NFL Nation: AFC West

Top free-agent roundup: AFC West

March, 10, 2014
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The AFC West produced three playoff teams and the eventual AFC title winner in the Denver Broncos, so it should come as no surprise that many top free agents come from the division. Oakland Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez, Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams break down the top 15:

1. Branden Albert, Chiefs offensive tackle: Kansas City won’t franchise him this year. Albert will get a nice contract elsewhere.

2. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Broncos cornerback: He’s not yet 30 and still a top-tier athlete.

3. Eric Decker, Broncos wide receiver: Productive in scoring zone, will be one of the biggest wide receivers on open market, but rarely faced opponents’ top cornerback in Broncos offense.

4. Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive end: Better suited to the left side because he’s not the prototypical speed-rusher.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos running back: Has had multiple knee surgeries, including one on a torn ACL in 2011, but he runs with passion, is solid in pass protection and a productive receiver.

6. Jared Veldheer, Raiders offensive tackle: Didn’t have a very good season in 2013 but would attract some attention as a free agent.

7. Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs guard: Was a free-agent find for Kansas City last season. Can play right tackle if needed.

8. Jon Asamoah, Chiefs guard: A better pass-protector than run-blocker. He will be only 26 in July.

9. Shaun Phillips, Broncos linebacker: He’ll be 33 in May but showed last season that he can still be an effective situational pass-rusher.

10. Zane Beadles, Broncos guard: For a movement-based front, he’s a smart, durable option who played in every game while with Denver.

McCluster
McCluster
11. Dexter McCluster, Chiefs wide receiver/punt returner: Hasn’t had a huge impact on the offense in Kansas City, but he will be only 26 in August.

12. Robert Ayers, Broncos defensive end: Had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s a late bloomer.

13. Tyson Jackson, Chiefs defensive end: Like Ayers, he had his best season in 2013, so maybe he’s figuring it out as well.

14. Tracy Porter, Raiders cornerback: He’s versatile enough to cover the slot receiver, and he had one of his better seasons in 2013.

15. Kendrick Lewis, Chiefs safety: He’s only 25 but was a better player earlier in his career. He hasn’t been the same since a shoulder injury in 2012.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17

December, 29, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Though they've been mysterious about specific plans for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, it's easy to know what to expect from the Kansas City Chiefs.


Players and coaches to a man have talked about how important it is for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers, but Andy Reid has talked about resting key players and trying to keep them fresh for next week's opening-round playoff match, a game that really is important.

If Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and other star players are out of the lineup early in the game, that sends a stronger message about Kansas City's desire to win this game than anything they say.

Meanwhile, the Chargers may or may not be vying for a playoff berth by the time the game kicks off. If both Baltimore and Miami lose in early games Sunday, San Diego would get the final wild-card spot by beating the Chiefs. If either Baltimore or Miami win, the Chargers are eliminated and as far as the playoffs go will have the same motivation as the Chiefs, which is to say none.

The Chargers seem more motivated than Kansas City does regardless. The 8-7 Chargers have talked about the importance of finishing with a winning record and building momentum for next season. While those incentives aren't nearly as strong as playing for the playoffs, they are more than the Chiefs have going for them.

So the playing field definitely isn't a level one in this regard. Maybe the Chiefs will surprise with their effort but more likely they will be watching the clock and waiting for it to expire like a kid on an average school day.

The Chargers are an improved team since they came to Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs late last month. They had been allowing a lot of points and gave up 38 that day but since have progressed considerably on defense.

Outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson are finally healthy and playing well. The Chargers made a lineup change in the secondary, benching cornerback Derek Cox, and suddenly they're creating turnovers and getting opponents off the field on the third downs. San Diego is allowing just 16 points per game in the four games since they played against the Chiefs.

Offensively, the Chargers may be without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Eddie Royal because of injuries. But it's hard to shake the memory of how easy things were for Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen against the Chiefs the last time. And they were playing reserves at the end of the game against the Chiefs. It was seldom used wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu who caught the winning touchdown pass.

The Chiefs could rise up and play well, but it's not wise to expect that given the circumstances. They have bigger prizes to play for than Sunday's game and the result should reflect that.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17.

Pro Bowl selections: Oakland Raiders

December, 27, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece was named Friday night to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season.

He was the only Raiders player selected for the NFL's reimagined all-star game, which will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Reece, who was a receiver in college, has played in all 15 games for Oakland this season and has started 14 games -- 13 at fullback and one at tailback when Rashad Jennings, Darren McFadden and Jeremy Stewart were all injured. Reece responded with a career-high 123 yards rushing against the New York Jets that day, including a career-long 63-yard run for a touchdown.

On the season, the 6-foot-1, 255-pound Reece has rushed for 218 yards on 46 carries, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt, and he has also caught 31 passes for 320 yards. His 10.3 yards-per-reception average is third-best among NFL running backs.

"First off, it's an honor to be recognized amongst the elite players in the NFL," Reece said in a statement. "I just want to say thank you to my family and my teammates for allowing me to be myself and play at a high level, and also say thank you, last but not least, to the Raider Nation for showing their continuous support throughout the season and my career."

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Broncos declare Welker out

December, 20, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As expected, the Broncos formally designated wide receiver Wes Welker as out for Sunday's game in Houston.

Welker
Welker is also expected to be held out of next week's regular-season finale in Oakland as he continues to go through medical evaluations for a concussion suffered Dec. 12 against the Tennessee Titans. It was the second concussion Welker suffered in a four-game span.

Welker has not practiced with the team since, though he has begun light physical activity in recent days.

Defensive end Derek Wolfe (illness) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right thumb), who like Welker have not practiced this week, were also ruled out of Sunday's game.

Webster, who had surgery to repair a fracture last Friday, is expected to practice at least on a limited basis next week with a cast on his right hand. He is also expected to play with the cast against the Raiders and into the postseason.

“Everything's good," Broncos head coach John Fox said of Webster following Friday's practice. "... He missed this week because he is recovering from an actual surgery, don't want to risk any infection ... but I think next week there is more of an opportunity in a cast he could be able to play."

The Broncos are optimistic on Wolfe, who has not practiced since suffering seizure-like symptoms Nov. 29. He will return for the postseason as well. Like Welker, Wolfe has done work with the team's strength and conditioning staff in recent days.

Everyone else listed on the Broncos injury report this week, including cornerback Champ Bailey (left foot), was designated as probable and is expected to play Sunday against the Texans.

Bailey has said he's "ready to go."
Sean SmithAP Photo/Gary WiepertThe defense scored both of the Chiefs' touchdowns -- including a Sean Smith pick-six in the third quarter.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Brilliant football minds can watch all the video they want but they have no explanation for why the NFL’s best teams are not just good but lucky as well.

They can have no justification for what happened early in the third quarter Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs and their unbeaten season were teetering on the brink against the Buffalo Bills.

With Buffalo at the Kansas City 2, the Chiefs blew a coverage and left Buffalo’s best and most accomplished receiver, Stevie Johnson, uncovered in the end zone. The ball did not go to Johnson but in another direction and eventually the hands of Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

One hundred yards later, Smith scored a touchdown himself and rather than falling behind by 14 points for their first double-digit deficit of the season, the Chiefs tied the score. They went on to win 23-13 to go 9-0 and remain as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

“We make mistakes while we’re in there," said linebacker Tamba Hali, who in the fourth quarter scored Kansas City’s second defensive touchdown of the day. “We blow coverages. There’s a lot that happens but we just focus on the positive. Sometimes things are going their way and we just keep playing and [then] things happen to go our way. Our guys are just strong-minded men."

Football purists might not like Hali’s answer but it better captures what’s happening with the Chiefs than any other reasoning. The Chiefs won’t be able to get away with leaving receivers open in the end zone in their next game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the following week against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers or in the subsequent game, a rematch against the Broncos.

The fact remains that Sunday they were playing against the Bills and undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. He is Buffalo’s fourth-string quarterback, playing only because of injuries to the three quarterbacks ahead of him.

On the game’s most important play, Tuel didn’t go to Johnson but tried to force the ball into coverage instead. The whole stadium was shocked by his decision, Smith included.

“So surprised," Smith said. “It was like Christmas. You know, you go downstairs as a little kid and there’s a big box right there? That’s how I felt.

“Those are the plays that you always wish happens to you when you’re watching on TV. It was my day."

It was the Chiefs’ day, really. But all the days this season have belonged to the Chiefs and particularly in the fourth quarter. They again won the final period, which began with the score tied at 13.

The Chiefs scored both of their touchdowns on defense and managed just three field goals with their offense. But that’s not a crazy thing for them. They have five defensive and two special teams touchdowns this season and coach Andy Reid didn’t have to go back too far in his memory to recall winning a game in a similarly bizarre fashion.

“We’ve had a couple this year," Reid said. “We’re not making excuses for it."

Nobody is asking them to, but if the Chiefs think they can compete against the Broncos playing as they did against the Bills, they’re only fooling themselves. They were outgained in total yards Sunday 470-210 by a 3-6 opponent playing its fourth-string quarterback.

Yet if the Chiefs have proved one thing, it’s that it’s risky to underestimate them. They are on an amazing roll that goes beyond X's and O's.

Take the two touchdowns scored by Hali this season. Both have come from short range. He intercepted a pass in the season opener in Jacksonville and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

Hali on Sunday scooped up a fumble and returned it 11 yards for the touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead for good.

The Chiefs were fortunate it was Smith called to go 100 yards and not Hali, who is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and a relentless player who gives a maximum effort on every play. He’s just not built to go long distances, something he jokingly acknowledged.

“With blocking, I can run 100 yards if you’re not going to chase me," he said.

Smith is much better equipped to go the long haul. In truth, though, his touchdown return was so well-blocked that indeed even Hali could have scored.

“Do you know," Smith said, “how long 100 yards is in the cold?"

For the Chiefs, no distance has been too long, no hurdle too big. After going deep into the fourth quarter the past three weeks before outlasting under-.500 teams from Houston, Cleveland and now Buffalo, the Chiefs don’t appear they will pass any smell test.

Conventional wisdom will undoubtedly hold that they’ll have trouble against the high-scoring Broncos in two weeks, after their bye. But little to happen this season to the Chiefs has followed conventional wisdom.

That Nov. 17 game in Denver will probably fall into that category as well.

Chiefs 8-0, but living on the edge

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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Anthony FasanoAP Photo/Ed ZurgaNothing has come easy for tight end Anthony Fasano and the Kansas City Chiefs this season.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In many corners of their victorious locker room, the 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs claimed they were energized by being the last ones standing. Jamaal Charles said being the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team makes all the work worthwhile. Quarterback Alex Smith said it’s an honor to have opponents coming hard after them, as has been the case in recent weeks.

Their actions on the field send a much different message. The Chiefs suddenly look weary, like a team carrying a burden.

They survived again on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, winning 23-17. But they continued their unsettling habit of letting losing teams hang around and get to the fourth quarter with a chance at victory.

The Browns fell behind 13-0 at Arrowhead Stadium only to charge back behind their new starting quarterback, Jason Campbell. Campbell was playing only because the Browns’ first choice at quarterback, Brian Hoyer, is out for the season with a knee injury and the first backup, Brandon Weeden, was so bad he was benched.

The Chiefs still had to sweat a stressful fourth quarter. Where last week, there was much joy over their ability to hold off the Houston Texans, this time the emotion was pure relief.

“These grind-it-out games, they’re tough," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You work hard during training camp so you’re mentally strong enough to be able to handle things like this, and that’s what we did. We’ll continue to work hard, and I’m sure there will be other games like this where you have to grind them out."

That’s not a good look for a team having just completed the easy portion of its schedule. The Chiefs on Sunday concluded a three-game homestand against opponents who won’t be going to the playoffs. There’s something to be said for emerging with their winning streak intact, messy as things might have looked.

"The best you can be right now is 8-0, and that’s where we’re at," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Everybody is going to give us their best. We know that. If we can take that punch and keep rolling, that’s what we did today."

Next week, the Chiefs go back on the road for the first time in almost a month to face the Buffalo Bills. What follows certainly qualifies as a gauntlet: two games each against the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, road games against the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders and a home game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Every last one of those opponents figures to be coming after the Chiefs, much as the Texans and Browns did the past two weeks.

“We know next week we’re going to get Buffalo’s best shot, playing up in Buffalo," Charles said. “We know they’re going to give us all they can give us."

Charles went on to say he welcomed the challenge, but his words didn’t have the proper conviction to be convincing. Their games have become a grind and, to their credit, the Chiefs have often been grittier than their opponent. They had five sacks two weeks ago in the fourth quarter against Oakland, and four in the final quarter against the Texans.

That kind of effort requires a lot of energy, and they didn’t show they had it late in the game Sunday. Maybe they’ve given too much and the tank, at least temporarily, is empty.

Again, that’s not the party line.

“Not that anybody sneaks up on anybody in this league, but when you’re the only undefeated team, I think teams have recognized how we’re playing and no question they’re coming prepared," Smith said. “We love it. You want the stages to get bigger. That’s why you put in all the work in the offseason. That’s why you do training camp. You want these opportunities. You want that honor."

That much, of course, is true. The Chiefs have lost 12 or more games in four of the past six seasons, so to get to 8-0 is beyond any of the survivors’ dreams.

That doesn’t explain how the second half looked like it meant more to the Browns, who are now 3-5. They were the ones who turned up the heat in the second half, sacking Smith five times.

“We’re not trying to be beauty queens," wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “It’s never too close for comfort when it’s a win."

That doesn't change the fact that the Chiefs are living on the edge. Maybe they can continue happily on that way. More likely, going on the road to Buffalo, historically a graveyard for the Chiefs, or to Denver in its subsequent game on Nov. 17 will be enough to push them over the edge.

One way or the other, the Chiefs seem intent on finding out.
Terrelle Pryor and Jamaal CharlesUSA TODAY SportsThe Raiders are reborn with Terrelle Pryor under center, but the Chiefs have been flawless this season and are looking to end a six-game home losing streak at the hands of their division rival.
The Kansas City Chiefs last beat the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 19, 2006. The 17-13 victory was secured only in the final moments, when safety Jarrad Page intercepted a pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks in the end zone.

Since then, the Raiders have won six straight games in Kansas City. The 5-0 Chiefs and 2-3 Raiders have exceeded expectations, which could make for an interesting game Sunday when the teams meet in Kansas City.

Here, ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez take a look at the matchup:

Teicher: It only seems like forever since the Chiefs have beaten the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. What chance do you think Oakland has of making it seven in a row?

Gutierrez: Indeed, the Raiders are riding a six-game winning streak in Kansas City, their longest such streak in this rivalry that stretches back to the dawn of the AFL in 1960. The last time the Chiefs beat Oakland at Arrowhead was on Nov. 19, 2006, when Aaron Brooks, who rocked No. 2, was under center for the Raiders and Larry Johnson was busy rushing for 154 yards and two TDs. That 17-13 loss, ahem, helped the Raiders solidify that No. 1 overall draft pick the following spring, a pick that became JaMarcus Russell, who also wore No. 2. But I digress. Things have changed in Oakland as far as optimism regarding QBs wearing No. 2, and that's where Terrelle Pryor comes in. He was not allowed to wear the number coming out of college but switched back to his old Ohio State digit this year. Al Davis' final draft pick has brought an excitement to a fan base thirsting for it. Pryor can extend plays and if the defense can bottle up Alex Smith, I would not be surprised if Oakland made it seven in a row in Middle America.

Speaking of Smith, from the outside looking in it appears as though he should be the toast of the town in leading the Chiefs to that 5-0 record. But have there been rumblings about his being a one-dimensional game manager? Did fans not read the scouting report, or is it all much ado about nothing?

Teicher: Fans are difficult to please. The Chiefs, to their credit, have tried to play to Smith's strengths by using in large part a shorter passing game. Smith, to his credit, has mostly done what has been asked of him. The Chiefs have opened up their passing game in the past couple of weeks by going downfield more. Smith has thrown only three interceptions and really just one could be pinned on him, so he's not putting the Chiefs in bad situations. The Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter for the first time this season in last week's game against Tennessee and Smith responded by taking the Chiefs on what proved to be the winning touchdown drive, so he delivered in the clutch in his first try. One area where Smith needs to improve is completion percentage. With so many short throws, he needs to be way better than 58 percent. That's an area of growth for their offense.

Pryor is off to a nice start for the Raiders but has any opponent tried to pressure him like the Chiefs no doubt will? If not, how do you think he responds?

Gutierrez: The Colts tried to pressure him in the opener, and he responded with 112 yards rushing -- a record for a Raiders quarterback. Granted, much of that came on zone-read option plays, though he was able to take off for long runs on busted coverages when Indy overloaded the pursuit. Truly, his mobility and ability to extend plays has made a makeshift offensive line look pretty solid. Lately, though, teams have been putting a spy on him and his rushing totals have gone down. And really, while the Raiders want him to use his athleticism to make things happen, they don't want him running for his life, either. I'm curious to see how he responds if the Chiefs make it a priority to stop him from rolling out to his right, which is where and how he made a lot of his plays Sunday night, when most of the rest of the country was sleeping. Pryor's play has been surprising, especially to general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen. The raw talent was there, but how quickly it's come together has been impressive to watch.

Same thing in Kansas City, I suppose. After all, the last-place Chiefs did have six Pro Bowlers a year ago. How has Andy Reid been able to get the Chiefs to buy into his system and philosophy so quickly?

Teicher: That's been one of the more underrated things he's done. He walked in with instant credibility as the most accomplished head coach almost all of the current players have been under, at least while they were with the Chiefs. That helps. But unlike with several of their other recent head coaches, there's been no whining or complaining about how bare the cupboard was or what a lousy situation he inherited. He just rolled up his sleeves and got to work like a pro does, and I think a lot of players saw that as a refreshing change. Players recognized they had a lot of talent here that was just waiting for some competent direction. They were receptive when they received it.

Looking at Oakland defensively, I can't figure out how the Raiders don't allow more points. I know they do a very good job against the run, but the Raiders haven't forced a high number of turnovers and opposing quarterbacks are completing a high percentage of throws with a high passer rating. How do you explain the way Oakland is playing defensively, and who are some of the defenders playing well?

Gutierrez: It's the epitome of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy ... and being patient. True, entering Week 5, the Raiders had yet to have an interception. But then they picked off Philip Rivers three times. Four of his completions of at least 16 yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders led by 10 and were in a prevent defense. Just don't call it that to the Raiders. Dennis Allen prefers "situational" defense. Hence, a lot of Rivers' completions and yardage came in what the layman would call "garbage time." Individually, Charles Woodson has been more than the Raiders could have hoped for when they signed him -- he's been their best overall player. Against the Chargers, he had an interception and a fumble scoop and 25-yard run for a TD. Lamarr Houston has made the transition nicely from left defensive end to the right side. He leads Oakland with three of its 13 sacks. Nick Roach has been solid at middle linebacker, a far cry from the bust that was Rolando McClain. Even rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden flashed Sunday night, picking off Rivers in the end zone after a rough go of it against Keenan Allen. Observers were wondering when Hayden -- the No. 12 overall draft pick the Raiders loved so much they would have taken him third had they not been able to trade down -- was going to make an impact play.

Small sample size, obviously, but does the Chiefs' top pick, the No. 1 overall, Eric Fisher have the look of an impact, i.e., cornerstone offensive tackle, even as he missed last week's game with that concussion and is playing on the right side rather than the left? I know the Raiders were enthralled with him after coaching him at the Senior Bowl.

Teicher: He's off to a rough start. Fisher has been so bad at times that the Chiefs should have at least considered replacing him. He was playing his best game of the season two weeks ago against the Giants when he left the lineup because of a concussion. The Chiefs are still confident Fisher will become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. It's just taking some time. Opponents have been able to get Fisher off balance and use leverage against him, so his technique needs to be refined. He also needs more strength than a full offseason in the Chiefs' weight room would provide.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The number is now one. Yes, after all of the games that have passed since, all of the players who have come and gone in the Denver Broncos' locker room since Halloween 2004, cornerback Champ Bailey now stands alone.

A party of one. He is the only player remaining who was in a Broncos uniform for a remember-when game against Michael Vick. At the time, Vick’s jersey sales were off the chart and he was the next level of athleticism with a power arm. Vick represented what the future of the position just might be.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoOn Oct. 31, 2004, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams tries to slow down the elusive Michael Vick.
When he was the guy, even those among the NFL’s elite would simply stop to watch when he had the ball in his hands and a small window of open space in front of him.

“At that time, no question, there wasn’t anybody really like him," Bailey said. “That’s how we looked at it that week. We put on the tape and you watched him and he just did things other guys weren’t doing, with speed nobody else had, really. That game, I still look at that even now like that’s still probably one of his best games of his career. We had no answer for what he brought that day."

On that day, Vick was 18-of-24 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-28 Falcons win that saw any memory of Jake Plummer's franchise-record 499 yards passing disappear in Vick's jetwash. Vick did not throw an interception and the Broncos sacked him just once. Vick also ran for 115 yards on 12 carries, including a 44-yard, double-take worthy effort on a third-and-3 play during the Falcons’ first possession of the day.

That was all before Vick’s arrest, his incarceration, his life’s rebound and his career resurrection in Philadelphia. Vick returns to Denver Sunday, his first trip back as a starting quarterback since the ’04 affair and he returns as a slightly different player, almost a decade older and once again on the cutting edge of whatever becomes of Chip Kelly’s offense in the NFL. Asked this week if he could recall the ’04 trip to Denver, Vick said; “I think Jake Plummer was the quarterback, Mike Shanahan was the coach ... and it’s not an easy place to play."

Reminded he had rushed for more than 100 yards in the game, Vick said with a laugh; “Well, I was a lot younger back then."

“He was a bigger threat running the ball back then, I believe," Bailey said. “But he’s still a threat, a great threat running the ball. But he was just on point that day. He didn’t show all that on tape in previous games. That was one of his best games of his career. I know it because he probably ran for 100 and threw for two-something ... I look back and I think that was a big moment for him, because I don't think I had seen him put a whole game together like that, running, throwing, in the pocket, on the move, until that day."

And there have certainly been times in Vick’s career when his NFL peers perhaps appreciated his athletic gifts more than the public at large. In Vick’s time in Atlanta, players often responded to any question that included “most dynamic" or “most athletic" or “toughest to defend" in it with Vick’s name.

“I think that’s true," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, an eighth-year veteran. “Guys I knew would always be talking about how (Vick) played, what he did. And then I would talk to friends who weren't in the league or something like that and they would say they didn't see it, or whatever, but I think guys in this league have known what (Vick) can do."

And also in Kelly’s read-option attack Vick, who is suddenly the oldest player on the Eagles’ roster. Another sort of remake for the only quarterback in league history to have thrown for at least 20,000 yards and rushed for at least 5,000 yards in a career. He has a 400-yard passing game already this season -- 428 yards in the loss to the Chargers earlier this month -- and he’s also been sacked six times, by the Chiefs last week, as the Eagles try to settle in to a new way of doing things in a 1-2 start.

“But I just look at it now, he’s still doing those things, he’s still breaking off those big runs, escaping, all those things," Vickerson said. “It all looks the same to me."

Vick has been battered at times in his three previous seasons as the Eagles' starter. He missed three games each in the 2010 and 2011 seasons with rib injuries and missed six games last season after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys last Nov. 11. And questions have swirled about whether Vick is the long-term answer at quarterback as for Kelly's offense, or as a long-term an answer as a 33-year-old quarterback who is his team’s second-leading rusher can be. But as far as the Broncos are concerned those are decisions for another day by other people.

They see only Vick now, for the most part, as he was back in 2004.

“Michael Vick has been a talented football player as long as he’s been in the league," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He’s been a guy that can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm … I kind of feel like that’s always been the case and in particular when he’s healthy and part of a good team."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles on deck, the Denver Broncos got a little healthier in the secondary as the week wore on and are still hoping to add Champ Bailey to that mix before Sunday's kickoff.
Bailey
Safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle) practiced for the first time this week on Friday. He was limited in the workout and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but is expected to be ready to play if he has no additional issues in the coming days.

Cornerback Tony Carter (right ankle) practiced fully Friday and was listed as probable. As for Bailey (left foot), he practiced on a limited basis for the second consecutive week. And as the Broncos did last week, they formally listed Bailey as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

Asked if he could make a decision on Bailey’s status after Friday’s practice or would have to see Bailey work on the field in the hours before Sunday’s game, Broncos coach John Fox said: “We’ll make it official an hour and half before kickoff on gameday." Bailey characterized his status as "close, very close.''

Linebacker Paris Lenon (thigh) was the only player held out of practice Friday and was formally listed as doubtful. Lenon is not expected to play against the Eagles. Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee), who like Bailey has yet to play in a game this season, was limited Friday and listed as questionable.

Safety David Bruton (neck), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (left ankle), long snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), tackle Orlando Franklin (shoulder), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully and were all listed as probable.

What to watch for: Broncos-Eagles

September, 27, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Speed first, mistakes second.That's the order of things for the NFL offenses that want to go faster, run more plays, and push the pace against the defenses facing them.

“That’s what those offenses want to do," said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “They want you to mess up. They want you not to get lined up, not to get your calls, not to be where you’re supposed to be, then they hit you with a big play."

So, as the Broncos and Eagles -- two of the fastest offenses in the league -- gather Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, here are some things to consider:

  • Get moving: The Broncos can’t waste time on defense. That whole "stroll to the line of the scrimmage" thing isn’t going to work. Neither will being slow with the calls or sluggish in their alignments. When the play finishes the Broncos defenders simply have to get over the ball and be ready to go. The Chiefs were able to limit the Eagles last week, at least in part, by consistently getting themselves over the ball and ready to go, even as the umpire is placing the ball. Because if you snooze, you lose. And lose big.
  • [+] EnlargeMichael Vick
    AP Photo/Paul SpinelliMichael Vick has been exposed to a lot of punishment already this season, including six sacks against the Chiefs.
    Mind the gap: Like most of the pick-up-the-pace attacks, Eagles coach Chip Kelly is looking to spread out the defense’s resources and then run though the gaps. The Eagles currently lead the league in rushing, at 209 yards per game. With their offensive alingments, Kelly often creates situations where the defense only has six players in the box and then quarterback Michael Vick or running back LeSean McCoy only have to make one defender miss before they are at the second level with big plays on their minds. One of the more effective formations the Eagles have run is a “double stack" look where Kelly takes four receivers and lines two out wide on each side of the formation with one receiver right behind the other on each side. That pulls four defensive backs outside the numbers and six defenders in the tackle box. It makes tackling a premium and a single missed tackle can turn into a 50-yard run. Vick had a 61-yard run out of the formation against the Chiefs. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows the deal: “It’s all about leveraging and tackling ... always has been, always will be."
  • Air mail: The Eagles, in Kelly’s first season, have taken a page out of the Seahawks’ playbook. They opened the checkbook in free agency to get bigger at cornerback, signing the 6-foot, 200-pound Bradley Fletcher (Rams) and the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Cary Williams (Ravens) in the offseason. Essentially the Eagles were hoping Fletcher, who started more than four games in just one of his four seasons in St. Louis, could make the transition to front-line starter. But they’ve been spotty at times -- their three opponents have found enough room to attempt 49, 47 and 35 passes over the first three weeks of the season -- and all three opposing quarterbacks have completed at least 61 percent of their passes. Philip Rivers connected on 77 percent in a Week 2 Chargers win. Defensive coaches in the league say they believe Peyton Manning is as dialed in as he’s ever been. And Manning will get a secondary that is starting a backup safety. Earl Wolff is expected to start for the injured Patrick Chung and the other safety, Nate Allen, has struggled mightily at times this season. In the three-wide look, the Eagles will have a difficult choice over who they will put in the slot on Wes Welker. The Eagles have struggled to tackle well much of the time, so the catch-and-run opportunities have been there for opposing receivers.
  • Could be a special day: In the Eagles’ loss to the Chiefs, the game was just a few minutes old and the Eagles had already surrendered a 57-yard kickoff return and fumbled a punt. Philadelphia, like any roster in the transition that comes with a new coaching staff, has shown some bobbles in special teams. The Broncos’ Trindon Holliday will have some opportunities to make a play in this one. Also, from the Eagles’ perspective, Kelly will try some things on special teams to shake things up. He attempted a fake extra point out of a swinging gate look with the kicker and holder lined up. The attempt failed, but the Broncos will need to be aware.
  • Get heat on: Vick has been sacked 11 times this season -- he was tied for second-most in the league after three games -- including six by the Chiefs last week. It means, given the Eagles’ read-option look on offense, the 33-year-old has taken his share of punishment already. The Broncos will have to be disciplined in their rush lanes as they move up the field. And they’ll have to live by the basic rule of rushing a mobile passer -- don’t get deeper into the backfield than the quarterback so you don’t leave an escape route. The Eagles may move to more two-tight-end looks at times to give a little help up front. But the Broncos should be able to get some pressure and keep Vick hemmed in.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Play cornerback for 14 seasons before this one, as the Denver Broncos' Champ Bailey has, and you've seen some of the game’s greatest quarterbacks do all kinds of damage to all kinds of defensive game plans.

Bailey says no quarterback he has faced, or watched, over that timeline has started a season like Peyton Manning has started this one.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has thrown 12 TD passes without an interception through three games.
“I haven’t seen any quarterback be as sharp as him through the first three weeks of the season," Bailey said. “Usually you have some bumps the first three games, but he's smooth sailing right now."

Manning has thrown 12 touchdown passes -- a record over a season’s first three games -- without an interception -- a total that is more than 29 teams had scored so far this season after three games. The Broncos have scored 127 points, tied for the second-highest total over a season’s first three games in league history. Even long-time opponents, especially those who saw Manning's performance against the Raiders on Monday night, say Manning has flashed some of the best accuracy of his career over this current stretch.

An assessment Bailey agrees with.

“He’s going to put the ball where it needs to be, and that’s so frustrating (for defensive backs) because you can have good coverage," Bailey said. “You saw that the other night, people were in tight coverage, but he puts that ball in there and he’s the best at it."

Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has no shortage of accountability. Gase, in his first season as the Broncos’ play-caller on offense, sets a high bar when evaluating his players. He keeps it there for himself as well. Gase was not fond of a pass play he dialed up in the third quarter of the Broncos’ 37-21 victory against the Raiders. The Broncos were leading, 30-7, at the time and on a first-and-10 from the Raiders' 13-yard line, had Manning in the shotgun. Former Broncos defensive end Jason Hunter beat Broncos’ left tackle Chris Clark around the corner, then swatted the ball out of Manning’s right hand. Hunter then recovered the fumble and the Raiders scored six plays later. Gase simply felt at that point in the game, with the Broncos holding a 27-point lead, the play called for Manning to hold the ball longer than necessary. “The sack-fumble is the one that bothers me because that was a bad play call, I put Chris in a bad position there," Gase said. “That was a ball-holder, we didn’t need it, that would be one I would want to take back … That one bothers me, and I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen again." Gase was then asked Thursday, if he put the play’s result on his shoulders, and he said; “Absolutely, that play call was terrible."

  • Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has had plenty of rehearsals for the Eagles’ ultra up-tempo offense, like every series of every offseason practice after the Broncos decided to pick up the pace as well. He’s hoping all of that work against Manning & Co. will enable the Broncos to keep the assignment mistakes to a minimum Sunday. “We’re comfortable going fast, that doesn’t mean everything will be beautiful on Sunday," Del Rio said. “But we work at that tempo a lot, it’s part of what we do daily, so we should be more comfortable.’’ Del Rio added that if the Broncos handled their communication business properly, they will have the opportunity to audible defensively if the Eagles change their play at the line of scrimmage. Even if Philadelphia is doing it all at warp speed. “(If) they check we can check,’’ Del Rio said. “ … I think with the way Peyton operates out here, we find ourselves needing to do that at times. That’s part of the cat and mouse.’’

  • Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard on playing at altitude; “There is no hype about the altitude. The altitude is a different beast, they’re going to get a test of it."

  • Bailey, who hasn’t played in a game since injuring his left foot in an Aug. 17 preseason loss in Seattle, has practiced the past two weeks, but has yet to be listed officially as a full participant. He was listed as limited every day last week and both Wednesday and Thursday this week. The 12-time Pro Bowl selection tested the foot in the pregame hours Monday night, but both he and the Broncos decided he wasn’t quite ready. He said after Thursday’s practice he’s still not quite where he wants to be, and can't quite do everything he needs to do to play. "Not everything I want to do," Bailey said. “I don’t want to be out there half-stepping, this is the NFL, you can’t be out there half-stepping, you have to get the job done … I can’t do everything I want to do yet, I’m very close, I feel like I am anyway." The Broncos have used rookie Kayvon Webster far more on defense in some of the specialty packages in Bailey’s absence. They do have other injury concerns in the secondary as well. Safety Duke Ihenacho has been held out the past two days because of an ankle injury suffered against the Giants and re-injured against the Raiders, and cornerback Tony Carter was limited Thursday after being held out of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury. However, the Broncos kept 11 defensive backs on the roster, so they have been able to cover for Bailey on the depth chart even with veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer having been a game-day inactive for all three games.

  • Former Broncos wide receiver and Ring of Fame member Rod Smith worked with the team’s wideouts during some of Thursday’s practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Talk to offensive playcallers in the NFL about the endless pursuit of points in the now pass-happy world and the number 500 will eventually come up.

Or at least it will come up after a short lecture about how statistics do not really tell the whole story after they have waded through a mountain of data to make a call sheet.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
AP Photo/Jack DempseyThe Broncos will have to get Knowshon Moreno and the rest of their running backs more involved.
But 500 points in a season has routinely been the Holy Grail for those who draw up plays. Former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shananan often spoke wistfully of his only 500-point team in Denver -- in 1998 -- which is still the only 500-point team in the franchise’s history.

Which brings us to the current Broncos, who are on the staggering, albeit unrealistic, pace to be the league’s first 600-point team. The Broncos, at 42.3 points per game, are averaging 10.3 more points per game than any other team in the league.

While it's only been three games and it is a small sample size, they are the only team that has already crossed the 100-point barrier. Quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown more touchdown passes (12) than 29 teams have scored overall.

As tight end Julius Thomas put it earlier this season, "That's Madden right there.''

Yet history shows the highest of the offensive high rollers have rarely found Super Bowl gold at the end of the rainbow.

It is a question I’ve put to more than a few offensive coordinators through the years: Why is the 500-point barrier considered to be the benchmark for an offense that isn’t just good, but special, yet those offenses rarely power a champion?

The late Mike Heimerdinger, who was part of a 500-point offense in Denver as a wide receivers coach in 1998, one that did win the Super Bowl, simply put it “because at some point, no matter how good you are at throwing it, how good your [quarterback] is at spinning it, you’re going to have to run the ball on somebody late in the year and if you lean too far one way, it’s not going to be there when you need it.’’

And there just might be something to that.

Of the 16 teams that have scored at least 500 points in a season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only four went on to win the Super Bowl -- the 1999 Rams (526 points), the 2009 Saints (510 points), the 1994 49ers (505 points) and those ’98 Broncos (501 points). Included in those impressive, sling-it-around teams that didn’t get it done are the 16-0 Patriots of 2007 (589 points) and the 15-1 Vikings (556 points) in 1998.

But the ’99 Rams scored 32.9 points per game as the Greatest Show on Turf, and they were fifth in the league in rushing (128.7 yards per game). The ’09 Saints were sixth in the league in rushing (131.6 yards per game). The 1994 49ers were sixth in the league in rushing (118.6 yards per game). And the 1998 Broncos, with Hall of Famer John Elway at quarterback, were second in the league in rushing at 154.3 yards per game.

There are also two members of the 500-point club who went to a Super Bowl, but lost in the title game to a top five rushing attack. The ’83 Redskins (541 points) were third in the league in rushing and the 2001 Rams (503 points) were fifth in the league in rushing.

The ’07 Patriots were 13th in rushing; the ’98 Vikings were 11th.

The only member of the 500-point club with a top-six rushing attack that didn’t at least play in the Super Bowl were the 2011 Saints -- 510 points, sixth in the league in rushing and lost in the NFC divisional round. The 1999-2001 Rams teams, with Mike Martz calling plays, are worth a look, especially since Martz was a coaching mentor for current Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase; some of Martz's influence can be seen in the current Broncos' attack.

The 2000 Rams scored more they did in 1999 (540 points compared to 526), but were 17th in rushing and lost in the wild-card round. The '01 Rams crossed the 500-point barrier and got the rushing attack back in the top five, and that team played in the Super Bowl.

Now, the argument that there is still a place for running the ball smacks a little of remember-when grumpiness, even for the most elite of offenses.

If memory serves, last season’s Super Bowl between the two teams that ran the ball the most in the postseason was decided on a goal-line stand because one of those teams elected not to pound the ball a distance of roughly six feet to go get the trophy. So, run to set up the pass, pass to set up the run. Whichever you choose, the run component is going to have to be there.

What does it mean? It means the Broncos will need a little more from the three-man rotation at running back than they’re getting. Not much more -- they’re 14th in rushing at the moment -- especially when things get squeaky tight down the stretch.

For his part, Manning has played in one 500-point offense previously in his career. The 2004 Colts, with three 1,000-yard receivers, rolled up 522 points on the way to a 12-4 finish. And with the league's 15th-ranked rushing attack, they lost in the divisional round a week after throttling the Broncos in the AFC wild-card game.

So, points are great, points are exciting and throwing the ball to do it all is what most people say they want. But even the most elite of offenses have had to get their hands dirty from time to time, at least if they want to wrap them around the trophy.

And so will the Broncos before 2013 is said and done.

Carter, Ihenacho held out of practice

September, 25, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the Philadelphia Eagles' fast-break attack on the docket for Sunday, the Denver Broncos found themselves a little short-handed in the secondary in Wednesday’s practice.

Cornerback Tony Carter (right ankle) and safety Duke Ihenacho (right ankle) were both held out of the workout. Carter left Monday night’s win over the Raiders in the first half and did not return. His was the most serious injury the Broncos had in the game and he remains a question mark for Sunday’s affair. Ihenacho was originally injured in the Broncos’ win over the Giants and then tweaked the injury against the Raiders. Linebacker Paris Lenon (thigh) was also held out of Wednesday's practice.

Broncos coach John Fox had classified the injuries Tuesday as "nothing serious.''

Cornerback Champ Bailey (left foot), who has missed the Broncos’ first three games, was limited Wednesday. Bailey looked fluid in his movements in the open period of practice.

“He practiced all last week … and felt good, no setbacks,’’ Fox said. “And now we’re in the first day of a fresh week … when you don’t play football for a minute, it takes a little bit to get back in football shape and that’s kind of where we are now.’’

Tight end Joel Dreessen (knee) was also limited. Safety David Bruton (neck), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (left ankle), long snapper Aaron Brewer (rib), running back C.J. Anderson (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (left shoulder), wide receiver Wes Welker (left ankle), wide receiver Eric Decker (right shoulder), guard Chris Kuper (ankle) all practiced fully.

Broncos' Kayvon Webster a quality find

September, 25, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos snatched up cornerback Kayvon Webster with the 90th pick in this past April’s draft, some of their brethren in the personnel game around the league thought, sure, it was a good pick, but perhaps a bit of a reach in the third round.

Yet, three games into Webster’s rookie season, his play may have already authored a rather tidy response.

Whatever.

“That guy, I've been saying he’s going to be a player. I just think Kayvon’s going to have a long career in this league," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “He’s going to be one of those guys who is a dominant corner in the future, take my word on that."

[+] EnlargeKayvon Webster
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesBroncos rookie Kayvon Webster is making the most of his opportunities.
With all of the injuries the Broncos have had in the secondary already this season -- Champ Bailey has yet to play because of a left foot injury he suffered in mid-August and cornerback Tony Carter suffered an ankle injury in Monday night's win -- Webster's already quick progression up the depth chart has been expedited even a little more. And by the time Monday night’s game was over, Webster had been in on 25 snaps on defense to go with 18 on special teams. He has shown himself to be both confident in coverage as well as physical when asked to square up and tackle.

Or, in short, he’s been exactly who the Broncos thought he was.

“Kayvon has got a lot of swagger," said Broncos safety Rahim Moore. “He’s so confident; he’s not a rookie to me. I’ve seen that when he first came into training camp, he’s an unbelievable player."

What the Broncos saw in Webster as he closed out his career at South Florida was a cover corner who also led his team in tackles as a senior with 82. And while scouts often lament how much game video they have to wade through to see any cornerbacks in press coverage in college football, where most coordinators prefer to back off in coverage, Webster liked to play it close.

“I think maybe it helped me, that people saw I could match up,’’ Webster said. “I want to be able to do whatever they ask me to do.’’

For his part, Bailey has seen plenty rookies come and go through the years in his decorated career and he has consistently said it takes two things for a rookie cornerback to advance very far past the rookie part. That it takes the confidence in yourself to bounce back from the inevitable tough plays -- "You're matched against some of the best athletes in the world, they're going to score a touchdown sometimes no matter what you do." -- and it takes the willingness to learn and listen.

“It’s all about remembering they brought you here for a reason, so you have talent,’’ Bailey said. “But talent is just the start. You have to keep fighting on every play, give up a touchdown, get back and play the next play like you didn’t. And know what you’re supposed to do, every time. Get in the book, study, because if they don’t trust you, they won’t play you, guys aren't going to want to play next to you because you decided to do something besides prepare yourself, and then somebody else gets your locker after you’re gone."

Webster said his more veteran teammates in the defensive backs’ meeting room are constantly dropping “pop quizzes’’ on him, asking him his assignments in specific situations, simply to see if he is indeed following along.

He also believes those ambush quizzes are at least part of the reason, when the Broncos had a need to fill on the field, Webster has heard his name called.

“They get you ready, they keep you prepared," Webster said. “They ask you questions in front of the whole team, you have to answer them. I want to be able to answer them the best I can, I don’t want them looking at me thinking I didn’t stay on top of it. But I just listen all the time. And then if you have a question, ask it, ask Champ, ask Chris [Harris], we’re a pretty tight group, you can go to them without any problem. So, yeah, listen, study, ask questions and get answers, that’s how I’m doing it right now."

QB Watch: Broncos' Peyton Manning

September, 25, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Denver Broncos' quarterback play.

Manning
Rewind: At one point late in the first half Monday night, Peyton Manning was 21-of-23 passing for 264 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. And those two incompletions were drops. That’s about as dialed in as a passer can be and Manning’s increased comfort level in the Broncos’ offense, in the city of Denver and with the receivers around him continues to show with each passing week.

Fast-forward: The fast-break Eagles want to run waves of plays at opposing defenses, but have had only one game this season -- the opener against the Redskins -- where they’ve run more plays than their opponent has and they didn’t top 65 against either San Diego or Kansas City. But they will have to consider how fast they want to go against the Broncos because handing the ball over to Manning too many times hasn’t really worked out well for any of the Broncos’ opponents.

Little of this, little of that: The Broncos showed Monday night they have more variety in their playbook than they had previously shown. They had been a three-wide receiver team much of the time in the first two games, but flashed several two tight end groupings -- including Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme in one and Virgil Green and Thomas in another -- to go with a three tight end look they showed on one pass play.

Prediction: Manning has 12 touchdown passes in three games. He has completed 73 percent of his passes and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt. Those are migraine-inducing numbers for opposing defensive coordinators and the Eagles’ Bill Davis is next in line. Against a team with a first-year coaching staff and depth issues, the Broncos figure to push the Eagles into plenty of specialty packages in the secondary in hopes of getting favorable matchups against defensive backs further down the depth chart.

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