With the Broncos coming to town for a Monday Night Football season-opener, we reached out to Aric DiLalla, lead writer and team reporter for denverbroncos.com to learn more about this week's opponent. In addition to his insights below, you can find all of DiLalla’s Broncos coverage here.
Q: New ownership, a new head coach and a new quarterback—a lot has changed in Denver since last season. What type of expectations are these new-look Broncos facing, and how is the team handling whatever hype there is heading into the season?
DiLalla: In my eyes, the expectations are back to where they were when Peyton Manning played quarterback in Denver and the organization expected to compete for championships. All offseason, the players have leaned in and been quite honest about their goal of a playoff berth and more — and the team's front office has echoed that ever since acquiring Russell Wilson. While the national perspective may be that the Chiefs and Chargers are more likely contenders out of the AFC West, the Broncos believe in their ability to make a run. They're not shying away from the pressure, it seems. They've embraced it.
Q: With Wilson in particular, how is he approaching a return to Seattle?
DiLalla: In Wilson's words, it's OK to have emotion, but it's not OK to be emotional. Earlier this week, Wilson spoke highly of his time in Seattle — but he also noted the importance of focusing on his preparation and getting a win. It's clear the city means a great deal to Wilson, but he said he knows it's not beneficial to his preparation to focus on off-field aspects of the game. What stands out to me is that while Wilson has tried to keep the focus on the field, his teammates have been adamant that they want to win this game for him. It won't just be Wilson that has something to play for in Seattle.
Q: What is Nathaniel Hackett bringing to the team that has people excited, be it his Xs & Os acumen or his leadership in Year 1 in that role?
DiLalla: There's a lot, to be honest. He brings an energy and ability to connect with the players that feels different, and he's also an offensive-minded head coach that has found success in recent years. The latter part may be more important, as the Broncos have struggled on the offensive side of the football for years. If Hackett can put Wilson and Co. in position to succeed — and to succeed early in the season — the Broncos should be poised to return to the playoffs.
Q: What is the outlook for Denver's defense under Ejiro Evero, who like Clint Hurtt in Seattle, has direct ties to former Broncos coach Vic Fangio?
DiLalla: There's a ton of returning talent in players like Justin Simmons, Pat Surtain II and Bradley Chubb, and the Broncos added a big-name free-agent in Randy Gregory. The biggest questions to me are how new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is able to adjust as a first-time play-caller and if the Broncos can force more turnovers. The Broncos posted the third-ranked scoring defense last year, but there were times when they struggled to get off the field and generate takeaways. If Evero can help his team find more quick stops and create more turnovers, this defense could be better than a year ago. Of course, playing with a lead helps, too.
Q: Outside of the obvious big names, who is a Broncos player(s) who you could seeing being an X-factor on Monday night.
DiLalla: I'll give you a couple. On offense and special teams, I'll look to rookie Montrell Washington, who was the surprise of training camp and gave the Broncos a spark in the return game. I think it's possible he could flip the field at some point on Monday, and he also could have a decent role on offense. Defensively, I'll be watching D.J. Jones. The Broncos' top inside linebacker, Josey Jewell, did not practice Friday with a calf injury, and if he misses the game, the Broncos may need a strong effort out of the defensive line to slow down Seattle's potent running attack. Jones is a big body that was added to stop the run, and he'll be a key player on Monday.
Q: What is a matchup or two you're most looking forward to seeing play out on Monday night?
DiLalla: Pat Surtain II vs. DK Metcalf. The Broncos' second-year cornerback was the top performer in training camp, and he's right in the running to be the Broncos' best player on the roster. He has elite athleticism and a great mind for the game, and he'll face a big test in Metcalf. I'll be interested, first, to see if the Broncos travel Surtain or if they keep him on one side. Then, when he is matched up against Metcalf, I'm really curious about how he matches up with one of the league's top receivers. Both Surtain and Metcalf are physical players, and a 50-50 ball will be incredibly entertaining to watch.