The Broncos are surging after winning their latest game against the Minnesota Vikings in their typical, last-second winning field goal fashion for their fifth straight victory. The win also has put them in a two-way tie with the Oakland Raiders atop the AFC West with a chance to claim sole possession of the division if the Raiders cannot upset the undefeated, Super Bowl Champs, Green Bay Packers.
The Chicago Bears come to Sports Authority Field at Mile High reeling amidst a two-game losing streak to the Broncos' AFC West rivals, the Chiefs and Raiders.
Although these losses help the Broncos, the Bears will still be a tough opponent who are looking to end the Broncos win streak at five.
In order to extend their streak to six games, the Broncos need to focus on these five keys to the game.
Caleb Hanie is in his fourth season in the NFL and over those four years, he has only three career starts.
This season Hanie has already thrown six interceptions, has a completion percentage of 48.3 and a quarterback passer rating in the 30s (38.9). Also, the Bears lost star running back Matt Forte last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Without Forte, the Bears will have to rely on Hanie to carry the team.
Against the Chiefs, Hanie was sacked seven times. Their relentless pressure made Hanie erratic and uncomfortable. If the Chiefs above-average injury-stricken defense can force seven sacks, Denver’s defense should have a field day with Von Miller returning and the resurgent Elvis Dumervil wreaking havoc all afternoon.
The Broncos have to get the run game going against the Bears.
Willis McGahee has missed practice several times this week with a banged up knee. He will likely be questionable to play against the Bears, and if he does play, it will likely not be at 100 percent.
That means that the bulk of the work will likely fall on Lance Ball and Jeremiah Johnson. Ball has been effective as a bruising downhill back who is averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry thus far.
Johnson has been utilized mostly as an easy out-of-the-backfield target for Tim Tebow, but it is very likely he will share some carries with Ball.
The difficult part of it, however, is that the Bears rank eighth in the league against the run, which will prove a difficult task for Denver. The run-option is also always a threat by Tim Tebow, but last week the Minnesota Vikings neutralized Tebow and forced him to play a true pro-style offense, which he did effectively, leading the Broncos to victory.
Anyway they can, the Broncos have to generate offense rushing the football.
This is probably the most important part of the game for the Broncos. They have to generate turnovers on defense.
Taking the ball out of a team’s hands is demoralizing. They will end drives for the Bears offense and set up Tebow and the Broncos with a short field. The Bears will likely be very stingy on defense and take away a lot of what Tebow wants to do with the ball. Short fields with chances for instant points will go a long way for a Broncos victory this week.
Caleb Hanie has been careless with the football thus far in his two starts this season, turning the ball over six times. Advantage: Broncos.
During the Broncos' five-game winning streak, key turnovers have marked each game. Veteran cornerback Andre Goodman has two interceptions the past three games. Goodman had the game-winning pick last week against Minnesota when he picked off Christian Ponder late in the game to set up the winning field goal, and then two weeks ago he had a TAINT (Touchdown after interception) against Mark Sanchez and the Jets.
Also notable was the TAINT by Mario Haggan early in the game and a fumble recovery by Jason Hunter that ended a Vikings drive when the Vikings were in the red zone looking to score. These huge plays on defense changed the entire tone of the game. The Broncos live off of these plays.
This is a given every week, but facing one of the most electric kick returners in the NFL, Devin Hester, the Broncos have to make sure he never gets his hands on the ball.
This season, the Broncos’ punter Britton Colquitt has been lights out. He has 23 punts that have pinned teams inside their own 20, and six touchbacks. That means that out of 74 punts this season, Colquitt has given the Broncos’ opponents field position starting at their own 20 yard-line or worse 39.2 percent of the time. Amazing!
Colquitt cannot kick to Hester this week. Even if some of his stats hurt, he just cannot do it. Time and time again, Hester has badly hurt opponents who have foolishly believed they can out-kick him, or that their special teams coverage is the exception to the rule.
As special as the Broncos special teams have been this year, the Broncos cannot make the mistake many teams have made before them.
Also, the Broncos need to come up with a couple of big returns themselves. Every week it seems like someone has made a huge return to set the Broncos up for easy points; the trend needs to continue this week.
Last week it was Quan Cosby who had the 63-yard kick return after a Vikings touchdown, which was promptly capitalized on by Tim Tebow who hit Demaryius Thomas for a 41-yard touchdown reception on the very next play.
Don't forget about Matt Prater either, who is one of the best fourth quarter kickers in the NFL. He has a monster leg (especially in the Mile High Air) and rarely misses a kick when the pressure is on late in the game.
The Tebow to Thomas connection changed the game last week in Minnesota. Demaryius Thomas caught four passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, a YPC average of 36.
Tebow is going to be challenged again by a stiff defense upfront who will crowd the line of scrimmage with eight guys in the box to stop the run and contain Tebow. They are very good at this no matter who they play. However, where they are less effective is against the pass. They rank 28th in the NFL against giving up over 250 yards per game through the air.
Mike McKoy has to continue to deliver up timely passing plays for Tebow to move the ball down the field in big chunks. Against the Bears’ weak secondary, it appears to be reasonable that Tebow continues to make strides in the passing game, especially if he can find the monstrous Thomas waiting in an open zone.
The offensive line and its consistent play should also be praised for its great job of preserving pockets for Tebow. They will be faced with a huge task this week keeping Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher at bay.
Tebow made some progress last week completing 10-of-15 pass attempts for over 200 yards and two touchdowns against an average secondary. Not bad.