AFC West: Denver Broncos

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC West

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
10:01
AM ET
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Let’s turn back the clock, way back to, say, 2011.

John Fox is in his first season as coach of the Denver Broncos, and John Elway in his first season as the team’s top football executive. After five weeks, the Broncos are 1-4. Kyle Orton gets benched, the Broncos put Tim Tebow in at quarterback, and Denver goes 7-4 to finish 8-8 and win a tightly clustered AFC West on the basis of tiebreakers.

The San Diego Chargers also finished 8-8, as did the Oakland Raiders. The Kansas City Chiefs were 7-9.

All four teams piled together in a bit of a mediocrity club. Not too good, not too bad.

And then, in March 2012, the balance of power didn’t just shift, it was tilted by the weight of a future Hall of Famer when the Broncos signed Peyton Manning. The Broncos have followed with two more division titles, back-to-back 13-3 finishes and one Super Bowl appearance.

In all, the Broncos have gone 33-10 since moving Tebow and then Manning into the starting lineup. But the Broncos lost a Super Bowl by 35 points, looking physically overwhelmed while doing it, and Manning just turned 38. The clock is ticking on his storied career, and three teams with head coaches and general managers all hired since 2012 hope there is opportunity.

“You know they’re working their tails off to change things," Fox said. “We’re working hard to keep going, but your first goal always is to win the division; that’s the only guaranteed way to get in the tournament."

The Broncos were the most active of the four AFC West teams in free agency in recent weeks, but as Chargers coach Mike McCoy put it, “We’re grinding away. That’s the solution, just keep grinding."

The four writers who cover the AFC West for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Paul Gutierrez in Oakland, Jeff Legwold in Denver, Adam Teicher in Kansas City and Eric D. Williams in San Diego -- offered their insights on closing the gap on the Broncos and some other key offseason topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which team is closest to catching the Broncos in the AFC West?



Paul Gutierrez: Is this a trick question? Sure, the Broncos excel at losing Super Bowls in blowout fashion like no one else this side of Fran Tarkenton's Minnesota Vikings. But when it comes to the division in which they reside, the Broncos got better defensively in free agency by adding DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib. Since the Chargers were the only ones in the AFC West to beat the Broncos last season and have had a better run than the Chiefs in free agency, I'll go with the Bolts. While Kansas City lost three starting offensive linemen, San Diego essentially stayed the course. Quarterback Philip Rivers enjoyed a renaissance season under first-year coach Mike McCoy and figures to spread his wings (and bolo ties) with a year of experience. As far as the Raiders are concerned, there are simply too many questions and new faces at this juncture to think they will make a quantum leap in improvement, though stranger things have happened. Think Tony Sparano and the 2008 Miami Dolphins, who improved to 11-5 a year after going 1-15. And, yes, Sparano is on Oakland's staff.

Jeff Legwold: Everyone in the division, including the Broncos, carries a significant question in tow this season. For the Chiefs, it's their secondary; for the Chargers, it's their offensive line; and for the Raiders, their search for a get-it-done quarterback has now landed on Matt Schaub. The Chiefs were closest in the standings last season, powered by their defense, but the Chargers were closest on the field, with a win over the Broncos in the regular season and a hard-fought loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chiefs return the guts of that defense, and even with the questions in the secondary, they are poised to duplicate a double-digit-win season in coach Andy Reid's second year. The Chargers played the Broncos tougher last season, and if Philip Rivers has another quality year, they will be in the playoff conversation. But they have largely sat out free agency with a draft-built approach. That puts them on a timetable to need one or two more drafts to be in position to win the division.

Adam Teicher: The Chargers finished last season in that spot, and though they lost offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, I don't see how much else has changed in that regard. The Chargers were competitive in their games against the Broncos last season, something the Chiefs and Raiders couldn't manage. San Diego also has the division's best quarterback and, yes, that includes Peyton Manning. The way the Chiefs finished last season, losing six of their last eight games, makes me wonder which way their program is headed. Their 9-0 start was a long time ago. The Raiders should be better than in 2013 but still haven't come far enough to be a serious part of this discussion. They had a huge pile of money to spend, but for the most part I don't agree with how they used it. While Matt Schaub is better at quarterback than the guys who played there for Oakland last season, he's still fourth among the four starters in the division.

Eric D. Williams: The Chargers offer the best challenge to Denver's throne in 2014. San Diego is the only AFC West team to defeat the Broncos since Peyton Manning's arrival in 2012. The Chargers held Denver's offense to 24 points a contest in three games last season, 14 points lower than the Broncos' NFL-best average of 38 points a game during the regular season. San Diego is the only team that returns its entire offensive line from 2013, and the defense should improve with the return of a healthy Dwight Freeney along with the development of young players like Shareece Wright, Jahleel Addae and Manti Te'o.


Second Down

The AFC West had three teams make the playoffs last season. Can it happen again?



Gutierrez: Sorry, can't see it happening this season. Besides the fact that the Broncos are still the class of the division, even if they lost Eric Decker and Wesley Woodyard, and the Chiefs and Chargers are stuck playing catch-up, the rest of the AFC's wild-card chasers -- the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens -- won't be down for long. Plus, it's such a statistical anomaly for a division to gobble up three of the six playoff slots in a conference. Since the 2002 realignment, it's happened only five times -- in 2006 with the NFC East (Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants), in 2007 with the AFC South (Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee) and the NFC East (Dallas, New York and Washington), in 2011 with the AFC North (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) and last season with the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers. Then there's this: The AFC West next season plays the tough NFC West, which went a combined 42-22 last season, compared to the AFC West going 37-27. They will beat up on each other a bit, allowing other AFC teams to grab playoff berths.

Legwold: That's a tough sell. When the division had three teams make the postseason in 2013, it was because the Steelers, Ravens, Jets and Dolphins -- who finished 8-8 -- lost a spot on the final day of the regular season. For the second consecutive year, Miami has tried to buy improvement in free agency, the Jets waved the checkbook around, and the Steelers and Ravens continued to trust the draft-first formula that has served them well on the way to multiple Super Bowl wins. It's a stretch to think all four of those teams won't cross the .500 mark in 2014 or that somebody won't come out of the AFC South. NFL personnel evaluators continue to say Houston's roster isn't that of a 2-14 team and that, with the No. 1 pick in the draft, their turnaround could come quickly.

Teicher: It can, but it won't. That Denver, Kansas City and San Diego all made the playoffs last season was a factor of the AFC West teams getting some extremely favorable scheduling. AFC West teams played against teams from the AFC South and NFC East. Only two of those eight opponents finished with a winning record and included were games against three of the worst teams in the league (Jacksonville, Houston and Washington). They won't have such luck in 2014. The common opponents from outside the division include four teams that won 10 or more games last season (New England, Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona). So all three of last year's playoff teams from the AFC West will find it difficult to beat or even match their records from last season. Few if any gimmes are built into this year's schedule.

Williams: While I believe the AFC West will remain one of the most competitive divisions in pro football, three teams will not make the playoffs again. The Chargers needed several things to go their way on the final week of the regular season, including Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop missing a relatively easy 41-yard field goal, to sneak in as the final AFC wild-card team. Other teams like Houston, Pittsburgh and Tennessee should improve, making it tough for three teams from one division to get into the postseason for a second straight year.


Third Down

Peyton Manning is the obvious top choice at quarterback in the division. Which of the other current starters -- Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Matt Schaub -- do you think will have the best 2014?



Gutierrez: The knee-jerk reaction is to go with Rivers, who, as mentioned above, experienced enough of a rebirth to be named the NFL's comeback player of the year by The Associated Press, an honor that usually goes to someone coming back from injury. But let's think outside of the box and put on our silver-and-black-tinted glasses. Schaub had a nightmarish season in Houston last year, with visions of pick-sixes dancing through his head. But if a change of scenery is all the doctor ordered -- and Darren McFadden stays healthy enough to make the play-action pass a devastating weapon for Schaub, and the Raiders' rebuilt offensive line gives him time, and a playmaking receiver emerges -- then Schaub might be the guy. That's a lot of ifs, but we're just talking here, right? I'm not saying that translates to wins, but with an offense tailored to his strengths and confidence, might Schaub be the second straight QB from the division to win a non-injury related comeback player of the year award?

Legwold: The Raiders were quick to pour on the optimism at the recent league meetings about Schaub's arrival and what he could mean to their offense, and the Chiefs believe Smith will be better in his second season with Andy Reid. But after Manning, Rivers is still the most accomplished passer among the other three, and he, too, will be better in the second season with McCoy. With former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's departure to be the Tennessee Titans coach, Rivers is facing at least some transition, but with McCoy's presence and the promotion of Frank Reich from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, it should be fairly seamless. If the Chargers can protect Rivers, they will benefit from the results.

Teicher: Rivers. He was rejuvenated in Mike McCoy's offensive system. It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact Whisenhunt's departure has on him. Smith had a strong finish last season, even if the Chiefs didn't. Things should run more smoothly for him in Year 2 in Andy Reid's system, but it's troubling that the Chiefs lost their best offensive lineman in left tackle Branden Albert and two other regulars on their line. They have yet to add to their meager collection of offensive threats, though I expect they will in the draft. Their inability to sign Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency will haunt them. I have little in the way of expectations for Schaub in his first season with the Raiders. It's a bit much to ask him to thrive in his first year in a new system with unfamiliar teammates.

Williams: Rivers has the best chance to repeat his success from 2013 for one reason: continuity. The Chargers will return almost every starter from one of the best offenses in the NFL last season. San Diego added Donald Brown in free agency to bolster an already potent run game led by Ryan Mathews. Young playmakers Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green should get better. Look for San Diego to add another playmaker in the draft, along with a player or two to bolster an aging offensive line.


Fourth Down

What is the dark-horse free-agency move in the AFC West that will have the biggest impact?



Gutierrez: Seems to me that there have been few, if any, dark-horse signings in free agency; they've all been pretty big names, especially among the top three teams. Even the Raiders' signings have been relatively well-known names. Perhaps, then, the most surprising signing that could have an impact in the division is the guy who was thought to be long gone: Oakland running back Darren McFadden. When he's healthy and used to his skill set -- think early 2011, before a Lisfranc injury ended his season -- Run DMC looks like a league MVP candidate. With the zone-blocking scheme all but scrapped in Oakland, McFadden figures to benefit from the change back to a power-blocking mantra. The Raiders re-signed him to a relatively cheap, incentive-laden deal, so that qualifies as a dark-horse move. Whether he has a breakthrough season will determine if the signing is impactful enough to help decide the division.

Legwold: LaMarr Woodley will turn 30 in November and Justin Tuck turned 31 on March 29, but if the two have a little something left in the career tanks, then they can have an impact in Dennis Allen's defense with the Raiders. If not, well, then they are the first steps toward some salary-cap dead money when they can't play out their contracts. But overall, Emmanuel Sanders was the Broncos' last big splash in the opening days of free agency, and he's the guy who could make a significant jump in the Broncos offense. One of the league's better receivers in terms of yards after the catch, he is now with a quarterback whose greatest strength is getting the ball to players on short and intermediate routes in the best place to do the most with it. Sanders' 67 catches in 2013 were his career best, but his 11.0 yards per catch from '13 figures to jump with the opportunities he will get in the Broncos offense.

Teicher: This probably doesn't qualify as a dark-horse move, but when Sanders didn't sign with the Chiefs and instead joined the Broncos, it further tipped the balance of power in the division. Sanders would have been a nice fit in Kansas City's offense. His ability to line up in the slot or split wide would have given the Chiefs a fast receiver to use in a variety of ways. The Chiefs, for the time being at least, are without a proven slot receiver after losing Dexter McCluster to free agency. Their best hope at this point for that position is Weston Dressler, who was signed this year after putting up big numbers for several seasons in the CFL. Sanders, meanwhile, appears destined to catch 80 or more passes for better than 1,000 yards and several touchdowns as Eric Decker's replacement in Denver.

Williams: While some league observers consider San Diego signing Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million deal a reach because the team needs more immediate help in other areas, I believe the Chargers made a good decision for a couple of reasons. Brown is a known commodity because of general manager Tom Telesco's familiarity with the University of Connecticut product from their time together in Indianapolis. Brown is a perfect fit in San Diego's offense with his ability to run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. Brown strengthens something the Chargers already do well: running the football. With Brown, Mathews and Danny Woodhead, San Diego has the most talented running back group in the AFC West.

 
Peyton Manning and Nick Roach Getty Images, Icon SMIPeyton Manning has won six in a row against Nick Roach's Raiders dating back to his time in Indy.
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Denver Broncos are playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs and a chance for quarterback Peyton Manning to add to his historic, record-setting season. The Oakland Raiders are playing out the string on an 11th consecutive year without a winning season and, perhaps, the coaching life of Dennis Allen.

Opposites attract? It depends upon your perspective … and allegiance.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez break down Sunday’s regular-season finale at the O.co Coliseum.

Gutierrez: Manning has obviously already set the single-season touchdown record (51) and will most likely set the mark for most passing yards in a season this weekend. If and when he does that, do you think coach John Fox pulls him from the game to save him for the playoffs, or is Manning too much of a competitor to sit?

Legwold: Paul, Fox has already spent plenty of time this week telling his players all that matters is Sunday’s game, that there’s plenty of time to worry about the postseason in the postseason. His fuel has been a lackluster effort in a Thursday night loss to the Chargers two weeks ago when many with the team felt that the players were more concerned with the upcoming break that weekend than handling the business at hand. The Broncos caught a break later that weekend when the Patriots lost, so Denver still has the inside track for home-field advantage in the postseason. They need the win Sunday to guarantee it. And with the Patriots-Bills game kicking off at the same time, it’s likely that the scoreboard will dictate who sits and when, including Manning. They would like Manning to have the record, but all involved, including Manning, want home-field advantage. They want opponents to have to come in and face their no-huddle at altitude. So if they get things in hand, they will pull some players out. If it’s a close game and the Patriots are winning, or in a tight game, they’ll likely play it straight with the starters.

What do you think Dennis Allen’s future is and will this game have any bearing on that?

Gutierrez: That’s the million-dollar question, Jeff. Put it this way: Owner Mark Davis is taking a wait-and-see approach to this weekend. Obviously, he’s not thrilled with the prospect of the Raiders losing six straight and eight of nine to end the season and go 4-12 for a second consecutive year. But the understanding two years ago when Davis hired general manager Reggie McKenzie and McKenzie, in turn, hired Allen, was that this was a three- to four-year project, hence Allen getting a four-year contract. Of course, Davis has said he’s patient, but he wants to see progress, not regression. It’s hard to say the Raiders have progressed this season because while they have played hard for Allen, they have not necessarily played smart. Unless Davis already has someone else lined up, it’s hard to imagine him pulling the plug on Allen, especially if it goes against the wishes of McKenzie, who is intrinsically linked to the coach since hiring him and calling him “my guy” in January 2011.

On the surface, it seems that the Broncos losing Von Miller to a knee injury would be a crippling blow to their Super Bowl hopes. But they were 6-0 during his suspension. What’s the vibe on the Broncos’ championship designs sans Miller?

Legwold: The defense has spent much of the season listening to the idea that they are the brown socks to what is otherwise a spectacular black tuxedo. They are a bit tired of the premise and seem intent on showing people otherwise. But until they do so in a meaningful game, they’re going to continue to hear it. Even with Miller in the lineup they had not always played the way defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has said they should. They have speed, they have athleticism, but they also have a lot of specialists of sorts -- guys who do one or two things very well. It has meant the Broncos are always sending players into the game in waves, and at times all those personnel groupings have meant some coverage busts or assignment errors. But they have played better of late, and against the Texans they posted season lows for points and yards allowed. Overall, they’ll likely have to take some more risks in the pass rush without Miller, so they need their secondary to be up to that challenge in man-coverage situations. And they need Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips to lift their games. Those two players, more than most, have to make a difference as the Broncos head into the postseason without Miller.

The Raiders will have Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. Is this any kind of audition for him over the long term, and will the Raiders be in the market for a quarterback come free agency or the draft?

Gutierrez: Well, if you take any stock in what Pryor’s agent, Jerome Stanley, said earlier this week, Allen is playing Pryor in hopes of him failing. The theory being that Allen would then look justified in benching his client in favor of undrafted rookie Matt McGloin earlier in the season, after Pryor went down with a sprained MCL in his right knee. Pryor distanced himself from such talk and Allen called the claim “the stupidest thing I’ve ever frickin' heard.”

The official reason Allen gave for giving Pryor the start in the season finale? He’s healthy now, they got enough of an evaluation on McGloin -- who started the previous six games -- and Pryor gives the Raiders the best shot to win against the Broncos. In fact, Allen said he thought McGloin showed enough to be a part of the Raiders’ future. Of course, that’s with Allen as coach. He said no such thing about Pryor. So in a way, you could call this an audition of sorts. But even if the Raiders are not quite sure whether their quarterback of the future is on the roster at the moment, it’s obvious that McGloin’s skill set better fits the type of offense Allen wants to run. I expect the Raiders to be players in the market this offseason for a veteran free-agent quarterback to bridge the gap next year … unless they draft a quarterback they expect to be a franchise savior.

My 8-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter love the song so, of course, they desperately want to know "What Does the [Coach] Fox Say"? Me, I want to know what he says regarding his midseason health scare and whether it’s changed his approach to coaching?

Legwold: Oh, what does the Fox say indeed. Well, he says “next man up" and “it’s a bigger, stronger, faster league" a lot. Because his condition -- a faulty aortic valve -- was something he was born with, it was also something he had dealt with and knew about for the past 20 years or so. He had open-heart surgery and took a four-game leave of absence. He returned in the days leading up to the Broncos’ Dec. 8 game against the Tennessee Titans. He says he feels better than ever now that he’s had the valve replaced, that he has more energy now than he’s had in a long time. So it hasn’t affected his schedule in that regard. But he has told the team’s medical staff and his family that he’s “going to be smart about it," that if he feels poorly, he will take action even if that means leaving for the day. This week the medical staff sent Fox home Monday because he had flu-like symptoms, and as Fox said “they didn’t want me infecting everyone," but he said he’s had no issues with his heart in his return and has worked his former schedule, including coaching from the sidelines.

Pro football can be a tough business when the playoffs are no longer a carrot for their efforts. How do you think the Raiders will perform in this one? Will they take more risks? Play with some emotion?

Gutierrez: As noted earlier, the Raiders have not quit on the season, as many players did a year ago. They just have not played very smart, as evidenced by their season-high 12 penalties (on 15 flags thrown at them) at the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. I think they’ll show up; I just think they hit the wall the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when Oakland’s defense allowed the Tennessee Titans to drive 80 yards in six minutes for a game-winning TD. I asked Charles Woodson what there was, exactly, to play for and he smiled sadly, tilted his head and said it was about having fun, trying to get one last W and putting something positive on tape … I assume for future potential employers. Yes, Woodson is one of 17 pending free agents. With Allen’s future potentially on the line, I expect Oakland to empty its playbook, especially with Pryor at quarterback. The question, then, is whether the Raiders leave themselves open on defense by blitzing Manning with aplomb.

Live blog: Broncos at Texans

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the Houston Texans. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 

McCoy and Fox are kindred spirits

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
8:30
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SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy and John Fox’s first meeting as head coaches did not take place earlier this season, as Fox was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery when Denver traveled to San Diego to take on the Chargers in November.

So McCoy will face his mentor for the first time when the Chargers meet the Broncos in Denver on Thursday.

“I remembered him as a player,” Fox said. “I definitely thought he had head coaching capabilities, and he’s done a fine job in his first year with the Chargers. Mike’s level-headed. He’s smart. He understands ball. He played in the league. He’s got a good feel for people skills and those types of things. As coaches we spent a lot of time together, so his traits come out. I knew he would do a good job once given the opportunity.”

Fox
Fox
McCoy
McCoy coached under Fox for the better part of decade, including seven seasons in Carolina and two as the offensive coordinator in Denver. Working for Fox, McCoy gleaned some of the skills he uses as a head coach, including his weekly schedule, practice habits, game preparation and how he handles the media.

Both have a no-nonsense approach when it comes to coaching football.

“It’s great to see him back out there,” McCoy said. “I wouldn’t be here today without John Fox. The seven years we were together in Carolina and then in Denver, he is a great football coach but he is an even better person. With the scare he had, you understand there are more important things in life when something like that happens to a close friend. Fortunately he is back out there doing a great job. He loves to coach. He’s a good coach.”

McCoy said the two texted back and forth during Fox’s time in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. Fox, 58, underwent aortic valve replacement surgery at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C., after he became dizzy playing golf near his offseason home in the Charlotte last month.

Fox had a pre-existing heart condition, and hoped to put off the operation until after the season.

Last week’s Denver game at home against Tennessee was Fox’s first on the sideline since the surgery. He missed the first meeting earlier this season between the two teams in San Diego, a 28-20 win for the Broncos on Nov. 10.

“Re-entry is never easy, but we managed to get through it,” Fox said. “It was pretty tough conditions weather-wise all last week, and I made it through just fine. So I got Week 1 of the re-entry all done, and I’m ready for a short week for Week 2.”

Fox is in the unique position of having two of his former coaches now serving as head coaches for division rivals. His former defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, is the coach at Oakland. That makes for some odd moments standing across the sidelines competing against guys he helped groom.

“Mike’s a good friend,” Fox said. “I know his family. I know his wife, Kellie. I’ve spent a lot of time with his whole family. But it’s still competitive. He’s trying to beat our brains out and we’re trying to beat his brains out. But you develop a lot of close relationships in this league over time.”

Double Coverage: Broncos at Chiefs

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
10:21
AM ET
Von Miller and Alex Smith USA Today SportsFirst place in the AFC West is on the line when Von Miller's Broncos meet Alex Smith' Chiefs Sunday.
Much has changed since the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos first squared off two weeks ago. The Chiefs, 27-17 losers to the Broncos on Nov. 17, have dropped another game since and have seen their defense collapse. Their two best pass-rushers, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, are injured. Houston is unlikely to play and Hali's status also remains up in the air.

The Broncos, meanwhile, also collapsed last week, blowing a 24-point halftime lead and losing in overtime to the Patriots in New England. Both teams are 9-2, so first place in the AFC West is on the line.

Here, ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Teicher: Jeff, given how some things have changed since the teams played a couple of weeks ago, would you expect Peyton Manning and the Broncos to change how they attack the Chiefs this time around?

Legwold: Adam, I wouldn't. They have stayed in their three-wide set through concerns about Manning's health, their pass protection and blitzing defenses. And they ran all but 10 plays out of the three-wide set against the Chiefs two weeks ago. They did try to run more against Kansas City than they had in previous games, particularly with Manning in the shotgun; they had 22 rushing attempts the last time they faced K.C. with Manning in the shotgun. They'll likely do the same, but will test the edges of the Chiefs' formation to see if the injuries have affected things there. They rushed for 280 yards against the Patriots this past Sunday, a total that was hidden in the loss, but if they can move the ball in the run game, the offense is that much more difficult to deal with.

With those injury concerns on defense for the Chiefs, would they have to take more chances to come after Manning?

Teicher: I would think so. They certainly came after Philip Rivers with a lot of different things in last Sunday's game. They just weren't effective. Rivers was very candid about things after the game, saying the Chargers emphasized having their backs help in pass protection against Houston and Hali before the injuries but they got away from that after Houston and Hali left the game. I would expect the Chiefs to change things up quite a bit against Manning this time: blitz some, play some coverage, maybe even mix in some zone. They haven't played much zone coverage all season but they may have no choice on Sunday. Their cornerbacks were horrible in coverage and the safeties often took bad angles to the receivers. The Chiefs allowed 228 yards after the catch.

Big game for Von Miller in New England the other night. I'm guessing it was his most productive of the season. He certainly didn't get much done against the Chiefs the last time. Was it a case of him taking advantage of favorable matchups against the Patriots or is it just a matter of getting that readjustment period out of the way?

Legwold: Likely a little of both. He was a terror in the first half as he forced a fumble to go with two sacks and a 60-yard fumble return for a score. He was the best player on the field in those opening minutes when the Broncos opened up a 17-0 lead that grew to 24-0 at halftime. He beat Patriots left tackle Nate Solder with both power and speed in those opening segments. But the Patriots picked up the pace on offense a bit in the second half, spreading things out more with some empty sets and forcing the Broncos to rush with fewer people at times. Miller had some quality rushes in the second half as he forced Brady to deliver the ball early on a smattering of occasions, but he did not sack Brady after the initial flourish and the Broncos didn't have a sack in the second half of regulation or overtime. Miller looked better -- consistently quicker, more explosive -- but he has yet to put together a full game like the Broncos want to see. In fact until the New England game Jack Del Rio had graded Miller's play as "OK." The Broncos need something consistently more than OK coming down the stretch.

After so many good things that happened during the 9-0 start, how have the Chiefs dealt with back-to-back losses?

Teicher: We're about to find out. I think the Chiefs are still stunned after losing their two top pass-rushers and a double-digit lead against the Chargers. They were certainly stunned after the game over how poorly their defense played. If there was something positive to come out of the Chargers game, it was that their offense was able to keep up. They scored five offensive touchdowns, topping their previous season high of three, and drove down the field for the go-ahead TD with about a minute and a half left. So they should have some confidence if Sunday's score climbs beyond a certain point. But between the injuries to Houston and Hali, an already sluggish pass rush, horrendous play in the secondary and the quality of the upcoming opponent, the Chiefs suddenly have a lot to sort through on defense.

Likewise, how confident will the Broncos be after coughing up a 24-point halftime lead in New England?

Legwold: Del Rio came right out of the gate Monday, just hours after the team had landed at 5 a.m. or so Denver time, in full keep-your-composure mode, essentially saying his message to the players was to avoid the "we're the greatest" chatter they've heard after wins as well as avoiding the "we're the worst" feeling after a loss like Sunday's. They took some solace in Manning putting together a big-time drive late in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 31-31. After that they slugged it out in overtime until a special-teams gaffe gave the Patriots the field position they needed for the win. There may have been more of a hangover if they had an opponent other than the Chiefs on the schedule this week. The potential to position themselves for the division title against the Chiefs got their attention quickly. They need a big game from Manning, however. He sets the tone for this group and Sunday night was a struggle for the passing games at times in the bitter cold.

The Chiefs challenged the Broncos' wide receivers plenty in man coverage two weeks ago. Given how the past two games have gone, would you expect them to do that again?

Teicher: That's how the Chiefs have defended all season and how they are built, so it's difficult to picture them going in a drastically different direction on Sunday. Just two weeks ago, the Chiefs thought they had the perfect big, physical cornerbacks in Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper to match up with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and the right slot cover guy in Brandon Flowers to match up with Wes Welker. Maybe what they saw two weeks ago in Denver or last week against the Chargers was enough to change their minds about how to best handle Manning and his receivers. But I doubt it. They might mix some things a little more than last time but I seriously doubt we'll see a wholesale change.

Live blog: Broncos at Patriots

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
7:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the New England Patriots. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 

Double Coverage: Broncos at Patriots

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One week after an entertaining game with a new-school/old-school quarterback duel between Cam Newton and Tom Brady, it's pure old-school this week.

Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady.

Need we say much more?

This is one of those games that is circled the day the NFL schedule is released in April, and as we know, there is much more than just the quarterbacks to highlight when dissecting a matchup between the visiting Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. Receiver Wes Welker, for one, adds another intriguing storyline as he returns to town for the first time since signing with the Broncos this year.

The Broncos (9-1) are the class of the AFC, and arguably the entire NFL, after knocking the Kansas City Chiefs from the unbeaten ranks this past Sunday. Now comes a tough test against a resilient but depleted 7-3 Patriots club that needs a victory to keep pace in the overall AFC playoff race.

Here to break it down for us are NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Jeff Legwold (Broncos):

Reiss: Jeff, let's get right to the news before we dive into the X's and O's. I expect Welker to receive rousing cheers from the fans here because he was a beloved player from 2007 to 2012. Most Patriots fans, as I sense it, didn't want to see him go and hold the team more responsible for the departure. Any chance Welker's “homecoming” actually doesn't happen because of the concussion he sustained?

Legwold: Mike, because Welker was removed from Sunday night's game with a concussion, he is subject to the league protocol. That means he won't be allowed to practice fully until Friday at the earliest and then only if he has passed a baseline test early in the week. The Broncos have said they expect him to be OK and he will obviously want to play, but Friday would be the first real litmus test of their plans with him. Welker has dealt with some ankle issues this season as well, but he has had every bit the impact in the offense the Broncos had hoped to have when they signed him. He has lined up much of the time in the slot, but offensive coordinator Adam Gase has also put him out wide and he scored a touchdown earlier this season on a route that began with Welker in the backfield. Manning knows why Brady liked throwing Welker the ball so much.

That said, people here asked Welker plenty about his departure and while he's said all the right things, what were Brady's thoughts on the matter?

Reiss: No question that he was personally disappointed. Welker remains one of his closest friends. I think Brady even said it at one point, you go through an initial period of dealing with the emotions and then you move forward and focus on the task at hand. That's part of what makes Brady the great competitor that he is, the ability to compartmentalize things and have that laser-like singular focus. There were quite a few growing pains for the passing offense through the first eight games, but it has looked better the past two contests. It's no coincidence that the results have improved as tight end Rob Gronkowski has rounded into form, receiver Danny Amendola seems to be taking steps forward and running back Shane Vereen has been activated from the injured reserve list.

The Patriots are going to need to put up some points to help a depleted defense. So what type of defense can they expect to see from the Broncos?

Legwold: Jack Del Rio is the Broncos' interim head coach these days after John Fox's open-heart surgery earlier this month, but Del Rio is still calling the defense on game day as well. The players like and respect Del Rio and have responded to him since his arrival before the 2012 season. Del Rio uses everybody in uniform on game day -- he's used nine different defensive backs in varying roles in the defense in some games, for example -- and overall he's aggressive. He likes to change things up in the pass rush and match up on the outside with plenty of man coverages. It is no accident the past three games have been the best for the Broncos' defense after a rough start to the season in pass defense, particularly with so many teams trying to play catch-up against the Broncos. But the past three games are also the first Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller have played at the same time. Miller missed six games with a drug policy suspension and Woodyard then missed two games with a neck injury he suffered against Dallas. With them both in there, Del Rio can do more things. The Broncos know they have to get some pressure in the middle of the field against Brady and get the receivers out of their routes if they can.

Defensively, how concerned are the Patriots about the health of their own secondary at the moment?

Reiss: Very concerned, and it's why I thought they might have made a more aggressive push for free-agent safety Ed Reed when he became available last week. Especially in a game like this, it's not a good time to be short in the secondary, and it's a banged-up group for the Patriots. All three of their top cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (groin), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) -- are dealing with ailments that will affect their availability and/or effectiveness in some form. Starting safety Steve Gregory (broken thumb) missed Monday's loss but returned to practice Wednesday and that probably means he will play. So that helps them a bit. Still, this has the potential to be a bad matchup for the Patriots this week based on the health snapshot.

If they could order up some bone-chilling temperatures for a Sunday prime-time game in late November, maybe it helps a bit. But is there any reason to think, based on what you've seen, that would even slow down Manning at this point?

Legwold: Folks both near and far have talked about Manning's wobbly passes all season. His ankle and whether or not he wears a glove on his throwing hand are always cause for a this-just-in bulletin. In the end, bad ankle and all, he leads the league in completions (286), yards passing (3,572) and passing touchdowns (34). Those 34 touchdowns still top the number of touchdowns scored by any other team in the league -- New Orleans, Seattle and Cincinnati have 33 touchdowns overall. After four neck surgeries he's a pitcher now, working the corners. He throws the fastball when he needs it and while it may not always be as pretty as people would like, he gets the ball where it needs to be. How he plays in the cold is still a bit of a question mark given his performance on a historically cold day here in the playoff loss, but this Broncos offense has a lot of ways to come at a defense and the only real way to slow Manning down is to get consistent pressure in the middle of the field so he can't work his progressions in the comfort of the pocket.

This is the 17th time, including three playoff games, Bill Belichick has faced Manning since Belichick accepted the New England job. That's a lot of road traveled. How do you think he wants to defend this offense as compared to how he's attacked Manning in the past?

Reiss: Personnelwise, we can expect the Patriots to be in their sub packages (either nickel or dime) for the majority of the game. That's a contrast from what we saw Monday night when the Patriots mostly played their base defense against the power-running Panthers. In this game, when factoring in the Broncos' three-receiver offense and the view that tight end Julius Thomas is probably going to be seen more as a receiver, I'd project them to go much lighter in the box and almost dare the Broncos to run against them. Of course, the other factor with Manning is maintaining discipline pre-snap and not tipping intentions, which is what opponents often say about facing Brady. If Manning has the answers to the test before the snap, it's going to be tough to win. He's just too smart. So those are some general thoughts on a defensive approach as I think the Patriots will have to get creative to cover up for some of their personnel issues, and take some chances on third down.

The Patriots really struggled on third down against the Panthers, who were 8-of-11. Offensively in that game, the Patriots didn't cash in enough in the red zone. Those are two big areas of focus for them. What are the top areas the Broncos are talking about for improvement?

Legwold: Offensively, they've surrendered just 13 sacks -- Detroit's Matthew Stafford is the only quarterback to have started every game who has been sacked less than Manning -- but the Broncos want to limit the hits. Manning was not sacked or barely touched for that matter by the Chiefs this past Sunday, but the Broncos need that to continue to keep Manning's ankle from getting any worse. They also, even as they line up in their beloved three-wide receiver set (75 snaps against the Chiefs including penalty plays), have to find a way to run with some more efficiency to keep the play-action game at least on the minds of the defenders. To that end the Broncos had a season-high 21 running plays out of the shotgun against Kansas City. Defensively they do plenty of good work only to watch it unravel in one big play. Last season they surrendered 38 pass plays of at least 20 yards in the entire regular season. This season that total is already 46. They've been better over the past month -- they haven't given up a pass play of at least 31 yards in the past four games -- but the trend has to continue.

In terms of big-play threats, where is Gronkowski in his return in terms of his health and performance right now?

Reiss: I'd say somewhere between a Half-Gronk and the Full-Gronk, so maybe about 80 percent. He's getting closer to a full workload after playing 51 of 79 snaps in his debut versus the Jets, followed by 33 of 65 against Miami, 48 of 75 against Pittsburgh and 63 of 72 on Monday night against the Panthers (snaps included penalties). Since Gronkowski didn't have a preseason, we've reached the point now where he's had what is essentially a preseason within the regular season. The past two games, in particular, things have seemed to click.

One of the fun parts about these “Double Coverage” assignments is to learn something about the opposing team that maybe slips beneath the everyday radar. Do you have a player or X factor that might be easy to overlook?

Legwold: Easy for the Broncos because he's often camouflaged by his more famous teammates, but the fact Woodyard has never been voted to the Pro Bowl says a lot of his peers just aren't doing their homework when they fill out the ballots. Last season Woodyard was the first player since Brian Urlacher in 2007 to finish a season with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions. And he wasn't even voted as a Pro Bowl alternate despite being just the 12th player to put together that stat line since the sack because an official statistic in 1982. Woodyard is an every-down player in an age of specialists, a leader with top-end work ethic and elite speed to the ball. Mike Shanahan, who kept Woodyard as an undrafted rookie in '08 -- Shanahan's last year in Denver -- called him “everything you want in a football player.” The teams that don't pay attention to him have a long day on offense.

From your end -- and I know everyone is going to talk about the quarterbacks -- but is there a player, or players, who can make a difference in this one other than Brady?

Reiss: I'll go with the returners on special teams -- Julian Edelman (punt) and Josh Boyce (kickoff). This is one of those games where the Patriots are going to need all the points they can get to keep up with Manning and the NFL's top-scoring team, and maybe special teams can chip in. The inclusion of the speedy Boyce as the primary kickoff returner caught my eye Monday night, even though he didn't have any opportunities. The ball likely won't be carrying as far on Sunday night in Foxborough, Mass., so Boyce should have a greater chance to make an impact. Edelman is excellent in his role as a punt returner. For the Patriots to win, they will need to play a good complementary game and special teams are a big part of that.

Alex SmithAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDenver sacked Alex Smith three times and handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season.
DENVER -- In all of the words, both spoken and written, that have been devoted to the Denver Broncos this season, most have been quickly filed under "offense."

Filed with touchdowns, Peyton Manning and record performances, quarter after quarter, game after game. And with that the questions lingered. What exactly the Broncos would do if Manning wasn't, well, Manning and they had to get in touch with their defensive side?

Or as cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it on his way into the locker room following a dirt-under-their-fingernails 27-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday night: "I thought y'all said we didn't play defense."

Perhaps it says something about the Broncos' season and how high the bar has been set that Manning had his ninth 300-yard passing game and the Broncos were "held" to 427 yards and 27 points, and it all still went down as a rough-around-the-edges affair. But it was just that at times, with Manning nursing an injured right ankle encased in a brace.

The Broncos needed something else. They needed to run for more than decoration on offense and they needed their defense, a defense that has enjoyed life in the jet wash of the Broncos' offense for much of the season, to stand up and raise its hackles.

They needed their defense to roll up its sleeves and get to work. To outperform the Chiefs' defense that came in as the league's leader in scoring defense and sacks.

"Without a doubt, we heard all this hoopla about which offense is best, and which defense is best," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We just wanted to get out there and play our style of football and that’s physical. …l We got this win and we’re happy to get this win."

Sunday really belonged to the Broncos' defense that both made the critical play of the night and checked off the biggest item on the to-do list they had carried into the game. The play came just seconds after Manning and rookie running back Montee Ball didn't connect on a handoff. The Chiefs recovered the fumble at the Broncos' 18-yard line in a game the Broncos led 3-0.

On first-and-10 from the 18, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith flipped a pass to fullback Anthony Sherman. Cornerback Quentin Jammer arrived first to stand Sherman up and linebacker Danny Trevathan then crashed into Sherman knocking the ball free. Jammer recovered the ball at the Broncos' 16-yard line. Five plays later the Broncos scored a touchdown for a 10-0 lead.

"They were kind of blitzing and I rushed the handoff and I didn't give him a good handoff at all," Manning said. "Obviously you're not feeling good leaving the field and they turn around and fumble right away … pretty critical series there."

"I love the way Danny plays," Woodyard said. "He goes out there and plays hard every time … and they didn't get any points out of that."

Then there was the matter of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

After the Chiefs' first nine games, all wins, Charles was their leading rusher and leading receiver with 47 catches, or 14 more than Dwayne Bowe. If you had added it all together in those nine wins Charles had accounted for 39 percent of the yardage (1,114) the Chiefs had gained on offense and had 48 percent of the touches (217).

And the Broncos gave Charles the attention those numbers deserved, often slowing the pass rush from the edge at times to keep a linebacker within sight of Charles. The Broncos also used plenty of defensive backs in the pass pattern against Charles and swarmed him in the run game.

In the end Charles finished with 78 yards rushing, 35 of those yards coming on one second-quarter sprint around the left end, to go with minus-6 yards receiving on two catches. Those 72 total yards accounted for Charles' lowest output of the season.

"We tried to come out there and move the ball," Charles said. "But give credit to their defense, they did a great job scheming us."

"That was the key to the whole game, really, because if we can't stop Jamaal Charles, that's a long night for us," Harris said. "We wanted to make them one dimensional if that one dimension wasn't him."

So, here they are at 9-1 with Manning on a sore ankle, wide receiver Wes Welker with a concussion and tight end Julius Thomas with a sore knee. But the Broncos brought a little more to the table Sunday night and showed a little something some folks might have believed they didn't have.

"We all know, everybody in here, we're capable of playing on defense the way we played [Sunday]," Harris said. "We have the talent, we still didn't play our best game, but we've improved each week. People will see the real us, I think, when we put it all together. But this is a team and we think our defense, we have a lot to offer, we can be there when we're needed and I think we will be."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
12:20
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DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The Broncos are back on top in the race for the AFC West title. The Chiefs had been able to get one game’s worth of separation with the Broncos’ loss in Indianapolis last month, but Denver erased that Sunday night. Both teams are 9-1, but the Broncos now have a win in hand with six games to play. They meet the Chiefs again Dec. 1 at Arrowhead Stadium.

Stock watch: Folks kept wondering when a Broncos defense that finished at or near the top of every major defensive category last season would make an appearance. The defense kept Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles in check for much of the night and the Chiefs could not find a Plan B.

Wall it off: Peyton Manning was wearing a heavy brace on his much-publicized injured right ankle, which limited his mobility. But a combination of Manning’s quick throws and a high-quality effort from the Broncos’ offensive line kept Manning from being sacked by a defense that came in leading the league in sacks. In fact, the Broncos had things under control enough to empty out the backfield for a red-zone play in the third quarter.

Bounce-back effort: Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball fumbled on his second carry of the game, deep in Denver's territory with just under six minutes remaining in the first quarter. He was then given a fumble-induced cooling down period on the sideline that routinely comes with that misstep. But he re-entered the game in the second quarter and finished with two touchdowns, his second and third of the season.

What’s next: The Broncos head to New England, where they will play their second consecutive Sunday prime-time game. The Patriots' defensive backs figure to get physical with the Broncos' receivers, a Bill Belichick staple against high-powered offenses, and the Denver wideouts are going to have to be ready to win the hand-fighting to play the ball.

Since Peyton Manning's arrival, the Denver Broncos own the AFC West, posting a 7-0 record against division foes.

Coming off a bye week, the 7-1 Broncos should be well-rested when they travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. At 4-4, the Chargers look to stay in the AFC playoff hunt with a win, one of five AFC West contests left on their schedule.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano faces the daunting task of trying to slow down a Denver offense that is No. 1 in the league in scoring (42.9 PPG), third-down efficiency (50.5 percent) and red zone efficiency (78.4 percent).

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold break down the matchup:

Williams: With coach John Fox out indefinitely after having heart surgery over the weekend, the Broncos have named Jack Del Rio as interim head coach. Jeff, how have players reacted to the situation? And how will this change the team's game-day management, including who calls the plays defensively and decisions like whether or not to go for it on fourth down?

Legwold: The defensive players like Del Rio's no-nonsense, show-me approach, and that's the message they've given the rest of the locker room. Del Rio has a clear set of expectations for the defensive guys and hasn't wavered from it, and if guys do what they're supposed to do, they play regardless of their contract or draft standing. Players like that and respond to it. Denver is his second stop with Fox, so he will stick to the plan and not much will change in the players' day-to-day lives in terms of football. On game day, Del Rio will still make the calls on defense, but since he can't simply turn away and go talk to the defensive players when the offense is on the field as he had been doing, he will lean on linebackers coach Richard Smith to do a little more on the sideline as well as the other position coaches. But Del Rio, with nine seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars coach on his résumé, will run the show on game day when it comes to timeouts, replay challenges and other in-game decisions.

Looking at the coaches, how much of what Mike McCoy has implemented in his first season with the Chargers came from his time with Fox, including McCoy's three seasons with Fox and Josh McDaniels?

Williams: I would say McCoy gleaned some of his core coaching philosophies from Fox. McCoy worked with Fox in Denver and Carolina for nine seasons. McCoy is a straight shooter who focuses on accountability, bringing the best out of his players and attention to detail. But he's also tried to create a family-type atmosphere and empower the players to emerge into leadership roles. Certainly, McCoy also picked up a few things while working with a creative offensive thinker like McDaniels, bringing some of those concepts and schemes with him to San Diego. Through the midpoint of his first season, players seem to have bought into McCoy's philosophy.

Manning is once again putting up eye-popping numbers in his second season in Denver. It's hard to believe Manning could get better, but how much more comfortable is he with the offense with another year under his belt?

Legwold: Manning is all about planning and preparation. When people ask him if he's got better timing with his receivers, he'll usually answer that it takes years to build real chemistry. But there is no question his improved comfort level with his surroundings in Denver can be seen in his play. After eight games, his 29 passing touchdowns are more than any other team has scored to that point. They've had some injuries up front and he's taken a little more punishment than they would like over the past three games, but they can challenge all parts of the field in the passing game. And when they move as fast as they can in the no-huddle, Manning has been at his best. He's difficult to fool, and defenses have struggled all season to find the right balance of coverage or pressure against him.

McCoy has always been good at adapting what he wants to do on offense to the quarterback he has behind center. He did that in catering offenses for Tim Tebow and Manning in back-to-back seasons. How much has he helped Philip Rivers?

Williams: Rivers is a new man. He finished with double-digit interceptions for three years in a row heading into the 2013 season. But he's displayed better decision-making this season in McCoy’s and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s new scheme. Even though Rivers has seven interceptions through eight games, he leads the league in completion percentage (72.2), showing a willingness to take the checkdown. The Chargers implemented more of a rhythm passing game, focusing on Rivers getting the ball out quick and letting his receivers do the work. And he's also been given more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage. As you mention, McCoy at his best is tailoring an offense to perfectly match the skill set of his quarterback, and that certainly is the case with Rivers this season.

Defensively, Denver is giving up 299 passing yards and allowing 27.3 points a contest. But the Broncos have a respectable 37.5 third-down defense percentage. Is this defense good enough for Denver to make a deep playoff run?

Legwold: That is the question the Broncos have to answer if they are really to be in the Super Bowl hunt. They have a historic offense that can score from anywhere, any time. They have quality special teams, front to back, from the kicking game to coverage units, and have blocked two punts already this season. Defensively, Von Miller missed six games with a suspension and hasn't played at his 2012 level since his return, and Champ Bailey has played in just two games because of a foot injury. That's a lot of impact on the sideline. In their absence, the Broncos didn't always consistently pressure opposing passers and teams have thrown it plenty trying to play catch-up with the Broncos' offense. But if they are really going to be in the Super Bowl mix, their defense will have to be more than it has been over much of the season's first half. It showed some teeth in a win over the Redskins just before the bye, holding Washington to 266 total yards.

Shaun Phillips, with 6.5 sacks over the season's first half, helped the Broncos cover for Miller's absence early on. Did the Chargers believe he could reach that level when they didn't re-sign him?

Williams: That's a fair question because San Diego certainly could use that production from Phillips. The Chargers had younger players like Melvin Ingram and Larry English ready to emerge, along with signing savvy veteran Jarret Johnson to a four-year deal in free agency leading up to the 2012 season. So Phillips likely would have had a limited role in San Diego. However, Ingram suffered an ACL tear in his left knee in May. The Chargers promptly signed Dwight Freeney to replace him, but the team's best pass-rusher suffered a torn quad against Dallas on Sept. 29, leaving San Diego's cupboard pretty bare at edge rusher. Johnson and defensive end Corey Liuget lead the team in sacks with just three each.

Miller has just one sack and seven tackles in two games since returning from a suspension. Is he still shaking the rust off? How important is Miller playing at an elite level to the improvement of Denver's defense?

Legwold: Opinions vary a bit around the league about how Miller has played in his two games back. Many personnel executives, citing what Miller has called an intentional 10- to 15-pound weight gain during his suspension, see a lack of the explosiveness and flexibility that made him special in his first two seasons. Their thought is he should lose the weight and play lighter. A few others are willing to wait and see, offering it might just be rust. But even some of Miller's current, and former, teammates have said the same thing, that he's had moments when he's looked himself but overall has not been nearly as explosive as he was down in and down out in 2012. The Broncos have even taken him off the field for a selection of snaps over the past two games, including in the base defense and a few pass-rush situations. It hasn't been many snaps, but it is an indication he's not yet at the level they want him to be, or they wouldn't be using other players in a smattering of down-and-distance situations.

With the Chargers' injuries along the offensive line, how have they tried to protect Rivers, and has Rivers adjusted his game because of those issues up front?

Williams: Veteran center Nick Hardwick really has been the key to the stability up front. Hardwick is the only offensive lineman who has started every game this season. He helps Rivers with the pass protections and blitz pickups. San Diego has played five starting offensive line combinations in eight games this season, including five players at left tackle. But offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris has done a nice job of creating some versatility within his group by having players learn multiple positions. Even with the injuries, San Diego's offensive line continues to play at a high level, allowing just 12 sacks through eight games. Rivers taking shorter drops and getting the ball out quickly also has helped keep the sacks down.

The development of Denver tight end Julius Thomas, a former basketball player at Portland State, and the emergence of former first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno has been fun to watch from afar. Thomas is second on the team in touchdown receptions with eight, while Moreno has 743 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns. How have these two earned the trust of Manning?

Legwold: Former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley, a close friend of Manning's and a longtime teammate, said it best. Stokley always said the easiest way to earn Manning's trust is “to be in right spot, where he expects you to be, every single time. If you do that, you'll get the ball. If you don't, you won't be in there." Thomas, who is often overwhelmed when asked to block, is a difficult matchup for defenders and has worked plenty with Manning in terms of route running and understanding what Manning sees against certain looks on defense. Thomas has good hands and will fight for the ball in traffic, so Manning will throw to him even if Thomas doesn't have a lot of room to make a play. Moreno is a testament to hard work and getting up off the deck. He was a game-day inactive for eight games last season after an early-season fumble, and his roster spot was shaky when training camp opened this summer. But he never complained or blamed anybody else. He just worked. He is the most reliable of the team's backs in pass protection, is a quality receiver and has run hard when he's had the opportunity. He will likely see the ball more in the second half of the season.

In terms of the running game, do the Chargers still see Ryan Mathews as a lead back, or is the fact they didn't give Mathews the ball in a first-and-goal situation last weekend an indication they don't?

Williams: McCoy praised Mathews' effort and ability to gain tough yards. He's the leading rusher on the team with 480 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time since 2011. Mathews has played in every game and fumbled only once this season.

But the fact that Mathews does not have a goal-line carry this season, including last Sunday when the Chargers failed to score three times from a yard out at Washington, cannot be overlooked. McCoy has trust issues when it comes to giving the ball to Mathews near the goal line. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers are 2-of-11 (18 percent) on plays from a yard out this season, the worst in the league. Giving the ball to Mathews in those situations could help rectify that issue.

Live blog: Broncos at Colts

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
6:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the Indianapolis Colts. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Live blog: Broncos at Cowboys

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
2:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Denver Broncos' visit to the Dallas Cowboys. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
Wes Welker and Dez BryantIcon SMI, USA TODAY SportsWes Welker, left, and Dez Bryant have combined for 49 catches and 10 touchdowns this season.
Peyton Manning makes his first appearance at AT&T Stadium when the undefeated Denver Broncos come to town to take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Manning has done just about everything right this season, but he’s lost his past two games to the Cowboys and has been intercepted six times.

That seems a lifetime ago now, but Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Cowboys team reporter Todd Archer bring you this week’s Double Coverage:

Archer: This Peyton Manning guy seems pretty good. What does he do that is so different from just about every other quarterback in the NFL?

Legwold: Todd, all of the work he put in physically to return from his missed season in 2011 is now combined with his other-worldly preparation and game-day recall for the start he’s put together. When John Elway signed him, Elway said he wanted a player who “raised all the boats’’ in the organization, a guy to set the bar in terms of getting ready to play. And despite Manning’s résumé, he practices harder, prepares more and pours more of himself into each week than almost any other player. It sets the tone even with the coaches, who have to try to stay a step ahead of him as they all get ready. And behind center he is rarely fooled because of it. He is on a historic pace in an offense Elway has built from his own experiences at quarterback, and defenses have rarely put a hand on him, especially in the past two games. Monte Kiffin has certainly seen Manning plenty over the years: How do you think he’ll go about defending him and the Broncos?

Archer: Coming off the meltdown last week against San Diego’s Philip Rivers (401 yards, three touchdowns), I think Kiffin will petition the NFL to ask for a 12th defender. And I’m not sure that will work. Manning knows everything about this defense, so it’s not about tricking him. The Cowboys must get pressure on him and that starts with DeMarcus Ware, who strained a muscle in his back last week. Kiffin knows if he blitzes, then Manning will beat him. Kiffin is also dealing with a cornerback in Morris Claiborne who lacks confidence and technique, which is never a good combination. The last time Orlando Scandrick saw Wes Welker, he did a good job limiting him in New England, so maybe the Cowboys feel OK about that matchup. But there are so many weapons for Manning to choose from that it’s hard to slow the Broncos down. The key will be early pressure and red zone defense. Somehow Dallas has to force the Broncos to kick field goals.

Manning gets all of the attention -- and for good reason -- but what has not received as much attention in Denver's 4-0 start?

Legwold: Manning’s ridiculous numbers have overwhelmed almost every discussion about the team, but the ability for the offensive line to perform, consistently, at a fairly high level given the fact All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is on injured reserve and Manny Ramirez had never started a regular-season game at center until the opener, has been key. The Broncos haven’t always been all that proficient in the run game -- 39 carries this season of two or fewer yards (32.5 percent of their runs) -- but they have protected Manning well and that’s certainly Job 1. The Eagles sacked Manning just once this past Sunday and may not have touched him on any other play in the game. The Broncos also have high-end team speed up and down the roster -- an Elway initiative since he took the job. And while the defense has benefited from the big leads, it has performed well overall considering Champ Bailey and Von Miller haven’t played this season.

Quarterback Tony Romo’s numbers look good on paper. What is the level of patience right now with Romo, both inside and outside of the organization?

Archer: To me there is no player more scrutinized than Romo. There is no gray area when people discuss him. He’s either terrible or great. From the fans, they expect Super Bowls because that’s what Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman delivered and they hear about the great talent on this roster. There is talent, but it’s not as abundant as the national talking heads believe. From inside the organization, Romo is the guy. They just guaranteed him $55 million this offseason and have given him more control of the offense than he has ever had. Jerry Jones came up with the famous “Peyton Manning time” quote about how much he wants the quarterback involved. He’s playing well, completing 72 percent of his throws and avoiding mistakes. His one interception was on a receiver running the wrong route. Fans might want him gone, but they tend to forget the long wait this franchise had in finding Romo after Aikman retired.

You mentioned Miller. He’s a local kid. What kind of fall has he taken and does he have the full support of the organization?

Legwold: Miller is four games into his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. And he had a bumpy ride through training camp with news of the suspension, to go with an arrest for failing to appear for a court appearance when he was going through a mandatory background check at a gun shop near the Broncos’ facility, to go with some traffic violations and the revelation he tried to beat the drug test with a side deal with the sample collector, who has since been fired. His reputation and image have taken a big hit, and privately some in the organization and even some of his teammates shake their heads at what they say is immaturity and the fact he hasn’t publicly taken much responsibility for it all. He, at one point, said the media has harmed his reputation, but he hasn’t shown much accountability in the public arena and that has bothered some. But that said, he is one of the Broncos' best players, a physically gifted athlete, and the organization has tried to get him help and on the right track. They will have an enormous decision to make in regard to a contract extension at some point given Miller is now in Stage 3 of the drug program and, at least according to the policy, will remain there for the remainder of his career.

In terms of the Cowboys' pass rush, are the injuries starting to catch up to DeMarcus Ware a bit, and how key is he still to what Kiffin wants to do on defense?

Archer: Maybe a little bit, but he is still an elite pass-rusher. Last year he played most of the second half of the season with a shoulder that needed reconstructive surgery, and a hyperextended elbow. This year he is battling stingers and now a muscle strain in his back. For far too long the Cowboys' pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. As well as George Selvie (three sacks) has played, he’s not Anthony Spencer, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Jason Hatcher has taken to this scheme, but the Cowboys have yet to see Jay Ratliff, who is on the physically unable to perform list, practice since last season. Ware is the key. The Cowboys are moving him around to try to take advantage of matchups and he has four sacks. He just needs some help and has for some time. Who it comes from, however, is another story.

Do we see Champ Bailey this week and how have the Broncos compensated?

Legwold: On Friday last week, it looked like Bailey would at least get some situational work in the defense against the Eagles, but the Broncos held out the 12-time Pro Bowl selection for the fourth consecutive game. Bailey has characterized it, including after Sunday’s win over the Eagles, as “close, very close,’’ and if he continues to go through practice this week -- it is his third week back in practice -- he would seem to be on track to play. The Broncos have gotten everything they hoped from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. When they signed him they essentially told him he had the talent to play like a No. 1 cornerback, but would have to lift his game and be ready to be coached hard. Rodgers-Cromartie was on board with that and has played like a No. 1 on the outside. The Broncos have matched him on receivers already this season and will give plenty of thought to matching him on Dez Bryant. Also, Chris Harris, who made this team as an undrafted rookie in 2011, has played like a starter almost since his first training-camp practice. Harris is tough, competitive and versatile -- he can play inside or outside -- and Denver has gotten enough from Tony Carter and rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster to make it work.

On offense for the Cowboys, how has Bill Callahan, whose son is a Broncos quality control assistant, fared as the playcaller so far?

Archer: He’s been OK. It’s hard to get a feel for his style. The Cowboys have run it better the past two weeks, but they were spotty the first two weeks. They have not taken many shots down the field. Romo has only three completions of 25 yards or more this year and he has averaged 33 a season. I don’t know if that is Callahan’s West Coast background or Romo not trusting his line yet to hold off the rush. The issue I had (and have) with Callahan as the playcaller has nothing to do with his résumé, but the fact that this is not his system. This is Jason Garrett’s passing game still. So, to me, they’re putting him in a situation that doesn’t work best for him. Again, he’s been OK and he seems to be working fine with Romo, but I think there is still a feeling-out process going on.

A little offbeat here, but I want to ask about Elway. As you know, the Jerry Jones/general manager story is something that doesn’t die. I wonder if Troy Aikman ever looks at Elway as a possible example if he ever wanted to jump into the personnel game. How good has Elway been? How involved in everything is he?

Legwold: Todd, it is unprecedented that a Hall of Fame quarterback has jumped into the day-to-day grind of personnel since most make a handsome living on TV, card shows or the celebrity golf circuit, but Elway has dived in and shown himself to be a nuts-and-bolts talent evaluator. He knows what he likes in players and in three drafts has consistently stuck to those evaluations, and the Broncos have worked their draft board with consistency. He believes a draft-built team is the key, but will spend Pat Bowlen’s money when he has a chance at somebody like Manning or Wes Welker. His challenge now will be to avoid what so many teams do with the alpha quarterback behind center -- sign too many older players to high-end deals they can’t play up to -- and keep the roster young and homegrown. But overall he works it, looks at the video and has created an environment where the scouts and personnel guys believe what they’re doing is important to what the team is trying to do.

On that, do you think Jerry Jones will ever really give the draft the importance it deserves in team building?

Archer: Why would he start now? Sorry, I kid. Here’s where I think Jerry goes wrong with the draft: He listens to too many people. Honestly, he does. He has too many people in his ear and it affects his decision-making. The coaches have too much say. His friends outside the building have too much say. He needs to trust his scouts, which he often talks about but rarely does. The Cowboys could have picked Sharrif Floyd in the first round. They had him as a top-10 player on their board, but when it came time to pick, they passed because Rod Marinelli didn’t believe Floyd had enough pass rush skill. If that’s the case, then Floyd shouldn’t have been that high on the Dallas board. The Cowboys traded down and took Travis Frederick, who many saw as a second- or third-round pick. Now, Frederick has the makings of a long-term starter, so I won’t quibble with the pick, but the process in which Dallas got there was highly flawed. To me, that’s the Cowboys’ biggest issue when it comes to the draft.

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Double Coverage: Broncos at Giants

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
12:00
PM ET

For the third time in their careers, brothers Peyton Manning and Eli Manning will oppose each other as the starting quarterbacks in the same NFL game. Peyton's Denver Broncos travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on Eli's New York Giants at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Both of these teams have dreams of playing in the Super Bowl in that very same building in February. But while Denver looked the part of the contender in its Week 1 rout of the defending champion Ravens, the Giants turned the ball over six times in an ugly opening-week loss in Dallas. Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Giants team reporter Dan Graziano break down this week's Battle of the Brothers.

Dan Graziano: So yeah, Jeff, I don't know if you were able to dig this up on your end, but my research does indeed confirm that the two starting quarterbacks in this game grew up in the same house with the same parents. I wonder if others will catch on and ask some questions and write some stories about that angle this week. I don't expect Eli Manning to admit that he's looking for revenge after his big brother beat him twice while he was with the Colts, but I'm sure there's some element of that going on. I have two little brothers myself, and personally I'd be pretty annoyed if I ever lost an NFL game to either one of them. Do you think this game means a little something extra to Peyton Manning?

Jeff Legwold: Dan, I wasn’t planning to ask about this ... but OK, I'm in. I've been around Peyton since my time in Nashville and his at the University of Tennessee, so I'm fairly certain Peyton isn't a big fan of this from a personal perspective. Plenty of his friends said after the Colts released Peyton they didn't even think he would go to an NFC team, let alone the Redskins (pre 2012 draft, of course) because there was far more potential to face Eli if he did. They’ll talk this week, but there won’t be any football on the phone. From a football standpoint Peyton is in regular-season mode, which is intense, focused and running the show. The Broncos didn't show all of their changes on offense against the Ravens last week -- they have another gear they can hit in the no-huddle they didn't use against Baltimore -- but Peyton has plenty of places to go in the passing game. How do you think the Giants' revamped defensive front will approach all of that?

DG: Yeesh. Another gear? The rest of the league can't be excited to hear that. The most positive and effective change the Giants made on defense this offseason was at defensive tackle, where they believe they've beefed up and are better suited to stop the run than they were a year ago. But while that sounds nice and useful, the plain fact is that the Giants' defense needs a dominant pass rush from the front four in order to be effective. The linebackers are terrible, and Dallas' short-range-passing game plan Sunday night showed that it's not hard for the rest of the league to figure that out and take advantage of it. The cornerbacks are just so-so, and if Prince Amukamara is out with a concussion (still unknown at this time), that unit becomes a liability. The key will be Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul generating pressure on Peyton from the edge. Pierre-Paul looked rusty and didn't play a full game Sunday as he was coming off of June back surgery and missed the preseason. If he can take a big step forward this week in terms of conditioning and practice time, that would help. He's the difference-making player in their defensive front -- the one who has the ability to take over a game if he's 100 percent. They need him as close to that as possible if they're going to pressure Peyton Manning enough to limit the time he has to take advantage of all of those options.

Peyton's brother has his share of options as well. Three different Giants receivers had more than 100 yards in the opener, including big second-year wideout Rueben Randle. With Victor Cruz in the slot and Randle and Hakeem Nicks on the outside, how are the Broncos equipped to cover the Giants' receivers?

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJason Pierre-Paul and New York's pass rush may be the key to containing Peyton Manning.
JL: It is an issue for the Broncos, especially if Champ Bailey (left foot) isn't ready to go. He was jogging early in the week, but did not take part in Monday's practice. He has been in for treatment every day, including Tuesday, and still hopes to get himself back in the lineup. The Broncos signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason because they believed he could take his game to another level and that they could help him do that. He played like the former Pro Bowl pick (2009) he was in the opener and shut down Torrey Smith and showed plenty of athleticism. But take Bailey out of the mix and the Broncos are small when they go into the nickel. When Bailey doesn't play, the 5-foot-10 Chris Harris starts and the 5-foot-9 Tony Carter then comes in for the nickel. Without Bailey that puts Harris in the slot and Carter on the outside and quarterbacks tend to go after Carter in that situation. If Bailey plays -- and he's made no secret he wants to -- that gives the Broncos better matchups. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes to mix it up overall and uses a lot of people, and if they get the right down-and-distance situations, he likes to even break out a seven-defensive back look and the rushers come from everywhere in the formation.

When Del Rio is looking at the Giants' running game, what will he see?

DG: Oh, yes. The run game. Better known as "The Only Thing I've Been Writing About Since Sunday Night." I still think the answer to your question is second-year back David Wilson, though his much-publicized pair of fumbles (and his less-publicized issues in pass protection) have the Giants tweaking last week's plan to give Wilson a full starter's workload. They had a bunch of veteran backs in for workouts Tuesday and ended up signing Brandon Jacobs, but Wilson is still the former first-round pick and the big-play threat who's likely to get the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as long as he doesn't fumble anymore. They had planned to use Andre Brown as the passing-downs back and the goal-line back before Brown broke his leg in the final preseason game, and after Wilson's tough opener, it looks as though Jacobs has been brought in to fill Brown's role. But Wilson's still their best running back, and assuming they throw him right back in there, he's someone for whom the Broncos will have to account. When he does hold on to the ball, he's impressive to watch run.

One guy who obviously stood out for the Broncos in their opener was the tight end, Julius Thomas. The Giants had no answers for Jason Witten on Sunday and, as I mentioned earlier, don't have anyone in their linebacking corps to really cover tight ends. So was Thomas a one-game wonder, or is this a serious candidate for a major role in the passing game?

JL: Dan, the Broncos and Thomas waited two years to see what folks saw last Thursday night. Since the Broncos took the former Portland State basketball player in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, he offered glimpse after glimpse on the practice field of what the potential was. But he suffered an ankle injury on his first NFL catch -- in the second game of his rookie season -- and wasn't the same after. He had surgery to repair the ankle before last season and spent much of the year simply being a game-day inactive. But coming down the stretch last season, players kept talking about what Thomas was doing in practice, and in training camp this summer he consistently ran away from defensive backs. He's great at getting the ball in a crowd and the Ravens did what most defenses figure to do, rotate coverage to the likes of Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, and leave Thomas with just one defender. Thomas is still raw in some of his route running -- he is in just his fourth year of football after just one season's worth in college -- and sometimes will drop one he shouldn't, but the guy is a matchup problem for defenses, especially since Peyton Manning trusts him enough to throw it to him in almost any situation.

Opposing tight ends did plenty of damage against the Broncos' defense last season with 81 receptions for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns as a position group. They've seen Brandon Myers plenty in previous seasons, how does he fit in an offense with so much output at wide receiver?

DG: Yes, Myers was kind of the forgotten man Sunday night with all of the wideouts going nuts. And as long as those three wideouts are healthy and productive, I wouldn't be surprised to see that continue. Myers is the Giants' fourth different starting tight end in four years. And over the past five years, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 40.6 catches per season. Martellus Bennett's 55 catches last year were the most by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 in 2007. So while Myers was a big receiving threat in Oakland, I doubt he'll threaten 70-80 catches this year as a Giant. They just don't use their tight end as a weapon in the receiving game the way a lot of teams do. Now, might they pick a matchup, such as this one, in which you say the team hasn't been strong against tight ends, and throw it to him more in such a game? Entirely possible. Myers looked like a significant part of the offensive game plan in training camp practices, so there are definitely some packages in which they'll throw to him. But right now, with injuries on the offensive line and the problems they're having in general with pass protection, I believe they need Myers to stay in and block more.

Speaking of protection, and getting back to what I think is one of the key points at least from the New York end, what's the state of the Denver offensive line in front of big brother Manning? Are the Giants' pass-rushers in for a challenging day?

JL: That was THE story in the preseason for the Broncos. Two of their starting linemen -- right tackle Orlando Franklin and left tackle Ryan Clady -- had offseason surgeries and Clady didn't play in the preseason. They lost center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL in training camp and spent much of August signing veteran linemen to address depth issues, before finally bringing two of those signees -- John Moffitt and Steve Vallos -- onto the final 53-man roster. They want the three-wide set to be their base formation on offense -- they ran their first 20 plays from scrimmage out of it against the Ravens -- but can't play it if they can't protect. Their first target in free agency, because they felt like they surrendered far too much pressure up the middle, was guard Louis Vasquez, who got the longest deal (four years) the Broncos gave to any player they signed in the offseason. They had some bobbles early against the Ravens, went to a two-tight end set briefly in the second quarter to reset things and kept themselves together when they went to three-wide after that. Center Manny Ramirez is the key; when he plays well, the Broncos can stay in that three-wide look and they can consistently pressure defenses out of it.

Rushing a Manning is something the Broncos have to consider as well. What do the Giants think of a pass rush without Von Miller in it for another five games?

DG: I'm sure they wish he was coming back in time to face the Eagles in Week 4 and the Cowboys in Week 5. But as a Week 2 development, the Giants will take it. Preseason injuries shook up the Giants' line. They have rookie first-rounder Justin Pugh starting at right tackle, which wasn't the plan. They have left guard Kevin Boothe playing center and backup tackle James Brewer playing left guard for the first time in his life. Add in the blocking downgrade at running back, and Eli Manning's protection is one of the major issues the Giants are having right now. Like his brother, Eli has an insanely quick release, so he doesn't need a Hall of Fame line in front of him in order to be successful. But he does need some level of comfort back there, because he's not at his best when he has to move his feet. George Selvie and a cast of backup rushers had success against the Giants' line Sunday night and helped rattle Manning into three interceptions, so it's not as though the Broncos necessarily need Miller to get the job done. What are they doing with their pass rush to overcome that significant loss and the loss of Elvis Dumervil to the whims of a fax machine?

JL: With Dumervil now in Baltimore and Miller suspended for five more games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the Broncos are missing 29.5 sacks from last season's defense that tied for the league lead (52) last season. The Broncos talked to plenty of veteran pass-rushers in the offseason and, after deciding John Abraham and Dwight Freeney wanted too much money, they signed Shaun Phillips during the draft weekend. And it's Phillips who is going to have to be the biggest part of the solution in the pass rush until Miller comes back. He was up to the challenge with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Ravens. Del Rio likes plenty of pressure packages when the Broncos get the lead and will rush players from anywhere in the formation The Broncos are particularly aggressive and creative out of their dime looks as well as the seven-defensive back look. They still have to show they can win one-on-one matchups in the rush when the game is tight, however. The rush didn't really kick in against the Ravens -- Flacco was largely untouched in the first half last Thursday -- until the Broncos had built the lead and the Ravens had to open things up some.

The Giants will be one of three NFC East teams the Broncos will play over the next four weeks, so do the Giants believe the Broncos' no-huddle look will be an kind of preview for what's to come with the Eagles?

DG: Good question. The Cowboys showed some no-huddle Sunday, and obviously the Giants are going to have to expect it from the Eagles, so perhaps these are some good early tests for them. Makes me think it really would help if they had some better all-around instinctive playmaker types in the linebacking corps. But they don't prioritize that position, and they think if they can get to the quarterback they can make up for deficiencies there and in the secondary. We'll see. It's a lot to ask of Tuck and Pierre-Paul, but they've both been great players at times in the past.

Anyway, I think that about covers it. Should be a fun one Sunday at the Meadowlands. See you there, Jeff.

Live blog: Ravens at Broncos

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:22
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Baltimore Ravens versus the Denver Broncos on NFL's opening night.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.

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