The NFL season is finally here, and the Denver Broncos are looking to start their 2020 season off with a victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 when they play at Empower Field at Mile High for the second game of Monday Night Football. As the Titans come into Denver led by reigning NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry, Tennessee is looking to avenge their loss against the Broncos in Week 6 of the 2019 season. In this Broncos-Titans Week 1 matchup, three Broncos players could have a more significant impact on the game than any others, and we’ll break down why they will play a more prominent role in leading the Broncos to victory.
In last year’s matchup, Henry was held to 28 rushing yards on 15 attempts, his worst performance of the entire season. This time around, Denver will be without some key players from last year’s game, most notably linebacker Todd Davis and edge rusher Von Miller. Davis was released in a shocking turn of events before camp had ended, after dealing with a similar leg injury to the one he suffered at the beginning of the 2019 season. Miller, who suffered an ankle injury in practice last week, will likely miss the rest of the 2020 season after getting surgery. With those two players absent, let’s look at the three Broncos players that will have the biggest impact against the Titans.
Jurrell Casey’s revenge tour begins immediately
I would have done this piece injustice if Jurrell Casey was not the top Broncos player to watch in this Broncos Week 1 matchup. Casey will play against his former team for the first time since being traded to Denver during the offseason for a seventh-round draft pick. It would be no surprise that this game would be the one that Casey circled over and over in red marker. He wants to show the team that got rid of him that he can still play at a high level.
In Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, Casey will wear a lot of hats on the defensive front. As a true enforcer in the middle, Casey will be instrumental in blowing up the run game that Tennessee is likely to rely on. Still, he will also play a big part in forcing pressures on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Why you should keep your eyes on Casey against the Titans
Outside of the fact that he’s playing against his former team, Casey is going to be hard to miss along the Broncos defensive line. After moving on from fan-favorite Derek Wolfe, Casey provides a bit of an upgrade over the former Bronco. His ability to create pressure from a variety of different positions on the line makes him a matchup nightmare. Still, it also opens up opportunities for the edge rushers to get home, something that’s going to be even more important with the loss of Miller.
Without Davis, Miller, and the newly-acquired Mark Barron missing on Monday night, Denver is going to need all the run support they can get. With Casey providing his talents on the front and Bradley Chubb returning from the devastating ACL injury that caused him to miss the majority of the 2019 season, Denver has a better chance of being able to contain Henry once again. All eyes will be on the Casey revenge tour as he looks to dominate the Titans offensive line on every snap.
The first true test for Drew Lock in his first season as the starter
Last season, Drew Lock put on quite the display in his first five starts in the NFL. That means he comes into this season as one of the top Broncos’ players to watch. Lock’s performance in those games showed the Broncos front office that he might be the heir to Peyton Manning that they’ve been searching for. While it’s too early to crown Lock as the savior of the Broncos franchise, he shows a ton of promise, and the team is ready to put him in the driver’s seat in 2020 firmly. He will get his first actual test as “the guy” in the Broncos-Titans Week 1 matchup.
Lock’s physical abilities as a quarterback were visible during his short stint as the starter in 2019. Still, with the additions of Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator and Mike Shula as the quarterback coach, Lock is in much better hands in 2020. The team made sure to add plenty of firepower to the offense during free agency and the draft. Denver added a starting-caliber running back in Melvin Gordon, as well as giving Lock plenty of receiving threats in the draft, including receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler and his college tight end, Albert Okwuegbunam. To put it simply, Lock is set up for success in his first full year as a starter.
What Lock has to do against the Titans
In his first start of the season, Lock doesn’t necessarily get a cakewalk. Tennessee’s defense finished 21st in yards allowed in 2019 but finished 12th in total defense. There are, however, a lot of question marks in the Titans’ secondary, especially with Adoree Jackson not available. The team will be relying on the veterans Jonathan Joseph and Malcolm Butler, who allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 105.9 to receivers last season, and Kristian Fulton, the second-round pick out of LSU.
For Lock to succeed against this Titans defense, he’ll need to attack their secondary efficiently with his new weapons. In a new offensive scheme, it won’t be surprising to see Lock be careful with the ball, especially if his favorite target, Courtland Sutton, can’t play due to a shoulder injury. Lock showed a lot of confidence during his 2019 performance, and if he can carry over that confidence and develop his abilities on the field, he’ll be able to play very well against this Titans defense.
Jerry Jeudy looks to show out in his NFL debut against the Titans
The Broncos’ first-round pick might be the star of the receiving corps and one of the most important Broncos players if Sutton can’t play in the Broncos Week 1 matchup with the Titans. Jeudy, the 15th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, is set to show out during his first NFL game with his combination of advanced route-running skills, speed, and after the catch abilities. With the possibility of Sutton not playing, Jeudy could be looking at getting the lion’s share of the targets from Lock.
Jeudy was a star in camp, as many figured he would be. His unique skillset was heralded by veterans A.J. Bouye, Kareem Jackson, and Justin Simmons, showing that the rookie is more experienced coming out of Alabama than some thought. Still, the rookie is just that: a rookie. That doesn’t mean that all eyes won’t be on him as he takes the field against the Titans defense.
How Jeudy will impact the Broncos offense against the Titans
Having Jeudy on this offense gives the Broncos an immediate upgrade over last year’s group. His ability to get open will help Lock avoid throwing into tighter situations. With Jeudy going up against the likes of Butler and Joseph, he will be able to use his speed and quickness to exploit their weaknesses. Jeudy is familiar with Fulton’s skillset, having played against him while at Alabama.
If Lock throws the ball Jeudy’s way often against Tennessee, look for Jeudy to make explosive plays early. His route-running and speed are great, but it’s the after the catch ability that could catch the Titans defenders off-guard. Jeudy’s footwork and ability to make defenders miss are lethal, so expect there to be a bit more attention on him. This extra attention can help several other Broncos across the offense, including removing defenders from the box to help open up the run game for Phillip Lindsay and Gordon, as well as one-on-one opportunities for Tim Patrick and Noah Fant in the passing game.