ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For days the Broncos have been surrounded in their home city, surrounded by swirl of discussion over point spreads and remember-when mismatches. The Broncos, after all, are 5-0 having scored a historical 230 points in those five games.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, have scored just five touchdowns this season and don’t have a player with more than one.
It means Sunday's game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be a test of the Broncos’ concentration, their preparation and attention to detail. It will be a true gauge of how they handle prosperity. So with that in mind, here are some things to consider:
Welcome back: Unless something unexpected happens Saturday, the Broncos will have the secondary on the field Sunday they had hoped would be there when they opened the season. Champ Bailey is set to play his first game of the season -- “That’s the plan,’’ Bailey said -- and Chris Harris, who suffered a concussion against the Cowboys last Sunday, practiced Friday and is poised to play. That means the Broncos will have Bailey, Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback against a passing offense that has thrown for fewer than 200 yards per game (193.4) this season. It would allow the Broncos to play more man-to-man coverage and push more resources toward the line of scrimmage to stop Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Opponents have returned three interceptions for touchdowns already this season against the Jaguars.
They’re efforting: While the Jaguars haven’t been able to settle into a more traditional approach on offense because they have trailed so early, so often in games, if the game is still in question, the Jaguars will try to pound the ball on offense. And that's something opponents have been able to do at times against the Broncos defense, until Peyton Manning and the Denver offense has shredded those plans with a touchdown or three. Unlike most teams, the Jaguars have a fullback in the offense -- Will Ta’ufo’ou -- and have opened three of their five games in a two-back look. One way for the Broncos to find themselves in at least some trouble would be to let the Jaguars move the ball out of their two-back or two-tight end formations and eat some clock. Offensively, Jones-Drew is still the Jaguars' most reliable player, even as he continues to work his way back from last season’s foot injury. He’s averaged just 2.3 yards per carry amid the Jaguars’ offensive woes. With left tackle Luke Joeckel out for the season, the Jaguars also figure to stay in some heavier formations to try and protect quarterback Chad Henne. The Broncos will have to perform out of their base 4-3 formation and will likely have to do it without Wesley Woodyard at middle linebacker. Paris Lenon will need a productive day in Woodyard’s spot if Woodyard is held out as expected because when the Jaguars do run, they are most often coming right over center Brad Meester. Even with their limited carries this season, only four teams have run more over the center this season than the Jaguars have.
Blackmon and Shorts: The Jaguars do have two wide receivers who can win some battles against man coverage in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Blackmon, who missed the first four games of the season because of a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, had five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in his first game back last week against the Rams. Blackmon is more of a downfield option and the Broncos should look for him to work the deep middle in particular. Shorts has plenty of short area explosiveness and will work plenty in the short and intermediate areas. The Jaguars, given their protection issues up front -- they traded tackle Earl Monroe to the Ravens earlier this season to go with Joeckel’s injury -- figure to try to pick up the pace at times and use plenty of the quick-hit routes in the passing game.
Find the rookies: Like any rebuilding team, the Jaguars have some young players in the lineup in key places with the idea they will simply learn on the job. For the Jaguars that is no more evident than at safety where they start two rookies. Johnathan Cyprien is an upper-tier prospect who was Jacksonville’s second-round pick this past April and Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick, has replaced the injured Dwight Lowery (concussion) at free safety. The two have played well given their inexperience, but the Jaguars have also had to avoid asking them to do too much. As a result the Jaguars don’t do a lot of pre-snap movements to keep things simple for the pair and that’s often a difficult recipe against Manning, something even Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has alluded to this week. If Manning knows what you’re in, and he almost certainly does if you don't try too hard to disguise it, he will quickly find the hole, early and often. And that could make for a long day for a youthful Jaguars secondary.
No biggies: No team, given their three touchdowns on special teams already, knows more than the Broncos what kind of momentum-changers those plays can be. And the Broncos will have to keep Ace Sanders or Jordan Todman from popping a return or two in the game and change field position. Sanders, a rookie wide receiver, had an 88-yard punt return for a score negated by a penalty last week against the Rams. Todman had a 37-yard kickoff return against the Rams.
Turn it over: Beyond having what most personnel executives in the league would consider the thinnest roster in the NFL, the Jaguars have consistently turned the ball over too often this season.The Broncos will have some opportunities to make those kinds of plays. Jacksonville's quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions -- tied for the second most in the league -- and lost two fumbles. The Jaguars have often uncorked those turnovers early in games.