The Broncos have surrendered 200-yard rushing games to Isaiah Crowell and Todd Gurley in back-to-back weeks, and as Denver visits the Cardinals Thursday night at State Farm Stadium, that fact has had a butterfly effect.
David Johnson is thinking about it, for one. The Cardinals have had trouble rushing the ball all season, and the former all-pro running back has a season-high of 71 yards rushing in one game. If there was ever a game for Johnson to get loose, this seems to be it.
“My biggest thing when I see that is that it’s probably a little bit more pressure for that reason,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I have to really focus in on all the little details and let the yards come as they come.”
The Broncos really don’t want that to happen. General Manager John Elway said on a Denver radio show that the Broncos’ defense has been “soft,” words that didn’t sit well with all-pro linebacker Von Miller. Responding to Elway’s thoughts, Miller made plain the Broncos’ defense was going to be at its best Thursday night.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win, but we’re going to kick their ass though,” Miller said. “Make sure you put that up there.”
The comments themselves didn’t make much of a ripple for the Cardinals Wednesday.
“If we need that to get us motivated to play a football game being 1-5 right now, we’re in trouble,” Wilks said.
Guard Justin Pugh said Miller was only trying to motivate his own team.
“I go out and talk to our (own) defensive guys (in practice), and the things we say to each other on the same team is probably way worse than what Von was saying to us,” Pugh said.
Because the Broncos are last in the league in rushing defense (although the Cardinals last in the league in rushing offense), getting Johnson going would be the perfect antidote to Miller in particular, a pass rushing superstar who is much less effective against the run.
The pressure of Miller and rookie teammate Bradley Chubb did do a little damage last week against the Rams, something the Cardinals must prevent in protecting rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
“When we play our best, I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can block me and Bradley,” Miller said in another of his comments. “Especially not the Cardinals.”
A challenge doesn’t get any more direct.
“I mean, whatever he’s got to do to hype himself up,” said Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries, who figures to face off with Miller the most often. “I wouldn’t do that. I don’t do all that jaw-jacking, that talking, that flexing. I like doing my talking on the grass. We’ll talk about that after the game.”
Wilks said Johnson did everything this week to make the coach believe Johnson is in a spot to have a good game. It would also help Johnson, who said he does better the more touches he receives.
“Anytime you’re on the field there is a chance to get him going,” Humphries said. “Honestly, I just think we all have to hit on the right cylinders. He just needs a crease and he can go. We just need to put him in the position where he can be David Johnson.”
BOSTON, IUPATI OUT FOR BRONCOS
Safety Tre Boston (ribs/shoulder) and Iupati (back) have been ruled out for the game, as well as backup offensive lineman Jeremy Vujnovich (hamstring). Cornerback Jamar Taylor (back) is questionable, as is Pugh. Rudy Ford will fill Boston’s role. Daniel Munyer is expected to start for Iupati.
Because the Cardinals didn’t really practice in the short week, Pugh still isn’t sure how his hand will handle playing. He said it will be about his pain tolerance (Pugh declined to say specifically the injury) and how he can use it. It’ll come down to some pregame testing. John Wetzel would play for Pugh if Pugh cannot go.
For the Broncos, cornerback Pacman Jones (thigh), guard Ron Leary (Achilles), linebacker Shane Ray (ankle/wrist), tackle Jared Veldheer (knee) and safety Dymonte Thomas (chest) are all out.
Images of key players for Thursday night's opponent, the Denver Broncos