AFC West: Dolphins-Broncos

AFC West player of the week

November, 17, 2008
11/17/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Larsen
Larsen

Spencer Larsen needs to be recognized for the incredible feat that he pulled off Sunday in Atlanta. The Denver rookie started as both fullback and middle linebacker for Denver in its 24-20 win. Larson became the first NFL player in five years to start both ways in a game.

Larsen, a special teams ace, didn't play much at fullback but he did have seven tackles at middle linebacker and he played on kickoff coverage units. For that, he is the AFC West player of the week. The honor had to go to a Broncos player since Denver was the only team in the AFC West to win this week and because there were no ridiculous individual efforts. Larsen is the out-of-the-box choice.

The sixth-round pick rarely practiced at linebacker since training camp. He got a crash course this week because of an injury to Nate Webster. Expect Larsen to continue to play while Webster sits in the next couple weeks. Larsen is a hard-nosed, tough player who's obviously mentally equipped to handle playing both offense and defense. This is a great story, and this kid deserves much kudos for this unique effort.

Brandon Marshall rips Joey Porter

November, 4, 2008
11/04/08
2:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Once again, Brandon Marshall has struck back at a detractor.

This time, it is Miami linebacker Joey Porter.

After Miami beat Denver Sunday, a game Marshall was held to a season-low two catches, Porter said the Dolphins got in Marshall's head and said the receiver was soft. The two were jawing at each other at the end of the third quarter and had to be separated by an official

Tuesday, Marshall shot back -- hard and colorfully. He called Porter soft, too and he had plenty more to say.

"All those muscles are popcorn muscles -- he's soft," Marshall said. "We hear stories floating around the league all the time about him as far as in the nightclubs dancing with his shirt off like a girl, or in the playground getting beat up back in California. He's one of those guys that, no matter how big he is, he still can get knocked on his butt. He's soft. He's soft at heart. You can tell the way he talks."

A Marshall rebuttal is nothing new. In the summer, when Dallas was in Denver for a joint workout with the Broncos, Dallas cornerback Adam Jones said Marshall didn't compare to Cowboys' receiver Terrell Owens. Later that day, Marshall hit the field, wearing a sign on his jersey saying that Jones didn't compare to Denver cornerback Champ Bailey.

AFC West hot seat

November, 3, 2008
11/03/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The bad news for Jay Cutler is he is on the hot seat this week. The good news is Cutler has a chance not to stay on it for very long.

Cutler

Cutler and his floundering Denver Broncos, who have lost four of their last five games, have to rebound quickly from Sunday's loss to visiting Miami and prepare for Thursday night's game at Cleveland.

Cutler, an early-season MVP candidate, had his worst game of the season in the loss to Miami. He threw three interceptions, including two in the first quarter, one of which was taken back for a touchdown. Cutler appeared to be out of sync for much of the game.

It will be up to Cutler to get Denver out of its malaise this week. Cutler is a fine quarterback, but he is in a bit of a slump, as is the entire Denver offense. After scoring 114 points in their first three games, the Broncos have scored 76 points in their past five games. The Broncos have not scored more than 19 points in a game in their last five games.

It's Cutler's job to re-energize his team, and it begins Thursday night.

AFC West news and notes

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
11:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Random game night thoughts across the AFC West:

After being inactivated by the team for off-field issues, Johnson will likely be back with the team. But Charles has a chance to show he can be the tailback of the future. He got a good start Sunday in a 30-27 overtime loss to Tampa Bay as he broke the 100-game rushing barrier.

  • Denver rookie fullback Peyton Hillis had seven catches. Denver coach Mike Shanahan said the Arkansas product needs to work on his blocking but he has "Pro Bowl" ability as a receiver.
  • Shanahan said he gave the Dolphins a 2nd and 19 situation at the Denver 47 and instead of third and 14 from the 42 because he wanted to take the Dolphins out of field goal range late in the game. However, the Dolphins went on to score a touchdown on the drive to take a nine-point lead with three minutes to go.
  • Miami linebacker Joey Porter, who got into a jawing match with Denver receiver Brandon Marshall, called out Marshall saying he wasn't tough and he didn't adjust well to being double teamed.
  • Denver rookies Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal continued their stellar seasons. Clady handled Porter routinely and Royal had seven catches and a 95-yard kickoff return to setup a touchdown.
  • Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell took a step back as he completed 6 of 19 passes for 31 yards. Russell, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft, was completely outplayed by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, the No. 3 overall pick of this year's draft. The Raiders had 77 yards of offense and gained three first downs.
  • The losing is wearing on the 2-6 Raiders. After the game, safety Gibril Wilson questioned whether some unnamed teammates are playing hard.
  • Don't be surprised if the Broncos consider signing Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. The defensive end was cut by Green Bay on Saturday. But with D.J. Williams hurt, Denver may have to sign a linebacker.

Here is, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Analysis, are some notes and charts from today's game in Denver:

MARSHALL PLAN GOES BAD

Marshall entered the week as the most thrown-to receiver in the NFL. (Andre Johnson of Houston has had two more attempts go his way, 78 to 76, but he's also played one more game.) The Dolphins shut him down completely. He didn't catch a pass until the final minute of the third quarter.

Brandon Marshall touches by quarter
QuarterThrown toCaughtYards
1st300
2nd000
3rd2*2*14
4th7113
Total12327
*TD called back by offensive interference

MILE-HIGH MISERY

In the first seven games, Denver was averaging 25.6 rushing attempts per game, 118.3 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rush. On Sunday, they had just 12 attempts for 14 yards, a 1.2 yards per carry average. The 14 yards rushing is second-fewest in Broncos history (13 at Oakland, 10/22/1972).

BRONCOS' TURNOVER PROBLEM

The Broncos have a turnover margin of minus-11 (eight forc
ed, 19 committed), which is worst in the NFL. Their 67 points allowed off turnovers (12 against the Dolphins) ranks 30th in the NFL.

PEYTON FINDING HIS PLACE

100 receiving yards by a RB or FB, 2008 season:
PlayerOpponentDateRec.Yards
Patrick Cobbs, Miamiat HoustonOct. 123138
Marion Barber, Dallasat ArizonaOct. 1211128
Leonard Weaver, Seattleat San Fran.Oct. 264116
Peyton Hills, Denvervs. MiamiNov. 27116
Reggie Bush, New Orleansvs. Tampa BaySept. 78112

This is the AFC West's best?

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
11:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- What's the difference between the AFC West and the United States presidential race?

There will be a winner this week in the chase to be president.

 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Denver quarterback Jay Cutler played his worst game of the season Sunday, tossing three interceptions.

Further cementing its stranglehold on the title of worst division in the NFL, the AFC West went a combined 0-3 Sunday. It was the second straight week the division went winless. The four AFC West teams are now 10-22 at the halfway point of the season. No, don't expect an AFC wild card to come out of this division.

With half a season to go, there is a legitimate chance the AFC West will produce the first playoff team with a losing record in the playoffs in a non-strike shortened season. Two 4-5 teams made the playoffs in 1982.

Only a strike could save this division. As silly as it sounds, the Denver Broncos, losers of four of their past five games, are leading the division. Denver is 4-4; San Diego, which had a bye this week, is 3-5; Oakland is 2-6 and Kansas City is 1-7.

After a 26-17 loss to visiting Miami on Sunday, in which the Broncos continued their sloppy ways on offense and untimely lapses on defense, Denver players tried to find a way to be positive.

"The division hasn't been good, we can look at that," Denver linebacker Nate Webster said. "But, come on, we need to start winning some games."

The Broncos, who play on a short week Thursday night at Cleveland, had an opportunity to separate themselves from San Diego while the Chargers were on a bye. With wins over Miami and Cleveland, Denver could have been 6-3 while San Diego was still 3-5. Now, Denver must try to avoid being 4-5 as the Chargers prepare to play host to Kansas City next Sunday.

"We have to shore things up," Denver running back Michael Pittman said. "We have to do it quick."

There is plenty of work to do. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off his worst game of the season, the vaunted Denver running attack is coming off its second-worst effort in the history of the franchise and the battered defense probably will now have to play without another stalwart, linebacker D.J. Williams, who suffered a knee injury.

"This was a bad game," Cutler said.

Other key developments from Sunday:

Turnovers continue to kill Denver: The Broncos continued to be careless with the ball. Cutler was the culprit Sunday. He threw three interceptions, two in the first quarter -- including one that was returned 32 yards by Miami cornerback Will Allen for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 13-0 lead.

The Broncos have committed 15 turnovers in their four losses. Eleven of the turnovers have come in the first half of games. In the past five weeks, Denver has been outscored 56-0 on series after turnovers.

Simply put, the Broncos' defense is not stout enough to withstand the pressure of Denver's offensive mistakes.

The turnovers are also ruining a strong offense. In Denver's first three games, which were essentially mistake-free, Denver scored 114 points. In the five games since, Denver has scored a total of 76 points and no more than 19 points in a game.

"Turnovers, it's that simple," Cutler said when asked his thoughts on his unit's biggest issue.

Nowhere to run: In 14 seasons under Mike Shanahan, Denver has been the premier rushing offense in the NFL. It wasn't Sunday. Denver had 14 yards rushing. It was the second-fewest yards in team history. It was a Miami record for fewest rushing yards allowed. Denver ran the ball only 12 times. Shanahan categorized the effort as "embarrassing."

This is battered unit. Pittman left the game because of recurring neck stingers. After the game, Pittman suggested he may need time to rest the injury.

This may open the door for promising rookie Ryan Torain, who was eased into action Sunday. It was his NFL debut. The fifth-round pick from Arizona State broke his elbow in training camp in early August.

Torain was a non-factor against Miami. He had three carries for 1 yard. However, with Pittman hurting and Selvin Young out for the past three games with a groin injury, Denver may have to turn to Torain in an attempt to regain the Denver rushing spark.

Marshall no fan of defensive scheme: Fresh off his lowest catch output since becoming a starter late in his rookie season in 2006, Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall, who had two catches for 27 yards, was more focused on the game plan of Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik.

Marshall didn't like the fact that Denver cornerback Karl Paymah, who replaced the injured Champ Bailey, was playing so far off of Miami receiver Greg Camarillo. He had 11 catches for 111 yards.

"When I look at it, it's common sense, if I was a receiver going against our defense and they're stacking the box and we're playing a one-high defense and eight in the box, and the DBs are 10 yards off of me, I'm going to catch 10 to 12 balls a game," Marshall ranted. "I don't even know that receiver's name who caught all those balls.

"Tighten up the coverage and just play ball, it's real simple. It's real simple. They don't need to be 10 yards off. Tighten it up. You say they don't do that against us, the reason why is a receiver will kill them."

When a star bashes the coaching scheme, it is a sure sign of the wheels falling off a team.

Webster didn't buy into Marshall's complaint. He pointed to Denver's defense nullifying Miami's Wildcat formation. Miami ditched the Wildcat after having very little success using it Sunday. Miami had 75 yards rushing and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington completed 23 of 40 passes for 281 yards.

Webster also pointed to Miami's final series as the only poor defensive possession Denver had. The Dolphins went on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took 8:02 to give them a nine-point lead with 3:08 to go.

"That was it," Webster said. "I don't think our defensive scheme really hurt
us today."

Walking more wounded: When Bailey was lost for at least a month with a torn groin, Williams became Denver's best defensive player. The 2004 first-round pick was having a Pro Bowl season with 77 tackles at weakside linebacker.

Now Denver -- which also lost starting strongside linebacker Boss Bailey for the season two weeks ago -- probably will have to play without Williams for a while.

Shanahan said Williams has a sprained MCL in his knee and he had no idea how long Williams would be out. Williams, who didn't talk to reporters Sunday, departed the stadium on crutches. If Williams is out for an extended period, it could be devastating to Denver's defense.

He is a playmaker, and without the Baileys and Williams, the defense will be stretched extremely thin.

Yes, it was a disastrous Sunday for Denver. But here's the bright spot for the Broncos: They are still the best in the West.

Yes, the AFC West is that bad.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos had their chance and they blew it.

Sound familiar?

The Broncos came off their bye week and were the same sloppy outfit that they were in recent weeks. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions. Denver, which has lost four of its past five games, fell to 4-4. The Broncos have 15 turnovers in their four defeats.

Still, Denver is in first place in the awful AFC West. San Diego, which is on a bye this week, is 3-5.

But Denver looks like anything but a first-place club. Besides Cutler's interceptions, the Broncos had a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall nullfied for offensive pass interference and played poor defense.

The Broncos are floundering badly, and there's more bad news: They have to play on a short week Thursday at Cleveland.

Dolphins take control

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
6:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Dolphins may have just sealed the victory in Denver.

Miami just scored on a 15-play, eight-minute plus drive to take a 26-17 lead with 3:08 remaining. Fans are leaving Invesco Field at Mile High in droves.

Fireworks in Denver

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
6:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- It's getting interesting here.

Denver receiver Brandon Marshall and Miami linebacker Joey Porter just walked together as the two teams changed field direction for the start of the fourth quarter.

The two were separated by an official. Yes, it's getting chippy.

Marshall just had a 70-plus yard touchdown pass nullified because he was called for pushing off on a Miami defender. Marshall and Denver coach Mike Shanahan -- and the Invesco Field at Mile High crowd -- were furious with the call. It would have tied the game at 16-16.

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler just threw an interception which led to a quick Miami field goal. The Dolphins lead, 19-10. The Marshall play could loom large as tempers are flaring.

Halftime update from Denver

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Halftime thoughts from Denver where the Dolphins lead the Broncos, 16-6.

Denver receiver Brandon Marshall, who has 49 catches this season, doesn't have a catch in this game.

Marlon McCree was back in the starting lineup for Denver and Calvin Lowry was back on the bench. Lowry replaced McCree in Denver's last game, against New England.

Denver's run game has been bleak. It five yards on seven carries.

Denver receiver Darrell Jackson has two dropped passes.

Denver rookie receiver Eddie Royal has provided the team's only explosive play, a 95-yard kickoff return that set up Denver's lone touchdown.

The Dolphins' Wildcat formation has been ineffective.

Denver defensive end Jarvis Moss has two sacks. He has been very active and is having his best day as a pro. Moss was Denver's No. 1 pick last season.

Denver's turnover issues persist

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
5:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos main goal for Sunday was not to turn the ball over, which has been an epidemic in recent games.

Well, the goal has not been achieved.

Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who looks as bad as he has all season in the early going against Miami, has thrown two interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown. Miami leads Denver, 13-7.

In Denver's three losses they have 12 turnovers -- nine of which occurred in the first half. Cutler's two interceptions are continuing a trend. Because Denver's defense has been so bad, the Broncos simply have no chance to win if the turnover bug continuing to bite.

Pregame notes from Denver

November, 2, 2008
11/02/08
3:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Random pregame thoughts before to the Dolphins-Broncos game:

  • It is 74 degrees and windy in Denver.
  • Denver tight end Tony Scheffler is inactive for the third straight game with a groin injury. Nate Jackson will continue to play in his place.
  • Broncos No. 3 receiver Brandon Stokley will play after missing one game with a concussion.
  • Denver rookie running back Ryan Torain is active for the first time this season and the fifth-round pick from Arizona State is expecting to get some carries.
  • Cornerback Karl Paymah starts in place of injured left cornerback Champ Bailey who will be out for a month with a groin injury.
  • Rookie fullback Peyton Hillis will start in place of fellow rookie Spencer Larsen.

Preparing for Week 9

November, 1, 2008
11/01/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

I am staying in Denver this weekend to see the Broncos play Miami.

This is a pivotal game for Denver, which has lost three of its past four games. Denver, which leads the weak AFC West with a 4-3 record, can take further control of this floundering division with a win over the Dolphins. However, if the Broncos -- who I think may have trouble defending the Dolphins' Wildcat offensive formation -- lose, the division will get even crazier.

In addition to the Broncos' game, I will be keeping tabs on Tyler Thigpen and the Chiefs' home game against Tampa Bay and Oakland's home game against Atlanta. Please check in Sunday for pre, in and postgame coverage.

Denver promotes QB Hackney

November, 1, 2008
11/01/08
1:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

Hackney

As expected, the Broncos promoted quarterback Darrell Hackney from the practice squad on Saturday.

To make room for Hackney, Denver waived tackle Matt Murphy. He was signed Monday. Denver was planning to elevate Hackney all week. Really, it has no choice. He is the only backup to starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

Backup Patrick Ramsey was lost for the season in a 41-7 loss at New England on Oct. 19. Ramsey was spelling Cutler for a short period of time because Cutler had a finger injury. Cutler is completely healthy heading into Sunday's game against visiting Miami.

Cutler needs to stay healthy because Hackney has no NFL playing experience. Still, Denver coach Mike Shanahan has long been a fan of Hackney and the team has no current plans of signing a veteran backup such as Daunte Culpepper.

Audibles: AFC West Week 9 preview

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-6), 1 p.m. ET

There is something interesting about the Kansas City Chiefs as we head to November.

Seriously.

Thank you, Tyler Thigpen. At 1-6, the Chiefs aren't exactly a compelling study heading into the final nine games of their slate. However, Thigpen added some intrigue to their season. A whole lot of it.

In his second NFL start, Thigpen, who was horrible in his first start, played shockingly well in the Chiefs' last-minute 28-24 loss to the Jets last Sunday. Thigpen threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns and he wasn't intercepted. He completed his first 10 pass attempts.

Thigpen outplayed Brett Favre for much of the game. With quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard out for the rest of the season with injuries, Thigpen will get plenty of chances to build upon his strong game.

It won't be easy this week against a fine Tampa Bay defense. But we're looking forward to seeing how Thigpen performs. Last week, there was little to look forward to in Kansas City, other than the draft. But Thigpen has brought some life to the Chiefs' world.

Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Denver Broncos (4-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

Are the Denver Broncos ready for the Wildcat?

At this point, it's no sure thing the Broncos' defense could handle Heathcliff, the cat. Don't be surprised if the Wildcat roars loud and proud in the Rocky Mountains.

Denver's defense has been a sieve. Without the services of the Bailey brothers, Champ (the star cornerback is out for a month with a groin injury) and Boss (the linebacker is out for the year with a knee problem that required surgery), it could be tough sledding for the Broncos.

Denver, which sits atop the AFC West with a 4-3 record, has struggled against the run and pass on defense. Trick plays just complicate matters. Confusion could be the order of the day for the struggling Broncos defense.

If Miami leaves Denver with a win, it will be on the strength of the Wildcat.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Oakland Raiders (2-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

This is a battle of the highly drafted quarterbacks.

Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was the No. 3 overall pick this year.

Maybe Russell can learn something from the rookie.

Ryan has been outstanding this season. He has the look of a winner and the Falcons are flying fairly high at 4-3. Yes, Ryan is a rookie but he looks like he's on his way to being a star. Russell has struggled right along with the Raiders, who are 2-5. Like Ryan, this is essentially Russell's rookie season. He played sparingly as a rookie last season.

Russell has shown some signs that he could be a winning quarterback, but he is behind Ryan in his development. Beating Ryan and the Falcons could go a long way in Russell's development.

Four players to watch in Week 9

October, 30, 2008
10/30/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Here are four players to watch from the AFC West in Week 9:

Denver cornerback Karl Paymah: Paymah has been inserted into the Broncos starting lineup to replace superstar Champ Bailey. Bailey was hurt at New England on Oct. 20. He will miss at least a month with a groin injury. Paymah has been a career nickel-and-dime package defender. He lost his nickel package job to rookie Jack Williams earlier this season. However, Paymah has had success in man coverage. Last season, while in the nickel package, Denver would move starter Dre' Bly to nickel and have Paymah play corner. He will need to be good while Bailey is out beginning Sunday against Miami. One thing is for certain: Paymah will be tested.

Denver running back Ryan Torain: Torain's long awaited debut is expected to come Sunday against Miami. He practiced fully Wednesday and is expected to play for the first time since breaking his elbow in camp in early August. Torain likely won't play extensively in his debut, but he should get some carries. Denver coach Mike Shanahan has compared him to Terrell Davis. So the entire state of Colorado is naturally interested in seeing Torain finally play.

Kansas City running back Kolby Smith: Smith is the Chiefs starter for the time being and it could be for a long while. He took over when the team punished Larry Johnson for off-field issues a few weeks ago. Johnson is expected to play Sunday against Tampa Bay but could soon be facing an NFL suspension. With rookie Jamaal Charles hurt with a high ankle sprain, a lot will be expected from Smith. With the Chiefs using the spread offense with quarterback Tyler Thigpen, Smith won't be the focal point, but he will need to get some yardage. He failed to get a key first down with the Chiefs  holding onto a three-point lead late in an eventual loss to the Jets on Sunday. Smith has some improving to do and it will be interesting to see how he progresses.

Oakland running back Justin Fargas: He hasn't had a very good season. Sure, Fargas is coming off a groin injury, but he hasn't been the player he was last season when he ran for a career high 1,009 yards. Fargas had just 24 yards rushing at Baltimore last week. That needs to improve against the Falcons on Sunday. With rookie Darren McFadden banged up, Fargas needs to step up with a big game to take pressure off quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

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