John Elway is arguably the most popular figure in Colorado, so when the Denver Broncos general manager and president of football operations speaks, mountains can move.
“At some point in time, we have to play better football … we’re still making the mistakes we shouldn’t make to beat good football teams like the Rams,” Elway told Orange and Blue 760 radio. “(It’s) disappointing, that’s for sure.
“Hopefully we can … take a mentality into that Thursday night game where we’re fighting for our lives.”
Denver (2-4) carries a four-game losing streak to Arizona, where it meets the equally struggling Cardinals (1-4) in a game involving the two worst run defenses in the NFL.
Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller heard his boss loud and clear, telling reporters: “I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win, but we gonna kick their (butt) though. Make sure you put that up there. We’re gonna kick their (butt). They’re gonna get our best this week.”
With fans up and down the Front Range clamoring for Denver head coach Vance Joseph to replace ineffective quarterback Case Keenum (seven touchdowns, eight interceptions) with untested Chad Kelly, the Broncos could make life easier for their No. 1 QB with a more-balanced offensive attack. Denver threw the ball 41 times in last week’s 23-20 loss to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams while running it only 17 times.
The Broncos appear to have the horses to run the ball in rookie Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, who have combined for 618 yards and four of the team’s six rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
“They bring two different dimensions to the game,” Cardinals middle linebacker Josh Bynes said. “Freeman is a bruising guy, he’s physical, he’s downhill and he bounces off tackles. And Lindsay, he can move. He can move, he can shift, he does it all.”
Denver could also lend Keenum a hand by not allowing Arizona’s David Johnson to rush for 200 yards. The Jets’ Isaiah Crowell totaled 219 on the ground in New York’s 34-16 victory in Week 5 while Todd Gurley II lit the Broncos up for 208 on Sunday.
“We have to win,” rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “It’s been four games now and we’ve lost all four. We have to go out there and win whether somebody’s job is on the line or not. The object of the game is to win, we all know that and we all just want to go out there and get a win for the team and not selfishly.”
Chubb had a breakout performance with three of Denver’s five sacks last week. Chubb, the fifth overall pick in the draft, is emerging as a forceful complement to Miller as he gets accustomed to playing in the NFL.
“I’m getting more comfortable, understanding my job and my role on this team,” Chubb said. “Whatever the coach asks me to do, I’m just trying to do right now.”
Arizona is also struggling to stop the run, yielding a season-high 195 yards in a 27-17 loss at Minnesota on Sunday. The Cardinals are allowing 151.2 yards per game on the ground, second-worst in the NFL to Denver (161.3). Arizona allowed only three teams to exceed 100 yards last season.
“The run defense has been a problem all year,” Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “At some point, it’s like, ‘Do guys care?’ At the end of the day, everybody’s got a responsibility and everybody’s got to take a look in the mirror and say, ‘Did I do what I was supposed to on this play?’
“That’s the reality of it.”
Arizona’s issues do not stop on defense as offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has been under pressure and there seems to be an imminent chance of him getting fired for the second straight year near the midseason mark, just as he was last year in Denver following a 3-7 start.
Not that he’s apparently hearing any of the regular calls for his head, however.
“No offense,” McCoy said, “but I don’t watch a lot of TV, I don’t read papers, I don’t get on the internet. I’m too busy doing other things, like putting plans together. When my family is in town, I spend every minute I can with them or talk to them at night when they’re in San Diego.”
McCoy paused and then added, “I’ve been in this long enough.”
Through the first six weeks of the season, the Cardinals rank last in total offense (220 yards per game), last in rushing offense (64.0), last in total first downs (76) and last in third-down conversion percentage (21.9). They rank next-to-last in passing offense (156.5), points scored (13.7 per game) and passer rating (69.4).
“I would say all our jobs are in jeopardy, including mine if we don’t win,” Arizona head coach Steve Wilks said when asked if McCoy’s job was in jeopardy.
The Cardinals hope the bright lights of prime-time football will spark Johnson, who is averaging only 59.4 yards per game. Johnson has rushed for 763 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 32 receptions for 273 yards and a score in nine prime-time appearances. Arizona went 7-1-1 in those games.
Denver prevailed 41-20 in the last encounter in 2014 and leads the series 8-1-1, including 3-1-1 in Arizona.