W2W4: Broncos Week 3

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- New day, new year, new team. That has been the theme, all week, as the Denver Broncos have prepared to face the Seattle Seahawks.

And why not? This game is a rematch in name, but not really in depth charts. When the Broncos line up on defense Sunday in CenturyLink Field, they will start at least seven players on defense who did not play in the 35-point Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks. And defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams will be the only two defensive players still playing in the same spots as they did in that game.

“The guys who didn’t play in the Super Bowl, were hurt, or weren’t here yet, you’re always going to hope you would have made a difference,’’ said safety Rahim Moore.

And as the Broncos prepare for a Week 3 trip to Seattle to face the Seahawks (1-1), it will be the most significant test of the Broncos' hypothesis that this is a better team “on paper’’ than the one that lost this past February.

Some things to keep an eye on:
  • Against the Seahawks’ defense, the San Diego Chargers found room to work with a patient approach in terms of down-and-distance and by getting the ball out of Philip Rivers’ hand quickly. The Chargers' running backs and tight end Antonio Gates had 16 of the team’s 28 receptions combined in San Diego’s 31-20 win this past Sunday. Gates had all three of the team’s touchdowns. The Seahawks figure to adjust some, but the Broncos still have some matchups they can win with tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme to go with running back Montee Ball in the pattern.
  • The Seahawks were ruthlessly effective using their “rover’’ defensive back to limit the Broncos’ success with their bread-and-butter crossing routes in the Super Bowl. They also disrupted the Broncos’ timing on offense by manhandling the Broncos’ receivers in the 5-yard contact zone, preventing them from getting into their routes. It’s why the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders in the offseason, because of Sanders’ ability to get into the pattern and the difficulty defensive backs have had in jamming him in his career. The Broncos haven’t yet shown they can consistently run the ball this season, so the Broncos need to possess the ball and may have to lean on a short- and intermediate-passing game to do it. To make that work the Broncos' receivers have to win the one-on-ones.
  • Of all the things that happened in the Super Bowl that the Broncos didn’t like -- and the list was long -- perhaps the one that troubled the team most was their failure to respond to some bad things that happened early in the game. It went bad and stayed bad. The Broncos need their marquee players, from quarterback Peyton Manning on down, to find that line between focused and way too tight. The team, particularly the offense, was way too tight in the title game.
  • Left tackle Ryan Clady makes a difference for the Broncos and it should be clear in this one. Clady allows the Broncos to move the help elsewhere across the offensive front. The Seahawks sacked Rivers just once this past Sunday. Rivers did run the ball 11 times to escape pressure, which Manning will not do that often, and Seattle got to Aaron Rodgers for three sacks in their opener. Clady gives the Broncos options that they’ll need because the Seahawks figure to press the issue a bit against right tackle Chris Clark and the Broncos will have to adjust.
  • Broncos head coach John Fox has consistently said the Broncos were prepared for what Percy Harvin can do in the Seahawks’ offense and on special teams, but that “it might not have looked like it.’’ Marshawn Lynch makes the Seahawks' offense go, but Harvin is the guy the Seahawks use to swing momentum. His plays often involve misdirection and flow; the backside defenders have to be disciplined and can't miss tackles for the Broncos.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to be have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game – how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall – at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve – linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe – means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the Ws."
The struggling Oakland Raiders’ defense might be taking a big hit at the linebacker position. Outside linebacker Sio Moore was ruled out of Sunday’s game at New England on Sunday and middle linebacker Nick Roach hasn’t been cleared from a concussion he suffered four weeks ago.

While the decision to sit Moore was made Friday, it appears the decision on Roach will come Sunday. He has been practicing on a limited basis, but he hasn't cleared for full contact. Roach, who played every defensive snap last season, suffered the concussion at Green Bay on Aug. 22.

“He’s going through the protocol. He’s getting better every day and hopefully he’ll continue to improve,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said Friday of Roach.

The Raiders clearly have missed Roach, as they've given up a league-high 400 rushing yards in the first two games. And they will miss Moore, who's been one of Oakland's most active defenders. Miles Burris has been playing for Roach but could move outside for Moore, with Kaluka Maiava playing in the middle in that scenario.

The Raiders (0-2) have further injury concerns. Defensive lineman Antonio Smith was a late add to the injury report with a back injury. He is listed as questionable. He was not on the injury report earlier in the week.

Fellow starters Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and receiver Rod Streater (hip) are all questionable. Jones-Drew has practiced on a limited basis for the past two days after being hurt in Week 1. Streater practiced Friday for the first time this week.
Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis missed his third consecutive practice Friday with left ankle and knee injuries and was officially listed by the San Francisco 49ers as being questionable to play Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals.

Backup tight end Vance McDonald, who is nursing a right knee injury, is also questionable, keeping the spotlight on third-stringer Derek Carrier.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who appeared on the injury report Thursday for the first time with a back issue but was a full participant then, was again a full participant Friday. He is listed as probable.

Following is the 49ers' status report for Sunday:

OUT: C Marcus Martin (knee)

QUESTIONABLE: CB Tramaine Brock (toe), RT Anthony Davis (hamstring), TE Vernon Davis (ankle/knee), TE Vance McDonald (knee)

PROBABLE: RB Carlos Hyde (calf), QB Colin Kaepernick (back), DL Justin Smith (not injury related), LT Joe Staley (knee)
SAN DIEGO -- Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (hamstring) did not practice all week for the San Diego Chargers, and has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, along with running back Ryan Mathews (knee).

Ingram had been playing well for San Diego through the first two games, with seven tackles -- including two tackles for a loss -- a sack and four quarterback hits.

With Ingram unavailable, the Chargers will lean more on veterans pass-rushers Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney, along with Tourek Williams and Reggie Walker.

"It’s hard to replace a guy like Melvin," Johnson said. "But that’s what this whole thing is about, being versatile, playing different positions and having depth."

Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring), receiver Keenan Allen (groin) and safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) are questionable. Attaochu did not practice on Friday, Allen was a limited participant and Addae was a full participant.

After missing practice on Thursday with back issues, center Rich Ohrnberger and guard Johnnie Troutman fully participated in practice on Friday and are listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

If both players are healthy enough to go on Sunday, the Chargers will start the same five up front in consecutive games for the first time this season.

"During the week of practice you have to do what’s best for the team to get everyone ready for Sunday," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said, when asked about the health of his offensive line.

Also probable for Sunday are cornerback Chris Davis (ankle), tight end Antonio Gates (hamstring), defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (groin).

Flowers missed last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks because of a nagging groin injury, but after fully participating in practice this week, the veteran cornerback says he’s healthy.

"I just feel comfortable running out there full speed and cutting," Flowers said. "(I had a chance to) just get my angles down and get the timing down. I’m a veteran, so isn’t doesn’t take long to come back."

Broncos healthy for Super Bowl rematch

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos won’t have their leading tackler from last season on Sunday in Seattle, but linebacker Danny Trevathan continues to make progress and could return following the Week 4 bye.

 Trevathan had his most extensive work in practice since he suffered a fracture to the top of his tibia Aug. 12 in a training camp practice. Trevathan took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis -- after taking part in some individual drills on Thursday.

“He’s made really good progress,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “It was good to see him out there, he was excited to be out there. We’ll continue to work with him.’’

The Broncos believe Trevathan could be ready for a full return when the Broncos are back on the field after next week’s bye. And he could be available for the team’s Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Trevathan will travel with the team to Seattle on Saturday but is not expected to play.

Trevathan was the team’s leading tackler last season and an every-down player on defense. Though he did not take part in the Broncos' practice Wednesday -- he stretched with the team -- it was his first appearance on the field in a practice jersey since the injury.

Also Friday, kicker Brandon McManus took part in a full practice for the second consecutive day and will kick in Sunday’s game. McManus was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a groin strain. Linebacker Lerentee McCray (knee) has not practiced this week and was the only player held out of the team's practice Friday because of injury.

Chiefs vs. Dolphins preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
The Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) and Miami Dolphins (1-1) meet for the first time since 2006 on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. The Chiefs are coming off a 24-17 loss to the Broncos in Denver, a game in which the result wasn't decided until the Chiefs' fourth-down pass from the Denver 2 fell incomplete in the end zone in the final seconds. The Dolphins, after beating the Patriots to begin the season, are coming off a 29-10 loss at Buffalo.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker discuss Sunday's game:

Teicher: This is the first time the Chiefs will play against Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Give us a little scouting report on him, his strengths and weaknesses. His season isn't off to a great start, statistically at least. How committed are the Dolphins to Tannehill?

Walker: It's funny that you mention Tannehill, because heading into this season, I've often compared him to Alex Smith. The comparison isn't necessarily based on physical traits, because Tannehill is more athletic and probably has a slightly stronger arm. But in terms of Tannehill's ceiling, I'm starting to think developing into a quarterback like Smith is the best the Dolphins can hope for.

I've watched every one of Tannehill's games in two-plus seasons and nearly every practice open to the media. I don't see that jump into superstardom the Dolphins are expecting. Tannehill hasn't shown he can take over games with his arm and he hasn't been consistent. It doesn't mean you can't win with Tannehill; like Smith, Tannehill just needs a lot to go well around him. Smith eventually figured that out and won with multiple teams. He also got a nice payday from Kansas City. It remains to be seen whether Tannehill can do the same.

Adam, what's the latest with Jamaal Charles and how would his potential absence impact the running game?

Teicher: Charles has a high ankle sprain, so it would be something close to a miracle if he played Sunday. I'll be interested in seeing how Knile Davis does with a full week of practice and after the Chiefs have built their game plan around him and his abilities. Davis is a lot bigger at 227 pounds than Charles, but he's fast -- maybe as fast as Charles. So he is a big-play threat, although he lacks Charles' ability to make defenders miss.

Going back to last season and counting the playoff game, Davis has carried the ball far more than Charles, but his average is about 3.3 yards per carry, compared to almost 6.1 for Charles. So Charles has been far more effective, but the Chiefs haven't been able to build a plan for Davis, as they will this week. The loss of Charles is actually bigger in the passing game. Charles is a better pass protector and receiver than Davis. The Chiefs might use either Joe McKnight, Cyrus Gray or De'Anthony Thomas as a third-down back.

James, what about Branden Albert? He was the longtime left tackle for the Chiefs before signing with the Dolphins this year. It looks like he's playing well. Has he stabilized Miami's offensive line?

Walker: Albert has fit in well here in Miami. Not only is he a good player at an important position, but Albert has taken on a leadership role and coached up younger players such as rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The Dolphins have some issues on the offensive line, but Albert certainly isn't
one of them. He has been consistent in the running and passing game.

Since we're on the topic of former players, the Dolphins are facing cornerback Sean Smith and tight end Anthony Fasano for the first time. Both were significant contributors in Miami. How have they fit in since leaving for Kansas City?

Teicher: Smith is what the Chiefs thought they were getting. Certainly not a Pro Bowler, but a dependable cornerback who can match up with bigger, more physical receivers. He's moved into the No. 1 corner spot after the Chiefs released Brandon Flowers. Fasano missed half the season last year because of injuries, but has missed only a couple of snaps so far this season. He has quietly developed into a reliable red-zone receiver for Smith. He has the Chiefs' only receiving touchdown this season.

The Chiefs last season consistently won in the kicking game. That hasn't been the case this season, but the potential is there. Miami had problems last week on special teams. Are the Dolphins truly vulnerable there or was Sunday just a bad game in that regard?

Walker: Miami's special teams are indicative of its record. The unit was very good in Week 1 and very bad in Week 2. That's pretty much how the Dolphins have played as well. Miami is the only NFL team to allow and successfully execute a blocked punt in the first two games. The Dolphins probably won't dominate on special teams consistently, but I don't expect them to give up a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown every week. It's too early to say special teams are a major concern.

Finally, Adam, is this a must-win game already for the Chiefs?

Teicher: I'm usually not big on the concept of must-win games in September, but this is probably as close as it gets. After losing at home to Tennessee and coming up 2 yards short in their comeback attempt against Denver, the Chiefs have dug themselves a hole and it's impossible to see a realistic way out of it without beating the Dolphins. The Chiefs are 0-2, and after Miami, their next three games are against the Patriots, 49ers and Chargers, with two of those on the road. So this thing has already started to get away from the Chiefs, and they'll be miles behind the pack if they don't win in Miami.

Broncos vs. Seahawks preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
videoRedemption or redo, what will it be?

For the first time in 17 years, the two teams who battled in the Super Bowl will play each other in the following season. The Denver Broncos, 43-8 losers to the Seattle Seahawks seven months ago, get a chance to make amends Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

A victory by the Broncos (2-0) would be a bit of redemption after the humiliating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. A win by the Seahawks would show they're still at the top of the heap and they've regrouped after a surprising 30-21 loss last week at San Diego.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at some of the key issues entering the Super Bowl rematch.

Blount: Jeff, the Seahawks defense had some major problems stopping the Chargers offense last weekend, which, as you know, is very similar to the schemes the Broncos use. The Seahawks had no answers for San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. Do you think the Broncos saw some things they can exploit?

Legwold: Terry, there is no explaining away a 35-point Super Bowl loss -- or at least no explaining that would satisfy the team's faithful. But there has been a nagging feeling around the team in the weeks and months since the Super Bowl blowout that if you look at the game video, the Broncos had receivers open, that they left plays out there they had made for months. So, the Broncos feel like if they execute, they can find some room to work. In looking at the Seahawks' scheme, my belief is any team has to stay patient, be content with the short and intermediate routes and wait for the chance for the big play. That's certainly easier said than done if the Seahawks get pressure up front. For the Broncos, tight end Julius Thomas has been a matchup nightmare for defenses thus far with four touchdowns in two games. The Broncos have been far more efficient out of a two tight end look early in this season, and, more importantly, more willing to use it. By the time they reached the Super Bowl, they had worked out of a three-wide receiver set on offense almost exclusively down the stretch.

Terry, staying with the Broncos offense, do you think the Seahawks look at it any differently with Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, instead of Eric Decker, Montee Ball at running back and Ryan Clady back at left tackle? Or do you think they see the same scheme with just different personnel than they faced in Super Bowl XLVIII?

Blount: I honestly don't think they see it much differently, believing it's still the same formula overall with Peyton Manning leading the way. One thing the Seahawks players and coaches say over and over again is they want to force teams to adjust to what they do, not the other way around. No matter who the Seahawks are playing, they tend to stick to what they do best on defense, which is aggressive play in the secondary, ferocious tackling and a relentless pass rush off the edge from multiple line sets. The goal is to coax the opposing offense into making mistakes and going all out to force turnovers. No matter who they play or how renowned that team's personnel, the Seahawks take the attitude of "This is what we do. Beat us if you can." The Chargers did last week. They dink-and-dunked them to death. So the Seahawks probably feel if they clean up what happened last week it should work this week since the Broncos have a similar style.

Jeff, it's only two weeks into it, but how much better can the Denver defense be this season with the addition of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward?

Legwold: Overall, the group still hasn't quite put together the full four-quarters, get-it-done effort they believe they can. The defense has made fourth-down plays in the closing minutes to preserve each of the first two wins, but it has had some issues on third down -- the Chiefs repeatedly converted in situations of third-and-8 or longer -- that need immediate attention. But those signings in free agency have already paid dividends. Ware, who was voted a team captain after his arrival in March, has 1.5 sacks, and Talib and Ware have given the Broncos more of a physical edge. But maybe more importantly, the two have allowed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to use a bigger variety of looks because of their versatility. Ward lines up all over the formation, even putting in snaps at weakside linebacker at times. The Broncos also had five defensive starters on injured reserve for the Super Bowl. The return of some of those players, such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore, will give the defense a vastly different look than what the Seahawks saw in the title game, or even in the preseason game in August.

Terry, the Seahawks had the inevitable talent drain of a Super Bowl winner after the free-agency dust settled. How effective do you think they've been to stay true to their plan and replace the players who departed?

Blount: It's still to be determined how this will turn out. Seattle lost 10 players who had 58 years of combined experience. They've been replaced, for the most part, by much younger players and, in many cases, players with a lot more talent. But it's hard to make up all that experience they lost. So far, it seems to have hurt them the most on the defensive line in losing defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Those three players accounted for 11.5 sacks last season. The Seahawks added veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but his impact has been negligible so far. Rookie Cassius Marsh, who was expected to make a difference as an edge-rusher, hasn't shown much yet. Depth on the defensive line was a huge team strength last season because it kept everyone fresh late in game and into the playoffs. After two games, that same depth isn't apparent, but it's early.

The Broncos got a tiny bit of revenge in the preseason opener, when they beat the Seahawks 21-16 in Denver. But is this really the game they've been looking toward for the past seven months?

Legwold: A regular-season win would not erase a Super Bowl blowout, it just won't. Deep down, even the Broncos know that. But the item the team has carried around, what they've had to listen to, is they were "soft" or "intimidated" in the Super Bowl. The Broncos will admit to mistakes in the game, but they are tired of hearing they lost because they were too shaken to succeed. That's the part of the narrative they'd like to do something about, and if they can put together a quality effort Sunday, that would probably close the book a little for them on the whole thing, at least until the playoffs start. In the end, though, they know they can't make a Week 3 game of the new season be everything, either. There's plenty of work for them to do moving forward, win or lose Sunday, to get them back for another shot at the trophy.

Terry, in the end, an awful lot of people around the league believe if these two teams get their respective acts together and keep them together, it could be a repeat Super Bowl. From the Seahawks' perspective, how have they handled the title aftermath, and do they see what happened in San Diego as just a bad outing or something that might need a little more attention?

Blount: That's always the key question: Will all the fame and accolades change you? Richard Sherman has become a national celebrity who transcends football. Russell Wilson seems to appear on every other TV commercial here in Seattle. Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett all received big-money deals in the offseason. But through the offseason, organized team activities and training camp, I didn't see the slightest indication this team had become complacent. If anything, it seemed more driven to prove it could return to the Super Bowl and win it again, breaking the trend of teams not getting it done the following season. However, they fell off the horse a little last week. It wasn't that they lost, but how they reacted to the loss. They said and did some things that were uncharacteristic, but they were clearly stunned about getting beat. How they react to it this week will say a lot about where they're headed.

Raiders vs. Patriots preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is a stunning contrast between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders in the past 15 seasons.

Consider this statistic, brought to the fore this week by ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates: Since head coach Bill Belichick was hired by New England in 2000, the Raiders have had eight head coaches and 18 starting quarterbacks.

The Patriots, with one head coach and three starting quarterbacks (Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel) in that span, represent stability, while the Raiders are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The story takes on a different twist when considering that the Raiders had interviewed Belichick to be their head coach in 1998, an experience Belichick reflected fondly upon in later years.

The teams square off Sunday in New England’s home opener, and ESPN NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Bill Williamson (Raiders) discuss the matchup:

Reiss: Bill, those were strong comments from Charles Woodson after the Raiders’ loss to the Texans last Sunday. I think everyone knows where things stand with the 0-2 Raiders right now, and how this could be a make-or-break time for head coach Dennis Allen. So let’s get a bit deeper into the personnel. When Woodson was a free agent in 2013, some folks in this area were hoping the Patriots would consider signing him. How has he looked with the Raiders?

Williamson: He’s been one of the Raiders’ best defensive players at the age of 37. He had 100-plus tackles last season and has been a playmaker this season. He made a leaping interception in Week 1 against the Jets and he came back and had eight tackles in Week 2 against the Texans. Woodson will have to be accounted for by the Patriots. Also, he is a terrific leader. As you said, he was very blunt in his assessment of his team after the Raiders fell to 0-2 on Sunday. He doesn’t pull punches. Woodson is a true leader.

Mike, is there someone like this on the Patriots’ defense?

Reiss: They have a lot of them, Bill, and that was a topic of conversation after the team’s 30-7 victory over the Vikings on Sunday. It was a tough week in New England after a season-opening loss at Miami, and Bill Belichick and other players noted the role that some of the team’s leaders played in keeping the team on course. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Devin McCourty are the three defensive captains, but they have quite a few others who could be as well -- Rob Ninkovich and Darrelle Revis among them.

On paper, the Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden combination at running back looks solid. How is that coming to life on the field?

Williamson: The running game was supposed to be a strength for the Raiders, but we haven’t seen it. A big reason why is the Raiders have been playing from behind and can’t establish the ground game. Coach Dennis Allen and players have noted the importance of that changing this week. Jones-Drew has a hand issue and didn’t play against Houston. McFadden didn’t have much of an impact with 37 yards on 12 carries.

Mike, do you think the Patriots’ run defense will control Oakland?

Reiss: It depends which run defense shows up --– the unit that gave up 191 rushing yards to the Dolphins in the season opener or the unit that effectively limited the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings in Week 2. I thought they got back to playing fundamentally sound football last week, making the correct decision to return Chandler Jones to an end-of-the-line role, and I would expect that to continue this week. They’ve been hurt in the past by the Wildcat, so the Raiders might try to get that going.

Bill, there are some players with New England ties on the team: UConn’s Sio Moore and Tyvon Branch. How do they fit into what the Raiders are doing?

Williamson: They are a big part of the defense. Moore is a starting linebacker and Branch starts at safety. Neither player is perfect, but they are both very active players. In his second season, Moore has a chance of being an upper-level player. Moore sat out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury.

Both of these players, however, are also part of the Raiders’ biggest problem: The defense has allowed a total of 400 yards on the ground in two games. That is the beginning of Oakland’s woes.

Mike, do you think the Patriots can take advantage of Oakland’s run defense woes?

Reiss: Yes, especially after seeing the commitment they made to the run against the Vikings, playing 28 snaps with 320-pound rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as an eligible receiver at tight end. They obviously didn’t have Fleming in the game to catch passes. He was there to block and they restored order at the line of scrimmage after struggling in that area in the opener. It wouldn’t be surprising if there is a similar approach this week.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The chances are growing that the struggling Oakland Raiders' defense could have the daunting task of playing against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday without starting linebackers Sio Moore and Nick Roach.

Moore has an ankle injury he suffered against Houston and Roach has been out with a concussion suffered against Green Bay on Aug. 22. Moore hasn’t practiced this week and Roach has been limited, but not cleared, for full contact, and coach Dennis Allen didn’t sound overly optimistic that would change. There is no clear answer to when Roach -- who played every defensive snap for Oakland last season -- will return.

“That’s something that we continue to look at and see if this is going to get better,” Allen said. “Obviously, number one, any time you have a concussion there’s a concern, and then obviously with the length of time that it’s taken, there’s even a little bit more concern. He seems to continue to get a little bit better every day, and so hopefully he’ll keep getting better.”

The Raiders have clearly missed Roach, as they've given up a league-high 400 rushing yards in the first two games, and would miss Moore, who's been one of Oakland's most active defenders. Miles Burris has been playing for Roach but could move outside for Moore, with Kaluka Maiava playing in the middle in that scenario.

"Well, we’ve got a couple of linebackers that we can use,” Allen said. “So we’ll take the healthy bodies that we have and we’ll have a lineup and put them out there.

Because of the injuries, Oakland is likely to add a linebacker to the active roster Sunday. A likely candidate to be moved up is rookie Bojay Filimoeatu, who was promoted from the practice squad last week, then released, then put back on the practice squad this week.

They made room by cutting rookie defensive lineman Shelby Harris. Harris was a seventh-round pick and is the first draft pick to get cut this season. The Raiders hope to put him back on the practice squad. The Raiders also cut Kaelin Burnett from the injured reserve.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In the written record that is the play-by-play from Super Bowl XLVIII, it’s listed simply as; “P.Manning pass short middle to D. Thomas to DEN 40 for 2 yards (K. Chancellor)."

But for many, including Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and linebacker Bobby Wagner, Chancellor’s hit on Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas just over five minutes into the title game set the tone for what was to come. Wagner went as far, in an offseason TV appearance, to say the Broncos wide receivers were intimidated after the hit.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas and Kam Chancellor
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDenver receiver Demaryius Thomas took a hard hit from Seattle's Kam Chancellor early in Super Bowl XLVIII.
At the time, Wagner said: “That first hit [Chancellor] came across the middle and smacked him … they were very timid."

With the rematch of the Broncos 43-8 loss in the title game set for Sunday in Seattle, Thomas offered some thoughts all these months later. Asked if the hit had the impact on him, as well as the other Broncos, that many have said it did, Thomas said:

“Nah, it’s just a hit. You play football, you’re gonna get hit. It didn’t bother me; I got up and kept playing."

Asked if it was the game’s turning point, Thomas added:

“I think about it, and now that the game is over, I laugh about getting hit. It doesn’t bother me. They came out that day and played better football than us and all I can say is give them their props and try to come back Sunday and try to do better."

Thomas suffered a shoulder injury on the play and, after a trip to the sideline, returned to finish with 13 receptions for 118 yards and the Broncos' only touchdown on a day that was largely a struggle for the Broncos' offense. In general, Thomas, who has had back-to-back 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown seasons to go with two Pro Bowl trips, had high praise for the Seahawks secondary. He called cornerback Richard Sherman “one of the best … I think he’s one of the smarter guys in the game."

And on the Seahawks safeties, Thomas said “Kam Chancellor, big hitter, Earl [Thomas] is all over the field, very good at what they do"

On the Seahawks defense, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase put Seattle’s group among some fast company.

“You’re talking about three teams in the history of football – the ’85 Bears, the 2000 Ravens and these guys, that’s where these guys rank in defensive football," Gase said following Thursday's practice. “These guys are one of the best teams to ever play and they are trying to show it again this year."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As they approach a Super Bowl rematch in Seattle that isn’t really a second chance at a Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos find themselves trying to find the right balance between past and present.

Between remembering the sting and embarrassment of a 35-point loss on the league’s biggest stage, and simply moving on to try to create another opportunity to make it right.

“Yeah, you don’t forget what happened and also, you set the standard by playing against the Super Bowl (winners)," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “They’ve earned the right to talk how they talk and we’ll just speak with our pads and show up on Sunday. Obviously we still have a bad taste in our mouths from the Super Bowl, but it’s a new season and we want to get back to that point and obviously win it. But playing against the team that won the Super Bowl and actually having a chance at a rematch really will show how far we came as a team and if we improved or not."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Ben Liebenberg"I think naturally you're motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year," Peyton Manning said. "But being motivated, or being mad doesn't mean anything if you don't go out there and execute and do your job."
Sunday will be the Broncos’ first regular-season trip to Seattle, a former division foe from 1978-2001. Everybody knows the numbers: The Seahawks have gone 18-1 in their last 19 regular-season home games and the last time these two teams met in a game that counted, the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII by 35 points.

And in the social media world, a team that loses the Super Bowl by 35 points somehow doesn’t finish second. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said “people don’t see you as a team that was a runner-up because of what happened."

The Broncos have lived with being called soft, intimidated and unable to play to the moment in the title game. That’s all fodder to wind a team up.

Asked if he had ever been more excited to play in a regular-season game, Knighton said; “No. No I haven’t been this excited … Saturday, when we get on that plane, a lot of guys’ adrenaline will start boosting. It’ll be a hostile environment and that’s just the way we like it -- with our back against the walls."

But it’s also, for both the Broncos Seahawks, Week 3 of a season with plenty of miles to go before another shot at the postseason. In that vein Broncos head coach John Fox has tried to emphasize, at least publicly, Sunday’s game is indeed the kind of stage any Super Bowl hopeful would want to be on, but not the end-all, be-all of the new season.

Quarterback Peyton Manning even took a far simpler approach.

“Yeah, I think naturally you’re motivated anytime you play a team that beat you last year,’’ Manning said. “But being motivated, or being mad doesn’t mean anything if you don’t go out there and execute and do your job … so I still think you have to try to simplify it in some ways and try to find a way to protect the ball, score some touchdowns in the red zone and stay out of a lot of third-and-longs. I think if you don’t do those things, it’s tough to be a good football team."

So, whatever errors the Broncos made this past February, the opportunity that was lost, it's all a part of history’s stew. Almost half of the players currently on the Broncos' roster weren't with the team in MetLife Stadium, and the team will likely start at least seven players on defense Sunday who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl, so how it all turns out this time around will depend on how the current Broncos seize the day.

“I think we’ve got to caution ourselves from trying to make this a revenge for the Super Bowl game,’’ said tight end Julius Thomas. “This is the 2014 season, but we’re still playing a very tough opponent -- probably what a lot of people consider one of the better teams in this league. When you’re going up against a playoff team three weeks in a row, you’ve got to keep on making a statement to everybody else in the league about what type of team we’re going to be this year."

“You’ve got to stay in your (playbook) and just work on your fundamentals and get better each week and watch your opponent as much as possible without getting riled up and feeding into all the talk -- you know, the bulletin board stuff, all the quotes they got,’’ Knighton said. “But we just keep it simple."
Good morning.

Robert Mays of Grantland examines the San Diego Chargers’ ball control offense, and how Philip Rivers moved the ball so effectively against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Mays: “San Diego built the second-best offense in football last year by staying on schedule. Only five teams ran the ball on a higher percentage of first-down plays than the Chargers, who did it 54.2 percent of the time. Ryan Mathews led the league in first-down rushes with 175, averaging 4.15 yards in the start of a process that helped build the offense into a study of efficiency.”

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak says safety Da'Norris Searcy could be the key to containing Antonio Gates in this video.

According to Nate Silver of Fivethrirtyeight.com the Chargers have a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs.

In this ESPN Insider piece, ESPN NFL handicapper Dave Tuley ranks the Chargers No. 8 in his Vegas NFL power rankings.

Will Brinson of CBS Sports writes that the Chargers’ Super Bowl odds have moved from 40-1 to 20-1.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com says that rookie running back Branden Oliver is ready if needed.

Jordan Beane of Chargers.com talks with Danny Woodhead about his expanded role in this video.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes the Chargers’ improved depth has shown up early this season.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego says the Chargers have improved their speed on defense through two games.

Michael Burland of Pro Football Focus reviews San Diego’s options at running back with Ryan Mathews out.

Chargers vs. Bills preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Few teams in the NFL are as hot as the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, who will meet Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills are off to a surprising 2-0 start and sit alone atop the AFC East. They've turned the ball over just once and have limited opposing offenses to less than 16 points per game. Add in strong special-teams contributions -- Buffalo players won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after both games this season -- and the Bills have found a recipe for winning.

Meanwhile, the Chargers (1-1) are hanging tough in the AFC West. With their 30-21 victory last week, they became one of just four teams to take down the Seattle Seahawks since the start of last season. Quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates are still the centerpiece of a dangerous offensive attack.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Rodak: The Chargers seem to be riding high after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions. What was the key to their victory and how do you see their performance carrying forward?

Williams:Ccoach Mike McCoy devised an excellent game plan for defeating Seattle. Rivers used the short passing game to control the tempo, and in the red zone, the Chargers got one-on-one matchups with Gates against linebackers or strong safety Kam Chancellor. And for the most part, Gates won. Defensively, the Chargers did a nice job of swarm-tackling Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin in the run game, and they forced Russell Wilson to make plays from inside the pocket. Lastly, San Diego won the turnover battle. It’s a good recipe for winning games on a weekly basis in the NFL, but in order to win on the road, the Chargers will need to run the ball more consistently.

The Bills are 2-0 at the start of the season for the first time since 2011. Can this team break the NFL’s longest playoff drought by making the postseason for the first time since 1999?

Rodak: They have the potential to do it. The Bills might have the AFC East's most talented roster. There are 12 first-round picks and five second-round picks, part of an overall mixture of homegrown talent and pieces added from the outside. The Bills have arguably the NFL's best defensive line -- three players went to the Pro Bowl last season -- and a strong group of offensive weapons surrounding EJ Manuel.

The question has always been about the quarterback, and through two weeks, I'm not sure the concerns about Manuel have been alleviated. The Bills have limited Manuel's pass attempts; he has 48 through two games, the second-fewest in the NFL. They're also 29th in red zone touchdown efficiency, a problem that has been masked by strong defense and special-teams play. The Bills have proven they can win games with that approach, but I still think we'll need to see more out of Manuel before the Bills are considered a strong playoff contender.

The Chargers have no shortage of weapons on offense, yet they often don't get the same attention as some of the NFL's better offenses. Where would you place Rivers among his peers at quarterback and how would you rate his receivers?

Williams: Rivers is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, in my opinion. He is accurate, smart and still possesses plenty of zip in his arm to make every throw on the field. And at 32 years old, he's in his prime. Last season, Rivers led the league in completion percentage (69.5 percent) and finished fourth in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). However, he does not get as much attention as some of the other elite quarterbacks because he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring, and that's how we judge the best quarterbacks in the game.

I also believe San Diego has an above-average group of receivers, led by Keenan Allen, and perhaps the best tight end tandem in the NFL in Gates and Ladarius Green. Add Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown at running back, and Rivers has plenty of playmakers at his disposal to take advantage of specific matchups each week.

Manuel struggled during exhibition play but has been a steady performer during the first two games of the regular season. Manuel has completed 67 percent of his passes, has been sacked only once and has a 95.4 passer rating in helping lead the Bills to two victories. What has been the difference?

Rodak: There is a marked difference at wide receiver that has helped boost Manuel's play this season. Last season, Manuel and top wideout Stevie Johnson never seemed to be on the same page, plus Johnson had some lingering injury problems. Second-round pick Robert Woods was a rookie and third receiver T.J. Graham had a limited skill set that didn't do Manuel many favors. Manuel's leading receiver was tight end Scott Chandler (53 catches, 655 yards), but Chandler has just two catches in two games this season.

Instead, Manuel has fired away at top pick Sammy Watkins. Watkins has 15 targets, the most on the team. In addition, Woods came up with a pair of impressive catches in Week 1 that bailed out Manuel on some less-than-accurate throws. Manuel certainly deserves credit for better decision-making in his second season, but the Bills wanted to improve his group of receivers, and the difference has been noticeable.

The Chargers' defense ranks 30th in yards allowed per play (6.58) and opponent yards per rush (5.56) but has allowed only 19.5 points per game, which is 12th-best in the NFL. Is run defense a problem for San Diego and if so, how have they covered it up?

Williams: The Chargers struggled against the run last season but did a better job against a pretty good running offense (Seattle) Sunday. The key for San Diego's defense is actually how much the offense controls tempo. The Chargers are No. 2 on offense in the NFL in time of possession (35:13), so the defense isn't on the field for long periods of time. San Diego also forced three turnovers in two games -- along with a blocked punt -- and only has one turnover on offense. So the Chargers do a good job of stealing a few possessions each game. Those things help hide other deficiencies San Diego has on defense.

Watkins had a breakout performance against Miami, finishing with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. We know that Buffalo leans on the run game with C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon, but how has Watkins added another dimension to the offense?

Rodak: We didn't see too much of Watkins in the season opener; he had three catches in the first half and Manuel overthrew Watkins on his only target in the second half. Things changed in Week 2. He brings a clear advantage over most other receivers: Watkins has speed that allows him to be a deep threat, sure hands and a large catch radius that allows him to haul in off-target passes, and some shiftiness that makes him dangerous after the catch. The Bills had speed at receiver last season but lacked the route-running and pass-catching ability that Watkins brings to the table.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The San Diego Chargers used a former college basketball player turned tight end, Antonio Gates, to score three touchdowns on the Seattle Seahawks defense this past weekend.

So, as the Denver Broncos prepare for the Super Bowl rematch Sunday in Seattle, perhaps it would stand to reason their former college basketball player turned tight end -- Julius Thomas, who is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions with four -- should be a big part of the plan.

[+] EnlargeJulius Thomas
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesBroncos tight end Julius Thomas leads the league in touchdown receptions with four.
"You can't really look at the game like that," Thomas said following Wednesday's practice. "Just because Gates had three touchdowns [Sunday] doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to go out there and have three touchdowns."

But it is something to consider as the Broncos work to try to make Sunday's visit to Seattle a little better than their last game that counted against the Seahawks -- the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Is Denver taking anything from how the Chargers, who happen to be coached by Mike McCoy, a former Broncos offensive coordinator, attacked the Seahawks defense in San Diego's 30-21 victory in Qualcomm Stadium? If they are, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is taking a loose-lips-sink-game plans approach.

"I can't really speak to the San Diego game plan, the Green Bay game plan [in Week 1 against the Seahawks], and I can't speak to our game plan," Manning said.

But beyond Gates' seven-catch day to go with 96 yards and three touchdowns, the Chargers did do some things on offense worth noting.

First, they played with patience and efficiency. Gates' 21-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was San Diego's longest pass play of the game. No other receiver had a reception of more than 16 yards in the game against the Seahawks' zone looks.

The Chargers worked short and intermediate routes with Gates' seven catches to go with nine receptions combined for the Chargers running backs. The Chargers also held on to the ball and did not have a turnover.

They had two field-goal drives go for 10 and 14 plays, respectively, in the first half. And, two of their three touchdown drives went for 75 and 80 yards.

What that means for Thomas and the Broncos remains to be seen. In the first two weeks of the season, Thomas has been the matchup that has created the biggest problem for opposing defenses.

Some of that is Thomas' continued growth as a player, as well as the Broncos' desire to be a little more physical. But it also was likely because of Wes Welker's suspension for a violation of the league's drug policy and the fact rookie receiver Cody Latimer, a physical, athletic player the Broncos continue to rave about in practice, is not quite ready to work in the audible-heavy offense.

So the Broncos, who were primarily a three-wide receiver offense last season on the way to a record 606 points, have played far more out of a two-tight end set this season. In Sunday's win over the Chiefs, they were in that look for all but one snap -- usually with Thomas paired with Jacob Tamme, who often plays like a bigger slot receiver.

"There may be some things that we saw on tape that we may try to do with me, but ultimately you've got to go out there and play your own game,” Thomas said. "The Chargers were able to go out there and have some success last week, and we're going to find our own success. If that's with me being able to have a good game then I have no problem with that. But whatever it takes for us to get the W.”

With Welker being reinstated Wednesday, how the Broncos proceed is still a question they won't reveal the answer to until Sunday's game. Still, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday he knows facing Gates and Thomas in back-to-back weeks is a challenge.

"We've got some great power forwards that are playing tight end and can do everything," Carroll said. "Tony Gonzalez was a tremendous mold for that … We saw a great one last weekend that gave us all kinds of problems, just like [the Broncos] have so we know it can be a big factor particularly when they're hooked up and have great chemistry with the quarterback."