AFC West: Saints-Broncos

Denver is 3-0 despite a shaky defense

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos, expected to be too hampered by youth to make a real playoff push, are one of the big stories of the early NFL season at 3-0.

Their offense is dynamic, having scored 114 points. Denver's 34 points Sunday was its lowest output so far. There is plenty to be excited about in Denver.

Yet, in the winning locker room, the focus wasn't on the unbeaten record nor was it on Denver's spectacular offense. It was all on the defense.

  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 While prolific on offense, cornerback Champ Bailey and the rest of the Broncos defense isn't inspiring playoff-worthy confidence.

That's what happens when you follow up a 39-38 win with a 34-32 survival. As they did last week against visiting San Diego, the Broncos' defense squandered a 21-3 lead. New Orleans never led in this game but the Broncos seemed like the team playing from behind in the second half.

Should a winning defense allow 502 yards of offense? Nothing can put a damper on a 3-0 start like a defense that has allowed almost 1,000 yards and 70 points in the past two weeks.

"It doesn't feel like we won this game," Broncos cornerback and captain Champ Bailey said. "They should have never been in this football game. We have to play better ... We need to be winning games by a lot more with the offense we have."

Like last week against San Diego, Denver was fortunate to win at all. Saints kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 43-yard field goal with 1:55 to go in the game and the Saints trailing by two points. Last week, Denver won with a two-point conversion with 24 seconds to go three plays after a controversial official's call in which San Diego should have gotten the ball on a Jay Cutler fumble.

"Sometimes, it's good to be a little lucky," Bailey said.

What is happening on offense in Denver, however, is not luck. Not even close. The Denver offense is a scoring machine. This team can make a real run if the defense doesn't implode.

The Denver defense knows where the onus falls.

"We have just start making more plays, it's as simple as that," Denver weakside linebacker D.J. Williams said. "We know how good this team can be if we start doing a better job."

After a disastrous 2007 on defense, the focus by new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was to stop the run. Denver was 30th against the run last season.

Denver, which ran a 3-4 defense at times Sunday, is doing a better job against the run. But it is being sliced up in the passing game. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 421 yards. Last week, San Diego's Philip Rivers tossed for 377 easy yards. Giving up 798 yards in the air in two games is not a recipe for NFL success. Trading stopping the run for being an air-attack sieve is a Band-Aid that is not going to last.

As silly as it sounds, though, the Denver defense did come up big in a few situations Sunday. There is reason to believe the Broncos, who are swarming to the ball better than they did last year, can turn it around.

Middle linebacker Nate Webster scored on a 34-yard fumble return. Denver had a goal-line stand at the end of the second half and on third down and 1 on Denver's 24, on the play before Gramatica's miss. Williams hammered Pierre Thomas for a one-yard loss, forcing the field-goal attempt.

"Our defense made a play when they had to," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Still, New Orleans had way too many big plays -- five of more than 20 yards.

"That's what we have to cut down, the big plays," Williams said. "We have to do that."

Should Denver give up a ton of big plays next week, it should worry. The Broncos travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs, who have scored 32 points in three games. Kansas City's 14 points in a 38-14 loss at Atlanta on Sunday was its highest point total of the season.

There is little chance Kansas City can hang with Denver's offense. But in every Denver game, the question is: Can the Broncos' defense start taking pressure off the offense?

Post-game thoughts from Denver

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Random post-game thoughts from Denver's 34-32 win over New Orleans:

  • The Broncos have to do a better job in the red zone in the fourth quarter. Last week against San Diego, Jay Cutler threw an interception at the goal line and then had his controversial fumble play. This week, tight end Tony Scheffler fumbled at the five yard line with less than six minutes to go and Denver ready to ice the game.
  • This summer, Denver coach Mike Shanahan raised eyebrows when he went on a Denver radio station and said the team will make the playoffs after a two-year absence from the postseason. At 3-0, the prediction seems less crazy at this point.
  • For first time in six years, Denver wore its orange jerseys. For the first time, Denver won. The team plans to wear the jerseys when Kansas City visits later in the season.
  • Denver plays at Kansas City next week. The Broncos won at Arrowhead Stadium last season but have not won back-to-back games there since 1990-91.
  • The Denver offensive line has still not given up a sack. Cutler has been officially sacked once but that was the fumble in the San Diego game. He has not been physically sacked.
  • I have some seen some great games this season. The games I have covered the past three Sundays, Carolina at San Diego, San Diego at Denver and New Orleans at Denver, have been decided by a combined five points.

Johnson bounces back for the Chiefs

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

There is a lone bright spot for the Chiefs, where the days are getting increasingly darker.

Larry Johnson may be back. A week after Johnson expressed concern of being phased out in Kansas City and days after Chiefs coach Herman Edwards publicly assured Johnson that he is still in the team's plans, Johnson had a productive day for the Chiefs in an  therwise bleak 38-14 loss at Atlanta.

Johnson had 24 carries for 121 yards.

Johnson passed Christian Okoye and is now second in Kansas City career rushing yards with 4,981 yards. Priest Holmes has 6,070 career rushing yards.

A happy Johnson is one of the Chiefs few chances to stay competitive offensively. Sure, the team has now lost 12 straight games dating back to last year and the Chiefs' chances for victory the rest of the season may be few and far between. But if Johnson gets his touches, the Chiefs will at least have a chance to score some points.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos have not been boring.

Fortunate perhaps, but not boring.

Denver improved to 3-0 after a second straight wild offensive showcase at Invesco Field at Mile High. Denver secured the win when Saints kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 43-yard field goal at the two-minute warning.

Last week, Denver beat San Diego 39-38 on a two-point conversion with 24 seconds to go. Three plays earlier, Denver benefited from a controversial official's call on a Jay Cutler fumble.

Denver blew 21-3 leads in both games. If Denver expects to make a serious playoff push, its defense must improve. While the Denver offense, which has scored 114 points in three games, is working all cylinders the Denver defense has to tighten, especially against the pass.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Saints offense is exploding and has pulled within 34-32.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for 373 yards and there is about 10 minutes remaining.

Running back Reggie Bush has 10 catches and tight end Jeremy Shockey is having a strong game. This is the second straight offensive showcase at Invesco Field at Mile High. Denver and San Diego combined for 77 points last week.

Denver offense makes statement

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos just made a statement they needed to make.

They let New Orleans know if they get the ball, they are going to score.

After a second quarter in which the Saints scored 16 points, the Broncos' offense took over. There was a 26-minute stretch in which Denver had the ball just six minutes.

Denver needed to do something with the ball in the thrid quarter and the Broncos did something. Denver went on an 80-yard drive to take a 31-19 lead.

Still, the Broncos are going to have to do it again. New Orleans just scored on to cut Denver's lead to 31-26.

Halftime update from Denver

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Halftime thoughts from Denver as the Broncos lead, 24-19.

Denver's defense, which has struggled in the second quarter, came up big with a goal-line stand as Denver kept a 24-17 lead. After blowing a 21-3 lead, the Broncos needed that play.

For the second straight week, the Broncos blew a big lead. They led 21-3 against San Diego and had to rally to win 39-38.

The Denver defense has had its moments today but it has allowed way too many big plays. Expect the second half to provide more explosiveness.

For the first time this season, Denver's defense is in a 3-4 package at times. It has helped against the run but New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is having his way.

Denver kicker Matt Prater has a big-time leg. His kickoffs routinely go into the end zone.

Will Denver blow another big lead?

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- Can the Broncos hold on to a big lead today?

We will see.

Denver linebacker Nate Webster just returned a Reggie Bush fumble for a touchdown, giving Denver a 21-3 lead.

Last week, Denver took a 21-3 lead over San Diego and ended up needing to score on a two-point conversion with 24 seconds to go in the game to beat the Chargers, 39-38.

In every game Denver has enjoyed huge leads. It crushed Oakland, 41-14, in the season opener. New Orleans did just score to make it 21-10 and cornerback Mike McKenzie just intercepted Jay Cutler and the Saints have the ball in Denver territory. Let's see how Denver reacts.

Broncos celebrate then get TD

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos are a confident bunch.

They are celebrating touchdowns before they are official.

Late in the first quarter, quarterback Jay Cutler hit receiver Brandon Marshall in the back of the end zone. The nearby official ruled that Marshall didn't get both feet in the end zone before going out of bounds.

Denver was lining up for the next play when replays on the stadium big screen showed that Marshall, indeed, did get both feet inbounds. The Broncos' sideline erupted and Marshall and Cutler started celebrating with each other.

Marshall ran near the end zone where scored and gave the ball to a fan.

And this was before the play was even reviewed. Good thing for Denver that the play was reversed giving it a 14-3 lead.

Broncos break out rare jerseys

September, 21, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- It's Orange Sunday in Denver.

The Broncos are wearing orange jerseys today for their game against New Orleans.

This is the first time Denver will wear the bright orange jerseys in nearly four years. The last time Denver wore the jerseys was memorable. It was a Sunday night game against AFC West rival Oakland. The Raiders made a fourth-quarter come back to stun Denver in a driving snowstorm.

There will be no snow today in Denver, but with these two high-powered offenses, there could be plenty of fireworks on Orange Sunday.

Preparing for Week 3

September, 20, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

I am home in Denver, preparing for Week 3 action. I will be at Invesco Field at Mile High Sunday for the Broncos' game against New Orleans. It will be interesting to see if Denver's offense can continue to play at such a high level after scoring 80 points in the first two weeks against Oakland San Diego.

Monday morning I will fly to San Diego for the Chargers' Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets. It' going to be another great weekend of AFC West action.

Broncos' Nalen out vs. Saints

September, 18, 2008

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Broncos center Tom Nalen is out for Sunday's home game against New Orleans.

Nalen, 37, had been practicing on a limited basis and is coming off his second knee surgery of the summer in August. It may be several weeks before Nalen, who missed the final 11 games of last season with arm injury, can return.

Casey Wiegmann steps in at center and has done a good job recently in spot duty. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked just once but that was the controversial fumble against San Diego on Sunday.