’re losing. Vegas odds had the Cardinals winning about five games, so concerns were set to be present, but what’s truly concerning is just how bad Arizona’s offense is. The Cardinals are averaging just over a measly 13 points a game, ranked second to last in the NFL. On numerous occasions the coaching staff has left David Johnson, one of the NFL’s best running backs, standing on the sidelines in key situations. Just last week in Minnesota, Arizona went for it on fourth down from the one-yard line while Larry Fitzgerald watched from the sideline. Everything from the play call to the personnel was questionable and it just about summed up the first six weeks of the season. Arizona hasn’t scored a single point in the third quarter – a quarter that usually defines a coaches ability to make halftime adjustment. You’d think McCoy’s seat isn’t just hot, it’s Arizona hot.
The keys to winning for both teams are similar:
- Pressure the quarterback – This game will feature two of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers in Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones and Broncos linebacker Von Miller. Both come in to week seven tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks (5.5), and both will be facing suspect offensive lines. Von is coming to town with confidence. When asked if this game was a must win for Denver he said, “I wouldn’t say it’s a must win but we’re going to kick their [expletive] though. Make sure you put that up there. This week, Thursday night, prime time, they’re going to get the Broncos’ best.”
The Cardinals will be without guard Mike Iupati and the Broncos will once again be without right tackle Jared Veldheer. Chandler Jones has been on a tear as of late and will look to bring the quarterback controversy in Denver to life. Last season Case Keenum only threw seven interceptions on the season. This year he already has eight, and only seven touchdowns to go with.
- Run the football – This may be easier said than done for the Cardinals. Arizona is currently ranked dead last with 64 rush yards per game and not having Iupati in the lineup makes things even more challenging. However, if anyone has been more vulnerable in the run game than the Cardinals, it’s the Broncos. In the last two weeks, Denver has given up a total of 593 rushing yards – 323 to the Jets, and 270 to the Rams. If Arizona were ever going to get something going in the run game it would be this week. If the Cardinals can’t get anything going on the ground they’ll fall behind and Von Miller and rookie defensive end Bradley Chubb will have a field day as the home team tries to play catch-up. Mike McCoy will need to drum up something other than a run up the middle to get the ground attack going. Denver on the other hand is ranked 10th with 124.2 rush yards per game. Establishing the run will allow Denver to control the clock and keep Chandler Jones in check. Arizona watched the Vikings run all over them last week to the tune of 195 yards so they’ll need to get it together in a hurry or the Broncos will run for even more.
- Take multiple shots downfield – Denver has a great pair of receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and both have shown past success with the deep ball. With Cardinals safety Tre Boston already ruled out to injury, the Cardinals secondary takes a step back. On the other side of the ball, if Arizona can keep Miller and rookie Chubb out of the backfield, look for rookie quarterback Josh Rosen to continue his connection with fellow rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk. With a stagnant run game, maybe a few successful balls downfield will spread out the defense and create running lanes for David Johnson.
The Broncos head in to Thursday night currently favored by one and a half points (-1.5). Kickoff is scheduled for 5:20pm MT.
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