Denver Broncos: Highlighting Must-Win Matchups vs. Saints
The Broncos have had the definition of an up-and-down season, having failed to win consecutive games, being consistently outplayed for the first three quarters of games, before finally turning it up in the fourth quarter.
The Saints arrive to town with interim head coach Joe Vitt back for his first game this season after being suspended by the NFL. LB Jonathan Vilma also returned to the Saints in last weekend's game vs. the Bucs after being suspended for the first five games of the year.
The Saints are on a two game win streak and looking to enter the playoff fold with a third straight victory. The Broncos are looking to hold on to their division lead over the Chargers.
What are the key matchups entering this Week 8 showdown with the Drew Brees-led Saints?
Peyton Manning vs. the Saints' Defensive Backfield
The Denver Broncos are fourth in passing yards, third in passing touchdowns and seventh in total points scored.
The New Orleans Saints ranked 30th in passing yards given up, 24th in passing touchdowns allowed and 29th in total points allowed.
I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a mismatch.
The Saints' starting cornerbacks are Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson, with Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper patrolling the safety spots.
The achilles heel of this Saints team is their defense, and the defensive backfield is nothing to write home about. The Broncos have a myriad of weapons to throw to in D-Thomas, Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.
The Broncos can, and will, exploit this defensive backfield come Sunday night.
If Josh Freeman can throw on this defense, Peyton Manning sure can.
Chris Harris vs. Drew Brees
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but I'm putting Chris Harris over Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter for a few reasons.
One of the reasons is simply that I expect Bailey to slow down Marques Colston. You can call that mindset arrogant or cocky, but I have simply watched Champ for way too long to not expect him to at the very least slow down the opposing team's top receiver. He does it week in and week out and there's no reason why I won't expect him to once again do so this week.
Tracy Porter may have his good games and his bad games, but he'll likely be matched up with Devery Henderson.
Chris Harris is on this list because he'll most likely face Lance Moore and/or Jimmy Graham if Graham is able to play Sunday.
Harris was a key component of Denver's comeback victory last Monday night vs. the Chargers when he had two interceptions—one of which was returned for the game-clinching touchdown.
Harris is in his sophomore campaign as Denver's dime CB and the Saints play mostly in jumbo receiver sets, utilizing the likes of Colston, Henderson, Moore and company.
The key to this game may come down to how well Harris matches up against New Orleans' slot receivers and tight ends.
Joel Dreessen/Jacob Tamme vs. Johnny Patrick/Saints Linebackers
The tight ends are a big component of this game because both Manning and Brees like to spread the ball around—especially to their tight ends.
Entering this game, Jacob Tamme ranks third on the team in receptions with 23, while Dreessen is tied for the team lead in touchdowns with three. Both are targets of Manning, and with this game expected to be a shootout, Manning will use every weapon at his disposal to match up with Brees.
Johnny Patrick is the Saints' nickel cornerback, with Corey White also having played as the nickel cornerback earlier in the season due to injuries to Greeg and Patrick.
Whoever on the Saints matches up with Dreessen and Tamme will have a busy day ahead of them. Expect Manning to utilize the short passing game over the seams with Dreessen and Tamme vs. the Saints.
Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil vs. Saints' Offensive Line
Elvis Dumervil is on a hot streak as of late. "Doom" has posted five sacks this season, including five in his past four games alone. In his past three games, Doom has forced four fumbles—including two on Philip Rivers last Monday night.
Von Miller and Doom need to force at least a little bit of the pressure that they forced on Rivers, on Brees this Sunday night. The Saints lack a running game, so the Broncos don't need to worry about crowding the box to stop Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram.
What they need to worry about is defending the pass and forcing pressure on Brees. Brees actually is one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, having been sacked at a rate of only 4.2%—same as Peyton Manning.
With Brees' quick release and the ability of his receivers to get open so quickly, a key matchup that needs to be won will be in the trenches with the likes of Miller and Dumervil against the Saints' offensive line.
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