NFL Nation: Saints-Broncos

Posted by ESPN.com'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?

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

When the Saints decided to keep Martin Gramatica over Taylor Mehlhaff right before the start of the season, they said Gramatica won the job by being automatic in the preseason. They also said they wanted an experienced kicker, who had won some big games.

Now, there's lots of room to question that decision. Sure, Gramatica won some games with Tampa Bay a long time ago, but he also missed some kicks and lost some games. That's why the Bucs didn't hang onto Gramatica.

The Saints invested a sixth-round pick in Mehlhaff and he had plenty of leg and upside. He just wasn't quite as accurate as Gramatica in the preseason. Maybe the Saints should have taken a chance on Mehlhaff's upside because he probably would have kept getting better.

Gramatica could only get worse than he was in the preseason. The Saints probably could have foreseen that if they looked at Gramatica's streaky pass. That came back to bite the Saints on Sunday.

Gramatica missed two field-goal attempts, including a 43-yarder that could have won the game. As long as we're questioning decisions by the Saints, let's wonder aloud about the decision by the coaching staff to go conservative at the end of the game. With Drew Brees and the passing game putting up huge numbers, the Saints elected to run the ball three straight times before Gramatica's missed field goal. Pierre Thomas got stuffed on a third-and-1.

That leads to another question; why not use Deuce McAllister in short-yardage situations?

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1) 1 p.m. ET

Still not sure what the "real'' Atlanta offense looks like. It was great in Week 1 against Detroit and lousy in Week 2 versus Tampa Bay.

I'm guessing that had something to do with the competition. Drawing Kansas City in the Georgia Dome this week is probably the best thing that can happen for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, who took a beating from the Bucs.

The Falcons are painfully aware they need to keep the pressure off Ryan by using Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood and the running game extensively. Even against the Chiefs, Ryan's not ready to win a game on his own yet.

Carolina Panthers (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2) 1 p.m. ET

Had a question from a reader on a chat this morning, basically asking if Carolina's defensive line is any good.

Truth is, I don't know yet. I don't think anybody knows yet. But I think we're all about to find out. The defensive front needs to have a good game against Minnesota. That's not going to be easy, especially if Adrian Peterson is playing.

I know Carolina's defensive line (particularly Julius Peppers) has been taking heat because it hasn't come up with a lot of sacks. John Fox gladly will tell you sacks aren't the true measure of a defensive line. But, deep down, he wants sacks.

Maybe the sacks will start coming this week. Gus Frerotte isn't exactly a mobile quarterback. But the defensive line has to do its part if it wants to get a shot at some sacks. The defense needs to shut Peterson and the running game down first. If that happens, the sacks will come. If it doesn't, the questions will continue.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Chicago Bears (1-1) 1 p.m. ET

Brian Griese against Kyle Orton isn't exactly Peyton Manning against Tom Brady. Throw in the presence of two good defenses and it's likely this won't be a shootout.

The Bucs need to start establishing an identity on offense if they're going to contend for the playoffs. With Joey Galloway likely to sit out because of injury, that's not going to be easy. The running game, featuring Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, has looked good at times and that's a start.

But Jon Gruden's offense needs big plays from the passing game and someone has to step up. Two reclamation projects likely will get that chance. Antonio Bryant, who was out of football last season, has been starting opposite Galloway. Bryant had a great preseason, but has been quiet in the first two games. Without Galloway, he might become the No. 1 option in the passing game.

The other alternative is Michael Clayton. He's spent the last couple of years in Gruden's doghouse. But it's hard to erase the memories of what Clayton did as a rookie. Keep in mind, Griese was his quarterback that year.

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Denver Broncos (2-0), 4:05 p.m. ET

I'm discovering that Saints' fans are a lot like Red Sox fans. New Orleans lost a game last week and a lot of fans went straight to the ledge. Given the team's history, that's understandable.

But you don't write off a team in Week 3 even if it has to go into Denver and face what suddenly has become an offensive machine. On paper, the Saints have the offensive horses to get into a shootout.

After last week's loss to the Redskins, there's been a lot of talk about how New Orleans' defense is right back where it was last year. But the Saints put an awful lot of effort (see Jonathan Vilma, Sedrick Ellis, etc.) into sprucing up their defense in the offseason. We're about to see if that makes a difference or not.

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