Game Preview

Thursday Night Football Preview: Broncos at Cardinals

Thursday Night Football Week 7

Thursday Night Football Preview: Broncos at Cardinals

Thursday Night Football Preview: Broncos at Cardinals

Last Week

Welcome back to the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Football Preview! Last week, I had the Eagles to beat the Giants, covering the spread (-3) in the process. In the end, this game wasn’t close, with Philadelphia taking the game 34-13. I was correct in taking the Eagles -3, and with my score prediction, suggested the over on total points, which also hit. Another successful week in the books for the Gridiron Experts Thursday Night Preview! Let’s move on to Week 7.

Brad’s TNF Picks Season Record: 5-1 Straight-Up | Against the Spread: 4-1-1

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Broncos at Cardinals

Spread: Broncos -2  | Over/Under 42

The Game

This Thursday Night, the Denver Broncos (2-4) will visit the Arizona Cardinals (1-5). The Broncos are currently (-2) favorites on the road. Last week, Denver took on the undefeated LA Rams and gave them all they could handle, ultimately falling by a score of 23-20. On the other hand, the Cardinals dropped their game in Minnesota, 27-17.

Through 6 games, the Broncos’ season has certainly been up-and-down. Their two wins were over the Seahawks (3-3) and the Raiders (1-5.) However, their losses show how polarizing of a team they can be. Their losses against the Rams (20-23) and Chiefs (23-27) both came down to the wire. But, on the other hand, both the Jets and Ravens beat them by 2 scores or more. Needless to say, the team from the Mile High City is wildly unpredictable at this time.

The host Cardinals’ season hasn’t been all they hoped it would be through 6 games. Their lone win of the season came over the 49ers in Week 5. While they’ve played a few competitive games, they’ve also been on the wrong end of some blowouts. Needless to say, they’ll need a drastic turnaround if they want to contend in the NFC West this year.

The Broncos came into the season knowing they’d likely have a rookie starting at RB. Many didn’t expect the backfield to evolve into a complete timeshare, though. Well, it has. Rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay have split carries right down the middle. Lindsay has been more productive, averaging 5.7 yards per rush, and totaling just under 350 rushing yards this year. That rushing total would be higher if Lindsay hadn’t been ejected for throwing punches in the pile earlier this year.

Royce FreemanRoyce Freeman, the rookie out of Oregon, has taken his 58 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per rush, totaling 272 yards and 3 touchdowns to Lindsay’s one. After Denver took Freeman in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft, many thought he was the heir apparent to the backfield. Well, he did beat out Devontae Booker… but didn’t see Linsday sneaking up and threatening to take the spot for himself.

At the end of the day, both backs are producing, with solid YPC numbers, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see either break out on any given week. This week might just be that week; as the Cardinals rank among the league’s worst in run defense. Just last week, Latavius Murray (who had been quite average through 5 weeks) ripped off 155 yards on 24 carries, adding a Touchdown. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for Lindsay or Freeman to have a huge game. With all of that said, Coach Vance Joseph has shown that he’s not afraid to use a committee either. So, despite the outcome, it’s anyone’s guess as to how this backfield will ultimately shake out. For the time being, two young backs will continue to duke it out and share the workload.

Under center, Case Keenum hasn’t been effective at all. After signing a two-year deal with Denver this March, Keenum hasn’t found the magic that helped propel the Vikings to the NFC Championship game last year. He’s thrown for just under 285 yards per game, but has thrown for only 7 TD compared to 8 INT… not great. Making matters worse, Keenum has already been sacked 15 times this year, losing 106 yards in the process.

Last week, many were intrigued by the appearance of Chad Kelly… will we see more of the young QB if Keenum continues to struggle? Fans seemed quite excited when Kelly entered the game last Sunday. After a remarkable preseason (40/60 for 366 yards and 2 TD), Kelly’s popularity soared in the Mile High City. Now, the backup, many are asking for him to take over the reins with Keenum struggling.

It’s been reported that Vance Joseph’s tenure might be shortlived if the season doesn’t turn around, so he’ll have a microscope on every decision he makes moving forward. It’ll be interesting to see if they stick with their big Free Agent signing, or opt for the popular young buck with “royal” NFL blood.

The receiving corps has actually produced in the early going, despite Keenum’s lackluster play. Emmanuel Sanders has 40 catches for 501 yards and 2 TD on the young season, while Demaryius Thomas has 28 grabs for 330 yards and 3 TD. Currently, Sanders ranks Top 10 in the NFL in receptions (8th) & receiving yards (10th). Unfortunately, production really falls off for the Denver pass-catchers after that, as no other receiver on the roster has 20+ catches. Rookie Courtland Sutton will need to come into his own to give this team a chance as the season wears on.

With the loss of Jake Butt to a knee injury, the onus falls solely on Jeff Heuerman to produce in the TE position. At 6’5 255, he certainly gives Keenum a huge target in the Red Zone. It remains to be seen whether he can effectively manage that size and make an impact, though.

Frankly, if Sanders doesn’t continue to produce, things could get ugly for this offense. Thomas’ production certainly has room to grow if Keenum is able to find his groove. Both Sanders and Thomas found the end zone last week, giving Denver a glimmer of hope moving forward.

Ever since his rookie year in 2015, David Johnson has been the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense. Johnson’s first (and only) full season as a starter was 2016. In that season, DJ averaged just over 23 touches per game, and racked up a monster season, with 1200+ rushing yards, and almost 900 yards receiving; he also added 20 TDs. This season, Johnson has only averaged 18 touches per game. Mike McCoy’s offense has been struggling, and the lack of Johnson’s usage has been criminal, to say the least. At the end of the day, they’ve got a diamond in the rough in their backfield… they need to use him as much as they can.

 

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Arizona’s receiving corps is anchored by the legend, Larry Fitzgerald, who’s been a bit quiet early on. Unfortunately, instability at the QB position and nagging injuries have surely contributed to Larry’s pedestrian start to the season. But, in what’s possibly Fitzgerald’s final season, his impact will stretch much further than the stat sheet. Rookie WR Christian Kirk has been lining up alongside Fitzgerald all year, and Arizona surely hopes his expertise is making an impression on the youngster. Kirk has flashed early this year, posting a team-high 311 yards on 25 catches, adding a TD. As he continues to develop, Fitzgerald, and others like JJ Nelson, will surely be able to guide him. Given his support system, it’s not surprising that many have high hopes for the Texas A&M product.

After the Sam Bradford experience failed, the Cardinals have turned to their rookie QB, Josh Rosen. The UCLA product has since been mediocre, albeit in low volume atmosphere. Rosen has yet to throw the ball more than 31 times in a game and has thrown 2 TD and 2 INT in the first third of the season. What’s most important, though, is that Rosen has made the team competitive. Since he took over as the starter in Week 4 against Seattle, Arizona is 1-2, including a win over San Francisco, and a tight loss to the Seahawks. While the Cardinals dropped their Week 6 matchup with the Vikings, they played respectably and hung in there against a tough opponent. Now, Rosen must begin to flash and lead this offense. The sky is the limit for this rookie stud… that is, if his coaches give him the opportunity to shine.

Denver’s greatest asset is their defense. Arizona tackles Andre Smith and DJ Humphries have their work cut out for them, as Denver’s edge rushers are among the league’s elite. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should give the bookends fits, and control the pace of the game. Needless to say, these two will be in the back of Josh Rosen’s mind all game, and their ability to get to the rookie could break down the Cardinals game plan single-handedly. While Miller has been one of the league’s best for years, Chubb is just getting started. The 5th overall pick has flashed early, logging 4.5 sacks, including three sacks last week against the Rams’ elite offensive line.

On the other side, Chandler Jones has continued to be effective. In Week 5, he was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, after filling up the stat column with a sack, a forced fumble, and multiple tackles to boot. Jones is the anchor of this 4-3 defense, and as he goes, the Cardinals will go. After losing Markus Golden for the year, Arizona decided to move second-year LB Haason Reddick to the outside linebacker slot. His ability to put pressure on QB Case Keenum will be pivotal to the Cardinals’ success, but he’ll also have to contribute in coverage as well, which he has. In 2 starts at OLB, he’s already deflected 2 passes. If Reddick can take the second-year leap, the Cardinals would certainly benefit greatly.

Despite trade rumors, the Cardinals still have one of the league’s best athletes in CB Patrick Peterson. He and Jamar Taylor will be responsible for shutting down the Broncos’ duo of Sanders and Thomas. Peterson has logged an INT this year, and will surely be at the top of his game on Thursday Night. With the game on National television, look for the trade target to put on a show and make some game-changing plays.

 

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The Pick

I think that Denver’s defense will be the difference in this game. Chubb and Miller, fresh off a dominating pass-rush performance against the Rams last week, will set the tone early for the Broncos. If they can even come close to replicating their combined 4.5 sack performance from last week, Denver might be able to pull away early. However, the Cardinals have playmakers of their own on both sides of the ball. Patrick Peterson has the ability to lock down any WR in the game. If he can win the battle against one of the Denver studs, it might be tough for them to move the ball at all. David Johnson is primed for a breakout… he just needs the workload to make it happen. Provided Wilks and McCoy give him the touches, the Cardinals might be able to contend here.

Again, I think the Broncos have too many defensive studs for Arizona to handle. At the pivotal moments, I trust Denver to make timely stops and force some turnovers. Case Keenum doesn’t need to win this game for the Broncos; he just needs to manage the game effectively and not lose it for them.

Give me the Broncos to win this game, and to cover the spread, 22-18.

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