BRON­COS (3-4) AT EA­GLES (7-1)


USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Howard Balzer

An­nounc­ers: Ian Ea­gle, Dan Fouts, Evan Wash­burn

About the Bron­cos: The Bron­cos will be trav­el­ing on a short week af­ter be­ing on the road at Kansas City on Mon­day night. This is the third of three con­sec­u­tive road games for the Bron­cos. They had only six take­aways af­ter seven games and only one on fum­bles with their op­po­nents fum­bling only twice. There have been con­sis­tent of­fen­sive is­sues in a stretch of five games in which they have scored a to­tal of 71 points. In the last three of those games, the Bron­cos had 11 turnovers and went 13 quar­ters with just one touch­down, and that was in the fourth quar­ter of a 23-10 loss to the Gi­ants. Af­ter a promis­ing start of the sea­son, RB C.J. An­der­son hit a dry spell and has scored just one rush­ing touch­down af­ter seven games. He had 78 yards on 15 car­ries against Kansas City in Week 8.

About the Ea­gles: Last sea­son, the Ea­gles were 3-1 when RT Lane John­son be­gan a 10-game sus­pen­sion for a PED vi­o­la­tion. Then-rookie Halapouli­vaati Vaitai, Allen Bar­bre (now with the Bron­cos af­ter a July trade) and Isaac Seu­malo filled in. The Ea­gles were 5-9 by the tim John­son re­turned and then went 2-0. Now, af­ter LT Ja­son Peters was lost for the sea­son with torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate and me­dial col­lat­eral lig­a­ments suf­fered in Week 7, Vaitai is un­der the mi­cro­scope again. Rather than switch two po­si­tions, coaches de­cided for now to keep John­son at right tackle and played Vaitai at left tackle in the Ea­gles’ 33-10 vic­tory over San Fran­cisco in Week 8. The jury re­mains out as QB Car­son

Wentz was sacked three times, the of­fense had six three-and-outs, av­er­aged just 4.6 yards per play and was 4-for-14 on third down. The de­fense was stout against the of­fen­sively chal­lenged 49ers, al­low­ing 3.7 yards per play and sack­ing QB C.J. Beathard four times and hit­ting him on 12 plays.

Matchup to watch: John­son and Vaitai vs. Bron­cos OLBs Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Bar­rett. Ray re­turned from in­jured re­serve Mon­day night against Kansas City, and this will be a true test for Vaitai and the of­fen­sive line. Play­ers to watch: Ea­gles RBs LeGar­rette Blount and Corey Cle­ment. Den­ver is usu­ally stout against the run, while Blount and Cle­ment might be de­vel­op­ing into a strong 1-2 punch. Cle­ment, a rookie free agent, had 10 car­ries for 54 yards with a 22-yard run against the 49ers. Blount has rushed for 467 yards on 100 car­ries. Num­ber crunch­ing: 47-9. The Ea­gles have been es­pe­cially strong com­ing out of the locker room, outscor­ing their op­po­nents 47-9 in the first quar­ter and 58-30 in the third quar­ter. KEYS TO THE GAME 1. Take Wentz out of his com­fort zone: Not only do the Bron­cos have to put pres­sure on the Ea­gles quar­ter­back, who has been sacked 22 times this sea­son, but they have to be mind­ful of his run­ning abil­ity. Wentz has run for 15 first downs this sea­son.

2. Pro­tect the foot­ball: Too many turnovers have doomed the Bron­cos af­ter a good start, whether it is in­ter­cep­tions or fum­bles. Den­ver had fum­bled 14 times (los­ing seven).

3. Un­leash the pass rush: DE Bran­don Gra­ham and DT Fletcher Cox each had a sack against the 49ers to give them five and 4.5, re­spec­tively. They hope to take ad­van­tage of a banged-up Den­ver of­fen­sive line.

4. Find Ertz: TE Zach Ertz has be­come Wentz’s fa­vorite re­ceiver. He had a touch­down against the 49ers, and for the sea­son, Ertz has 43 re­cep­tions for 528 yards (12.3 av­er­age) and six touch­downs.

Ea­gles’ LeGar­rette Blount ERIC HART­LINE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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