AFC West: Ronald Fields
If the Broncos sign Fells, they could have major change at the position. Even if Fells is not signed, there should be change at tight end in Denver. Veterans Dan Gronkowski and Richard Quinn could have difficulty making the team. The Broncos like draft picks Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh). Rosario is an athletic player who has good hands. Fells had 41 catches for the Rams last year and he is a threat as a blocker at 270 pounds.
Meanwhile, former Denver defensive tackle Ron Fields went to Miami. He is now with Mike Nolan on his third team, joining the Broncos and 49ers. The Broncos are visiting with former New England defensive lineman Ty Warren and there is a chance he signs with them.
Meanwhile, San Francisco may be closing in on bring back defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. He had been connected to Kansas City, but the Chiefs signed nose tackle Kelly Gregg on Saturday.
Former Denver tight end Daniel Graham agreed to terms with the Titans.
Could Michael Huff play cornerback in Oakland? It’s an interesting thought, but it’s risky. If that’s the case, perhaps Oakland will still pursue San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson.
Ronald Fields, defensive lineman, Denver:
Fields was arrested in Houston last weekend for carrying a gun. He faces misdemeanor charges. It has not been a great offseason for Fields. First, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (the man responsible for bringing Fields to Denver last year) surprisingly left Denver. Then, the Broncos brought in a new starting defensive line and now this. Fields is expected to be a rotational player this season. Still, this development doesn’t help his already falling star in Denver.
Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego:
The Chargers were very pleased what they saw of Mathews in their rookie minicamp. It reinforced the team’s decision to trade several picks to move from No. 28 to No. 12 to get Mathews last month. San Diego loves the way Mathews moved around the field. They think he will be an instant factor in both the running and receiving games.
The Broncos and Chiefs continue to be linked to signing rumors surrounding former New England pass rusher Adalius Thomas. The connections make sense since Thomas fits both team’s needs and schemes.
Fox Sports thinks JaMarcus Russell’s NFL career is over. I still think he’ll get one more chance.
New San Diego primary tailback Ryan Mathews will wear No. 24 for the Chargers. He wore No. 21 at Fresno State in honor of LaDainian Tomlinson, the man he will replace in San Diego. Giving Mathews No. 21 in San Diego would have created way too many distractions for Mathews and for the team.
The Broncos signed New England defensive end Jarvis Green. He signed for four years in a deal that will be worth a maximum of $20 million. Denver signed Baltimore defensive tackle Justin Bannan last week.
Both Green and Bannan should play significantly. Last year, Denver’s starting defensive ends were Kenny Peterson and Ryan McBean, and the nose tackle was Ronald Fields.
The Broncos are still trying to get a deal done with former San Diego nose tackle Jamal Williams to play him in a rotation.
Green is a solid but not a spectacular player. He started 12 games and he had one sack last season. Green, a veteran in the 3-4 scheme, has 28 sacks in eight seasons.
With all of the moves Denver is making on the defensive line, it may mean the Broncos will not use an early-round pick on a defensive lineman.
Meanwhile, it is being reported Denver could make a run at Tennessee veteran center Kevin Mawae.
Bannan is 6-3, 310 pounds. Bannan, 30, was with Baltimore. He had 29 tackles last seasons. He has been a starter one of his eight NFL seasons. He is a rotational player.
Denver started Ronald Fields last season and he did well. Bannan is a big, strong player who can stuff the run. Perhaps Bannan will play end and nose tackle in the 3-4.
Denver was the busiest team in free agency last year. Expect Denver to busy, but not at the same pace as last year. Thus far, Denver isn’t pursuing any big-name players. But its goal is to get deeper and bigger on the interior lines.
That question has been posed all week in the Rocky Mountains as the team is on the cusp of blowing a monumental lead in the AFC West.
The reeling Broncos somehow have to find the answer Sunday as they play host to San Diego in a matchup for sole possession of first place in the division. Both Denver and San Diego are 6-3. That tie seemed highly unlikely on the night of Oct. 19, when the Broncos beat the Chargers to improve to 6-0 and drop San Diego to 2-3.
However, Denver has lost three straight games, most recently at lowly Washington, since its bye. While Denver has come crashing back to earth, San Diego has won four straight games.
The Broncos have had a number of problems the past three weeks. They have looked more like the team many league observers expected them to be, with issues on both sides of the ball.
Here is a look at Denver’s problems and what it must fix to get back on the winning track:
No pressure from the defensive front: This area was considered one of Denver’s biggest question marks going into the season. Starters Kenny Peterson, Ryan McBean and Ronald Fields had two combined NFL starts prior to the season.
The group played well in the first six games but has been pushed around lately. Pittsburgh and Washington ran all over the Broncos. After the 6-0 start, the Broncos were third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, yielding 79.7 yards per game. Now, they're 12th in the league, allowing 105.6 yards per game. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Denver has allowed 157.3 yards rushing, 26th in the league, over the past three games.
The problem clearly starts up front.
“It seems like it’s the group we expected it to be prior to the season,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “That unit does not control the line of scrimmage anymore.”
It will be interesting to see how Denver’s defense plays the run against San Diego. The Chargers had the worst rushing offense in the NFL most of the season. But LaDainian Tomlinson got going a bit Sunday against Philadelphia, rushing for 96 yards and taking the pressure off San Diego’s outstanding passing game. Denver must stop the run to keep San Diego's offense one-dimensional.
The entire defense is wearing down: The Denver defense sparked its hot start. The unit didn’t allow more than 17 points in the first six games. It was timely and punishing.
Yet, over the past three games, the defense has looked tired, and it has fallen apart late. Denver has allowed 85 points in the past three games after allowing only 66 points in the first six games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver allowed 262.5 yards per game in the first six games. In the past three games, it allowed 351.7.
The change is startling.
“[We are playing] not very good team defense,” Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. ”We know that we can be successful when we play good team defense. We’ve shown that ability. We’ve done it in the past against good teams. For a number of reasons, we’ve kind of forgotten what got us to that point. We’ve got to go back to work, and we’ve got to all understand that we’re not 11 individuals out there. We’re one group that has to play our responsibility the way that it needs to be played and do our job the way that it needs to be done, and that is many times done without glory individually, but what happens is the ball ends up going back to the guy that it’s supposed to go back to and he’s there to make the tackle. If he does, then you usually play decent run defense. Once you start jumping around blocks and [are] trying to make a play here and there, it kind of spreads throughout the defense and becomes a problem.”
The longer the drives go, the worse Denver gets. According to ESPN Stats & Information, offenses were converting third downs only 26.9 percent of the time against Denver. In the past three games, offenses are converting on third down 56.5 percent of the time.
Williamson isn’t sure Denver is going to improve defensively with older players such as safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Andre' Goodman and linebacker Andra Davis.
“It worked for a while, but the defense looks worn down and tired,” Williamson said. “Can it get better? I’m not sure because it’s not going to get any younger.”
Deep ball: The offense was, for the most part, along for the ride during Denver’s hot start. The defense was leading the way.
But the offense made it count when it needed to. Led by quarterback Kyle Orton, Denver made the right plays when it had to on offense against Dallas, New England and San Diego.
But Denver’s offense derailed in its seventh game, a 30-7 loss at Baltimore. The Ravens forced the Broncos to throw deep, which is not Orton’s strength. The Ravens played one safety and stacked the box to take away the running game and the short passing game. The Ravens kept Denver’s receivers in front of them and took away the big play. The Steelers mimicked that plan.
In the first half against Washington, Orton had success throwing deep before he hurt his ankle.
For Denver to get more success on offense, it will have to run the ball better. Rookie Knowshon Moreno broke out of a slump with 97 yards against the Redskins. His improved play has to continue. If the Broncos aren’t going to be able to throw deep, they will at least have to complement the short passing game with a legitimate running game.
Special teams: One of the nagging problems of the Mike Shanahan era in Denver was poor special-teams play. Under McDaniels, special-teams play improved early in the season.
However, it has been an issue recently.
Against San Diego and Baltimore, Denver allowed a punt and kickoff return for a score. Against Washington, the Redskins got back into the game with a touchdown on a fake field goal.
These are the types of problems that can kill a team. With problems finding their identity on offense and defense, Denver can’t afford to deal with major failures on special teams. This should be a fairly easy problem to remedy. And it has to be solved. Giving away points on special teams is a sure way to lose games.
All of these issues need to clear up immediately. McDaniels knows his team can execute. Still, the past three weeks are clearly poking holes into Denver’s legitimacy.
“I am not sure where the psyche of our team is,” McDaniels said. ”I know where I’m at. We need to get better. We need to play better. We can coach better. We’re 6-3. We’re playing San Diego, who is also 6-3. It’s a huge division game at home. I don’t know why we wouldn’t like to be in this situation.
"I wish we had won the last three games. I think everybody in this building does, but we didn’t, and there are reasons why we didn’t. We’ve got to go fix the problems and play good football from here on out, starting with this week against a great team coming from San Diego in our division.”
Asked if he thinks Denver can regain its early-season form, Williamson was noncommittal.
“I really don’t know about this team,” Williamson said. “I didn’t expect them to start 6-0 and when they did I was impressed. But they have not looked like they can be a winning team in the past three weeks. They’re a very hard team to read. But they better get it together soon, or they are going to be in trouble. It has to start now against San Diego.”
The agent for suspended Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson said Friday evening that the two sides are still working toward a settlement that revolves around the estimated $600,000 Johnson will lose during his two-week suspension. If there is not a settlement, agent Peter Schaffer said he hopes there will be a grievance early next week. Schaffer said he spent Friday working on the settlement.
Schaffer said the possibility of Johnson being cut from the Chiefs as part of the settlement “hasn’t come up. That’s not the goal.”
Johnson was suspended until Nov.9, the day after the Chiefs play at Jacksonville. The Chiefs have a bye this week. He was suspended after using his Twitter account to question the credentials of his coach Todd Haley and to use a gay slur last Sunday night after a 30-point Chiefs’ loss to San Diego. The next day, Johnson directed a gay slur at media members.
Kansas City linebacker Corey Mays was fined $5,000 from the NFL for unnecessary roughness against San Diego last week.
Denver safety Brian Dawkins and defensive tackle Ronald Fields both practiced fully Friday after being limited earlier in the week with hamstring injuries. They are both probable to play Sunday at Baltimore.
Oakland defensive end Greg Ellis didn’t practice for the second straight day because a knee injury. Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski also missed his second day of practice with an illness. If JaMarcus Russell struggles again Sunday at San Diego, the team may be reluctant to pull him because of Gradkowski’s lack of practice time. Gradkowski spelled the struggling Russell last week.
Also in the division:
- Receiver Chaz Schilens did not practice for the second straight day, which further puts into question whether he’ll play Sunday. He’s been out for 10 week with a broken foot. Fellow receiver Louis Murphy was limited in practice with a hip injury.
- San Diego linebacker Kevin Burnett didn’t practice for the second straight day because of an ankle injury that keep him out of last week’s game. Defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo didn’t practice for the second straight day (ankle).
- Denver defensive tackle Ronald Fields practiced on a limited basis with a hamstring injury Thursday. He didn’t practice Wednesday. Safety Brian Dawkins continued to be limited in practice (hamstring).
- The NFL gave San Diego an extension until Friday afternoon to sell about 1,000 tickets for Sunday’s game against Oakland to avoid a local television blackout.
- Denver named cornerback Champ Bailey its Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee for his outstanding work in the community.
San Diego standout center Nick Hardwick made significant but incremental progress Wednesday by practicing on a limited basis. He has been out since suffering a major ankle injury in Week 1 at Oakland. He had surgery and there were initial thoughts he’d be out until December.
He could potentially come back in two to three weeks. Hardwick’s return could be a major boost for San Diego, especially in the running game.
Also in the AFC West:
- San Diego linebacker Kevin Burnett didn’t participate in practice Wednesday because of the ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game. Defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) was also held out of practice. Linebacker Shawne Merriman was limited with a foot injury.
- Oakland linebacker Ricky Brown continues to be out with an ankle injury. Defensive end Greg Ellis didn’t practice because of a knee injury. Receiver Chaz Schilens didn’t practice due to a foot injury. Schilens suffered a setback last week in his recovery. He has been out for 10 weeks with a broken foot. Guard Robert Gallery practiced on a limited basis for the first time since breaking his foot in Week 2.
- The Chiefs have not announced a decision on the future of running back Larry Johnson. He has been banned from team activities while the Chiefs investigate homophobic comments he made earlier this week. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Johnson is not expected to play Nov. 8 at Jacksonville. The Chiefs have a bye this Sunday.
- Denver safety Brian Dawkins practiced Wednesday on a limited basis. Dawkins suffered a hamstring injury against the Chargers on Oct. 20. Defensive tackle Ronald Fields also didn’t practice (hamstring).
- Denver quarterback Kyle Orton and linebacker Elvis Dumervil remain on the ESPN.com MVP watch list.
- Former Kansas City assistant coach Darvin Wallis has died. He was 60. He was a defensive assistant/quality control coach for 19 years.
- Tackle Chris Patrick left Kansas City’s practice squad to sign with San Francisco’s active roster. The Chiefs added defensive back Ricky Price to take Patrick’s spot on the practice squad.
|AP Photo/Denis Poroy|
|Elvis Dumervil had two of Denver's five sacks of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
SAN DIEGO -- Kyle Orton walked into the small but satisfied visitor’s locker room at Qualcomm Stadium following his press conference to talk about Denver’s 34-23 statement game against the San Diego Chargers and said “6-0, baby, 6-0,” to no one in particular.
The Broncos are unbeaten and unabashed. They’ve taken the NFL by storm and they are making sure everyone knows about it.
The Broncos gave the Chargers the Muhammad Ali treatment. They punched the Chargers out and then they told them about it. Again in true Ali form, the talking started before the beatdowns.
“There’s a new persona about this team,” said four-year Denver veteran tight end Tony Scheffler, who had to be held back from San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips in the waning seconds of the game. “We feel good about ourselves and we’re going to have fun out there. We aren’t going to be pushed around.”
Denver let that be known when nearly the entire team huddled near the Chargers during pregame warm-ups. A large scrum formed with some pushing and shoving. Officials had to break it up.
Think Miami-Florida State in the golden era of that rivalry.
After the game, the victorious Broncos, who pulled a similar stunt at Oakland in Week 3, were laughing about the dust-up. The Chargers were not.
“That was disrespectful,” said San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was pushing back players from both teams in the middle of the melee. “But we get to see them again. They didn’t have a cakewalk here … We’ll see them again.”
When the Chargers visit Denver in November, they must do a better job in the second half. Denver is undefeated on the strength of its incredible play after halftime.
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|Denver quarterback Kyle Orton was 11-for-15 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.|
The Chargers led 20-17 after a wild first half. But Denver outscored San Diego 17-3 the rest of the way and sealed the victory with its usual array of timely plays on both sides of the ball.
Denver has outscored opponents 76-10 in the second half this season.
“The coaches see what we don’t do right in the first half and we fix it in the second half,” Denver defensive tackle Ronald Fields said. “If that continues, we are going to be very hard to beat.”
Nearly every win by Denver this season has been spawned by a huge play in the second half. Monday night, it was a sack by linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who leads the NFL with 10 sacks. The Broncos recovered a Philip Rivers' fumble on the play and turned it into a field goal and a four-point lead. Denver added a touchdown later in the quarter after another huge defensive stop. One of four unbeaten teams, Denver has allowed an NFL-low 66 points. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Rivers was sacked four times on blitzes.
“We pride ourselves in making the big play when it counts,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Good teams know how to do that.”
Some other keys to the game:
Chargers get the Royal treatment: Although Denver turned the game around in the second half, the team benefited greatly by two first-half returns for touchdowns by receiver Eddie Royal.
He had a 93-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter and a 71-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter. He is the sixth player since the merger in 1970 to have a kickoff and punt return for a score in the same game. He was the first Denver player to do it. For good measure, San Diego return ace Darren Sproles added a 77-yard punt return for a score. It was the first time since 1998 that there were three returns for touchdowns in a game.
“I’m just glad I could help,” Royal said. “The plays just opened up for us.”
Merriman said the two Royal returns were devastating for San Diego.
“We can’t have that,” Merriman said. “You can’t have two returns for scores. It would have been a totally different game if that didn’t happen.”
Orton keeps on keeping on: Like the Denver defense, folks are waiting for Orton to crack. But like his defense, Orton is playing near-perfect football, especially when the game counts.
Orton was 11-of-15 for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the second half Monday night. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, his passer’s rating in the half was 143.3. He was brilliant in the second half and in overtime against New England in Week 5. Orton was 8-0f-12 on third down, compared to 3-of-7 for Rivers.
Orton, acquired in the Jay Cutler trade, is clearly thriving in Josh McDaniels’ system. He is both managing the game well and making clutch plays. So, the Orton-for-MVP talk is going to continue, at least for another week.
The Chargers aren’t dead yet, but they may be close: Although the focus is on Denver’s huge start, the Chargers’ third straight lousy start cannot be overlooked.
San Diego started 5-5 in 2007 and 4-8 last season before rallying to win the division both years. The Chargers aren’t panicking, but they are not pleased that they must try to come back from behind again.
“I’m sick of it,” Merriman said.
Still, the Chargers don’t have a brutal remaining schedule. Their next two games are at Kansas City and at home against Oakland.
The Chargers know they can turn their season around, but they have to play better, especially on defense. The Chargers couldn’t get off the field Monday night and they had very little pass rush.
“We've got to get better on defense,” Merriman said. “We have to get off the field. It starts there.”
If the Chargers don’t improve, don’t expect the boisterous Broncos to stop yapping.
SAN DIEGO -- Denver got its injured defensive players back to start the second half.
Safety Brian Dawkins, defensive tackle Ronald Fields and linebacker Mario Haggan all returned to start the third quarter. Dawkins and Fields had hamstring problems and Haggan had a knee injury. All were announced as questionable to return.
Dawkins left the game early in the first quarter. Denver allowed 13 points on defense in the first half, which is the second most in the first half this season.
SAN DIEGO -- Denver coach Josh McDaniels has shown before that he is an excellent second-half adjuster. He’ll need to do so again as San Diego leads 20-17 in what has been a fantastic game.
Denver has outscored opponents 59-7 in the second half this season. The 20 points are the most Denver has allowed all season. Denver allowed 10 points in the first quarter for the third straight game.
Denver left tackle Ryan Clady gave up a sack to San Diego rookie Larry English. Clady has allowed sacks in the past two games. He went his first 20 games without allowing a sack.
Denver’s defense is getting beat up. Linebacker Mario Haggan is out with a knee injury and he is questionable to return. Safety Brian Dawkins (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ronald Fields (hamstring) are also out and questionable to return.
If Dawkins remain out, expect San Diego to try to go to tight end Antonio Gates often. He was featured late in the second quarter.
Expect English to get fined for a horse-collar tackle late in the first half.
ESPN’s John Clayton is reporting that Kansas City traded defensive lineman Tank Tyler to Carolina for a fifth-round pick.
SAN DIEGO -- We’re early in the second quarter with the game tied 10-10.
San Diego ran 21 offensive plays compared to Denver’s 5.
Denver nose tackle Ronald Fields is out with a hamstring injury. His return is questionable.
San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson is running well. He had 28 yards on seven carries.
The Chargers are not afraid to go after star Denver cornerback Champ Bailey. Philip Rivers is throwing at him.
The pregame bad blood carried over to the field. Rivers and Darrell Reid went at it verbally early in the game. Later, Denver receiver Brandon Marshall put his finger in the face of San Diego safety Steve Gregory.
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|The Denver Broncos are buying what coach Josh McDaniels is selling.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
The Denver Broncos can’t wait to show up to work each Wednesday to see what’s in store. Under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, every work week in the Rocky Mountains is different.
“We show up for work on Wednesday and McDaniels has something new for us,” defensive tackle Ronald Fields said. “We focus on the opponents more than any other team I’ve been involved in. The details of the opponent are magnified. In the meeting room, we hit the tendencies hard and then on the practice field, we get right after game situations and every Sunday, we feel like we’re going to know what is going to happen. When Sundays show up, we feel like we’re in pretty good shape.”
The culmination of Denver’s work week this time around is "Monday Night Football." The 5-0 Broncos, the surprise of the NFL this season, visit San Diego. The Chargers, 2-2, are in danger of falling 3.5 games behind the Broncos in the AFC West.
The Chargers’ challenge will be to outfox Denver and its 33-year-old wonder boy, who is the early favorite for the NFL Coach of the Year award.
McDaniels has not only received praise from outside of the organization; his players are raving about the way he has taken charge. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey recently said he has never been so prepared by a coach as he has by McDaniels.
Added Fields: “McDaniels brings it to a new level.”
McDaniels’ plan usually focuses on his opponent’s weaknesses with their style changing to exploit the problems of the opponent. The work week is focused on what can beat that individual opponent.
Against New England, McDaniels revealed the Wildcat offense because the Patriots had trouble with it in the past. Against Dallas, Denver exploited holes in the Cowboys' offensive line with constant blitzing. Against Oakland, the Broncos concentrated on having a strong second half because the Raiders came back late in their first two games.
As the situation goes, so goes McDaniels’ game plan.
“It’s different every week,” Denver linebacker Andra Davis said. “It changes as we go.”
On Monday night, watch for Denver to attack San Diego’s troubled pass defense and stack against the Chargers’ passing offense because their run offense is ranked last in the NFL.
Denver’s success cannot be argued. The Broncos have made the right calls and the big plays, both on offense and on defense, all season. Denver’s wins over Cincinnati, Dallas and New England all came in the final seconds of the game. Both sides of the ball are playing mistake-free football when it counts.
Denver hasn’t been perfect throughout games, but that is part of McDaniels’ preparation. Problems are corrected as the team goes.
“You have to fix your own problems in the game and Coach has made us all accountable for it,” Davis said. “Too many ‘my bads’ are going to cause you to end up [in] the ‘L’ column.”
In the past two games, Denver has fallen behind 10-0 in the first quarter. In both games, however, the Broncos completely controlled the game in the second half.
Denver is outscoring its opponents 59-7 in the second half. In the past four games, the Broncos have not allowed any points in the second half. In the past three games, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Denver did not allow a third-down conversion in the second half. Denver’s opponents are 2-of-31 on third down in the second half.
This team doesn’t look like a fluke, thanks to its timely play, excellent second-half adjustments and balanced performance on both sides of the ball. It gave the powerhouse Patriots everything they could handle before making one more key play than New England when it counted.
The Broncos aren’t going anywhere. But they aren’t celebrating yet. They are just showing up on Wednesdays, ready to execute McDaniels’ unique plan.
“This team, we are not taking things for granted,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “We are 5-0 and that is great, but the most important game for us is this next one. That is what we need to [do]: Approach every game the same way and put the same amount of detail into every game. If we continue to do that, continue to detail our work, continue to believe in what the coaches are telling us when we are in this position, then we have the potential to do what we need to do.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Josh McDaniels went back to his roots to try to find some help for his inexperienced defensive line.
Smith is 6-foot-3, 308 pounds and he will add some beef to the defensive front. Denver's front three is one of its biggest question marks. Smith is expected to be a reserve in Denver. The current starters are ends Kenny Peterson and Ryan McBean and nose tackle Ronald Fields. The threesome has a combined two NFL starts in the past two seasons.
Smith was a backup in New England, where McDaniels was the offensive coordinator. McDaniels has brought several players from New England to Denver since being hired in January.