Five things to watch for Thursday when the Cardinals play the Broncos at State Farm Stadium:
David Johnson and the tales of the 200-yard rushers
Todd Gurley is one thing, Isaiah Crowell is another, but regardless, both guys ripped up the Denver defense for more than 200 yards in each of the last two games. Von Miller promised that wouldn’t happen again to the Broncos, but in reality, if Johnson is going to be in a position to crack 100 yards rushing in a game, this is it. Johnson’s high this season was the 71 yards he got in 22 carries against the Seahawks. If Johnson can’t get loose – even though everyone knows it’s coming – won’t bode well for the result.
A banged-up offensive line, and Von Miller’s bold pronouncements
Speaking of Miller, he had some things to say this week, among them that the Cardinals cannot block he and teammate Bradley Chubb. That’ll be the challenge for tackles D.J. Humphries and Andre Smith. At least Humphries and Smith are healthy. The Cards are still trying to figure out how much/well starting guard Justin Pugh (hand) can do, and Mike Iupati (back) is out. Rookie center Mason Cole is still finding his way. The battle against the Broncos’ defensive line was already going to be a big deal – see above – but Miller’s comments absolutely raised the stakes.
Run fits, and where to find them
Perhaps you’ve heard this before – the Cardinals, too many times, do not have all the right defenders in the right gaps, and big runs are given up. That happened last week against the Vikings, a team that struggles to run the ball. The Broncos actually have a pretty nice run game, it’s just that, for whatever reason, they do not dial up run plays often. Some of that is Denver playing from behind, but the way the Cardinals’ offense has gone, the Cards’ defense can’t count on playing with that kind of lead. At some point, as exasperated defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said, the Cards must realize they can’t live like this.
Rookie Josh Rosen still is protecting the ball, and the no-huddle last week did provide some positive results. Meanwhile, the Broncos – at least thus far – are seeing Case Keenum revert to the QB that had ups and downs with the Texans and Rams, not the star of the Vikings last season. Keenum has turned the ball over a lot – his eight interceptions are tied for the most in the NFL – and is someone the Cardinals can get to (assuming they can slow the run). Rosen continues to take steps forward, and if the pass protection can allow Rosen some time, he has a chance to be the best QB on the field Thursday.
Opportunity knocks to end some misery
It’s simple really. As much trouble as each team has had lately – the Cardinals with one win and 0-3 at home, the Broncos without a road win and on a four-game losing streak – someone is going to be able to notch a victory this week. A short week figures to favor the home team, without having to lose one of the few prep days to travel. It’s on national television. If the Cardinals are going to get one, this one seems primed for the taking.