A glance at five top storylines for the Cardinals-Broncos game Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.:
Maintaining some Peyton control
Peyton Manning is who he is. The idea a defense is going to shut him down is unrealistic. What can't happen is for Manning to go off for a four-touchdown-pass kind of day, slicing up the defense with his quick delivery. As Bruce Arians said, hearing that Manning needs just one touchdown pass to reach 500 in his career, "we'll give him one." One probably will happen. Can't let the Broncos pile up more than that. It means keeping Manning off the field as much as possible. The funny thing is, Manning is off to a "slower" start than last year – except he still has eight touchdown passes in three games. It's not an easy challenge on the plate of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Drew Stanton, Chapter Three
Carson Palmer's ongoing nerve issues in his shoulder likely puts Drew Stanton back in the starting lineup. It's been a good run for Stanton so far, but it seems like the degree of difficulty continues to click up another notch each week. First was a road game but against a struggling Giants team. Then a tougher game, albeit at home, against the 49ers. Now he faces the defending AFC champions at their place. There shouldn't be any issues about confidence. It's about executing, making some plays while still being able to protect the ball. Each step reinforces the idea Stanton is capable of leading this team. With Palmer's uncertainty, that's a must.
Keeping eyes on the Ball
At this point, the Broncos don't run the ball very well (75.3 yards a game). The Cardinals still defend the run very well (71.7 yards a game). That's a good equation for the Cardinals. They have to lock down the Broncos' run game, which is led by Montee Ball. Closing Ball's lanes means less flexibility for the Denver offense. Yes, Manning is the type of quarterback who can still make it work, but if the Cardinals can stone Ball even with a nickel package on the field – Deone Bucannon at dollar linebacker, anyone? – it'll get the Cards one step closer to getting off the field.
Living on the edge
The Cardinals have been thrilled with the play of new left tackle Jared Veldheer. They have been happy with the play of right tackle Bobby Massie. The ability of both to hold up through three games has allowed Bruce Arians to use more of his deep passes within his offense, and they have paid off. This game, however, the Broncos bring to the table two good edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Each already have a couple of sacks in just three games (Miller with two, Ware with 2½). There are many moving parts that must click to have the offense play well in Denver, but it will start with the men protecting the edge.
Breathe in. Breathe out (on the sideline)
Altitude isn't a problem, until it is. Arians sees the equation as simple: If the defense forces the Broncos into three-and-outs, the mile high air won't be a factor. If the Broncos rip off 10-play drives, breathing could be a problem. Taking on the Broncos is difficult enough without the altitude becoming an issue. Some of it will be mind over matter, but realistically, there's no way truly prepare unless you can train in it long-term. And no, the Cardinals didn't consider practice in Flagstaff this week.