NFL Nation: Von Miller

PHOENIX -- Occasionally, in walking around the events that surround the Super Bowl, you’ll spot a forlorn-looking soul in a Broncos jersey. A No. 18 here, a No. 58 there, a No. 10, maybe a No. 88 or two.

The Broncos opened their offseason workouts last April with the idea they would be one of the two teams in Super Bowl XLIX, that they would be the AFC team working out of a snazzy resort hotel. They said it, stood up for it and lived with that thought for most of the season that unfolded.

“That was the goal all year long," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. after his first Pro Bowl appearance earlier this week. “We didn’t step back from that. That was our goal; we believed we had that kind of team. We still believe we have that kind of team. We’ll take some time and come back to work. But when you’re here and see all the Super Bowl stuff, it’s right there in front of you, most anywhere you look you see something that has the Super Bowl on it with those Roman numerals, right there. Of course, you want that to be you, you want to be playing for the championship."

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders is among the Broncos players participating in Super Bowl festivities this week.
These Broncos have felt the sting in each of the last three seasons. They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 1 seed (2012). They have exited the divisional round as the AFC’s No. 2 seed (earlier this month). And they have lost a Super Bowl, by 35 points last February as the AFC’s top seed. It was the team's first title game appearance since it closed out the 1998 season as the champion.

As the eight Broncos players went through the Pro Bowl practices last week, they were surrounded by communities doing a Super Bowl countdown, with Super Bowl banners hanging over calendars of Super Bowl events. They continue to be a part of things, as Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was on the autograph schedule at the NFL Experience Tuesday and Wednesday, and linebacker Von Miller was on the docket Wednesday.

That, too, is a Super Bowl phenomenon. For players good enough to draw a crowd in the Super Bowl mayhem, it is an odd existence. You’re at the Super Bowl, just not in the Super Bowl.

“You know you had a good season; you were in the playoffs and it’s hard to get in the playoffs," said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who played in this past Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “But the goal was to get to where we wanted to go all season and that’s the Super Bowl … It’s why it’s a little different to play [the Pro Bowl] where the Super Bowl is. You see Super Bowl stuff everywhere, kind of reminds you a little every time."

The Broncos have continued to go about their business in the last week as Gary Kubiak fills out his coaching staff. But there may be no bigger crossing of paths between the Broncos and the Super Bowl than Friday when quarterback Peyton Manning is scheduled to be in Phoenix to accept the Bart Starr Award for his community work.

It will be Manning’s most public appearance since the Broncos’ Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Manning said following that game he was uncertain if he would return for the 2015 season.

Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway met with Manning the day after the loss and told Manning to take several weeks to make his decision.

“It’s hard for the season to be over," said Miller, one of the other Pro Bowl Broncos. “All you can do is get ready to get back to work when it’s time. We wanted to be here for the other game, be in the last game. You’re going to remember that no matter how many banners we see here."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There could be times Sunday night when the Pro Bowl actually feels like August for a few Denver Broncos players.

When, much like a training camp practice, cornerback Aqib Talib could be locked up on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders or left tackle Ryan Clady could trying to slow down Von Miller in a third-and-long situation.

When the Pro Bowls rosters were completed Wednesday night, Talib and Clady were on a team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin while the other six Broncos who are slated to play in the all-star game, including Sanders and Miller, will be a on team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

The team Irvin selected will be coached by the Dallas Cowboys’ staff and will also feature Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle, toe) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) had been selected for the game, but elected not to play because of injuries. Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are each scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 10.

Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos did play the Indianapolis Colts already this season, winning 31-24 in the regular-season opener in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

But when it comes to gleaning anything useful out of that game for Sunday's divisional round affair against the Colts, that was just so, well, 2014.

"It doesn't really help," said cornerback Aqib Talib. "They've seen us just like we've seen them. It doesn't really help. It's another game. It's a playoff game, a big game. We're going to prepare as if we didn't play them earlier this year. We're going to prepare as if we've never seen this team before and we're going to go over the game plan, get the game plan down and execute it."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck, Peyton Manning
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning, right, led the Broncos to a 31-24 victory in Week 1 against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos know Andrew Luck, who threw for 370 yards in the season opener against the Broncos and 376 yards against the Bengals this past Sunday, is still a problem for the Denver defense. And the Broncos will do the requisite due diligence and look at everything the Colts have done in recent weeks.

But to dig for any useful nuggets out of the Sept. 7 game, beyond a general what-worked list, may be difficult.

"The only thing different to me is they throw the ball even more," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "That is the only thing I've been seeing. It's like 7-on-7, so that is something we're going to have to be ready for. (Luck) has been throwing the check-downs to (running back Daniel Herron) a lot, so we've got to do a good job of wrapping him up. He's been making a lot of guys miss. We've got to be able to get to him by linebackers once we have him covered."

When asked what could be mined from the Week 1 game and how much could be applied to Sunday's affair, Broncos head coach John Fox said;

"Just a little bit. You look at matchups. But like I said, their team's changed quite a bit and so has ours."

The Colts have had injuries in the offensive line -- they've started 10 different combinations up front during the season -- running back Ahmad Bradshaw is on injured reserve, while Trent Richardson, who led the team with six carries against the Broncos in the opener, did not have a carry Sunday against the Bengals. For their part, the Broncos have made four moves in the offensive line since the opener, have used three different running backs as the No. 1 option and have put two starting linebackers on injured reserve since then.

Also, linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., both coming off ACL surgeries, played, respectively, 56 and 39 of the Broncos' 74 defensive snaps in the opener.

Also under the things-change department is tight end Julius Thomas, who had three touchdown receptions in the second quarter of the season opener, but has been limited by a left ankle injury since mid-November. Thomas has three receptions and no touchdowns since he suffered his injury Nov. 16 in St. Louis.

In short, the Week 1 video will get a look or two perhaps, but it's likely too many calendar pages away, and too many injuries and lineup changes away to be of any real help.

"We've got that chemistry now and at that time, that was kind of our first time learning how to play with each other, and all new guys," Harris Jr. said. "So now, we're playing them and we're full strength. I didn't even play the whole game the first time and I think a lot of other guys didn't play the whole game. So now we're full strength and it'll be another good game. ... We'll look at everything, but both teams are different so we have to look at how different, too."

Quick Take: Broncos vs. Colts

January, 4, 2015
Jan 4
4:11
PM ET
» Divisional Round: Schedule » AFC: BAL-NE | IND-DEN » NFC: CAR-SEA | DAL-GB


Three things to know about the Denver Broncos' matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday in an AFC divisional round game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

1. Luck is on their side: When Indianapolis running back Ahmad Bradshaw fractured his fibula in November, it essentially cratered the Colts’ ability to have any sort of offensive balance; they rushed for 1 and 64 yards, respectively, in the final two games of the regular season. While quarterback Andrew Luck carried the majority of the Colts’ fortunes before Bradshaw’s injury, he carries them all now. His ability to run when he has to and find the correct receiver under duress -- i.e., his 36-yard touchdown throw to Donte Moncrief in the third quarter Sunday with the Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap wrapped around his leg -- mean a championship day from Luck can lift the Colts against any team. The Broncos have to create pressure and not allow Luck to run his way out of the trouble. When the Broncos beat the Colts 31-24 in the regular-season opener, Luck threw for 370 yards despite being sacked three times and intercepted twice. The Broncos' defensive front, especially edge players Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, will need to keep Luck hemmed in and get him off his primary read as often as possible.

2. See what you get: The Colts' defense, through plenty of injuries, has been one of the real riddles in the league this season. The group allowed just 135 yards to the Bengals one week and then surrendered 639 yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. In the season-opening win, the Broncos went after the Colts' linebackers and safeties, with tight end Julius Thomas finishing with 104 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Wes Welker was suspended for that game, so the Broncos lined up in a two-tight end set for just more than 50 percent of the snaps. The Colts likely will try to force the ball short in the passing game and clog the middle of the field as so many have tried against the Broncos with varying amounts of success in the season's second half. But Indianapolis puts a lot on the shoulders of cornerbacks Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, so with some patience the Broncos should eventually find some man-to-man matchups down the field to their liking, especially if the Colts feel like they have to blitz to get to Peyton Manning.

3. Live the moment: The book on these Broncos from some of their peers in the league is a talented, championship-worthy team that can be rattled in the postseason if an opponent can force a mistake early. In short, many folks in the league believe the Broncos are wound too tight at times in a playoff setting and simply haven’t responded with their best effort on the biggest stage. They let home-field advantage slip away with a double-overtime playoff loss to the Ravens to close out the 2012 season and got blown out in the Super Bowl a year ago after too many early mistakes. The Colts will fit the profile of a potential upstart with a franchise quarterback in Luck, a win already on their résumé in this postseason and little pressure coming in. The Broncos will have to find the elusive balance between sweating the details and playing with that know-they-can-win edge against a team that likely will play as if it doesn't have anything to lose.

2015 Denver Broncos' draft order TBD

December, 29, 2014
12/29/14
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The league shipped out its official 2015 NFL draft order Monday, at least the official order for the non-playoff teams.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the way at No. 1, followed by the Tennessee Titans at No. 2 and down to the Philadelphia Eagles, who will pick at No. 20. The rest of the order, including the Denver Broncos' pick, will be determined by what happens in the coming weeks.

Whatever pick the Broncos get, however, will be in the recent ballpark for the team's current regime. The Broncos did pick No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft -- John Elway's first as the team's executive vice president of football operations/general manager -- when they selected linebacker Von Miller.

They had the No. 25 pick in the 2012 draft, but with two trades moved out of the first round before they eventually selected defensive end Derek Wolfe at No. 36 in the second round. Denver had the 28th pick in 2013 (defensive tackle Sylvester Williams) and the 31st pick in last May's draft (cornerback Bradley Roby).

After last season's spending spree in free agency, the Broncos are expected to concentrate on retaining their own free agents his time around to go with their draft class. And while things will change -- and change often at that -- before the picks get made, they'll certainly be looking in the offensive line, with guard Orlando Franklin set to be a free agent and with needs in the long-term at tackle, guard and center.

They'll also give a long look to the tight ends, depending on how things go with Julius Thomas in free agency. And linebacker is a position to keep an eye on as well.
video » Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster

SELECTIONS

Peyton Manning, QB, 14th Pro Bowl selection: People have asked him about wobbly passes or if he’s hurt, and he had his first four-interception game since 2010. But at 38, Manning has led his team to 11 wins, he leads the league in touchdown passes with 39, and he is fourth in both passing yards (4,454) and passer rating (102.9). With a win Sunday, Manning and the Broncos will have the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

Whom he beat out: The Chargers' Philip Rivers, with former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as his head coach, did not make the Pro Bowl cut, despite 31 touchdowns.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Third Pro Bowl selection: Thomas is second in the league in receptions (103), third in receiving yards (1,504) and tied for seventh in touchdown receptions (11). He also became just the third receiver in league history with three consecutive seasons with at least 1,400 yards and at least 10 touchdown receptions.

Whom he beat out: There is no scenario that doesn't include Demaryius Thomas on the Pro Bowl roster, but Thomas' selection likely kept, for the most part, the Broncos' Emmanuel Sanders off the roster.

Julius Thomas, TE, Second Pro Bowl selection: Folks obviously gave Julius Thomas credit for his fast start. He had 12 touchdown receptions in the first nine games and led the league at that point. Since he injured his left ankle Nov. 16 against the St. Louis Rams, however, Thomas has not played in three games, and he had three catches combined in his past two games.

Whom he beat out: Thomas' back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons were part of the reason Antonio Gates didn't make it. Gates also has 12 touchdowns to go with 65 catches this season.

Ryan Clady, T, Fourth Pro Bowl selection: Clady has played through some lower-body injuries (groin and right thigh) this season, but he has often been the guy the Broncos have left singled-up in pass protection. Although this season’s injuries have affected him at times, especially as he continues to come back from last season’s foot surgery, Clady hasn’t had the consistency of previous years. But in a jumbled offensive line, Clady has been the guy the Broncos have consistently given the toughest jobs.

Whom he beat out: The Bengals' Andrew Whitworth will certainly make many snubbed lists, especially as the Bengals have pounded the ball in the run game in the season's second half.

DeMarcus Ware, DE, Eighth Pro Bowl selection: When Ware signed with the Broncos, John Elway said he liked to “sign Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders." Ware has 10 sacks through 15 games, and if he gets at least one more in the regular-season finale Sunday, he will, at age 30, have had his eighth career season with at least 11 sacks.

Whom he beat out: Three of the Buffalo Bills' defensive linemen made the Pro Bowl, but the one guy who didn't was Jerry Hughes, who has 9.5 sacks this season.

Von Miller, LB, Third Pro Bowl selection: Miller underwent ACL surgery last January and still rebounded with what might have been his best all-around season in terms of learning all facets of his job. He has 13 sacks (seventh in the league), leads the team in hits on the quarterback (27) and is second on the team in tackles for loss (14).

Whom he beat out: It's hard to remove Miller from the mix, but a player such as Oakland Raiders rookie Khalil Mack didn't have the sack numbers to get on the radar, though he has certainly played with down-to-down impact each week.

Aqib Talib, CB, Second Pro Bowl selection: Talib is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four and has been the physical presence at the position the Broncos wanted. He’s fourth on the team in tackles (59) and has consistently been active along the line of scrimmage, as well as being a reliable defender when matched up down the field.

Whom he beat out: The position didn't have the kind of snubs as some others, but there are guys with interceptions, such as Perrish Cox (five) and Leodis McKelvin (four).

Chris Harris Jr., CB, First Pro Bowl selection: After not finishing in the top 10 in fan voting at the position, Harris must have won the vote from players and coaches in a landslide. Harris has lined up all over the defensive formation this season -- he has taken snaps at both outside spots and in the slot on both sides of the formation -- which makes him one of the most versatile players at the position.

Whom he beat out: See above.

T.J. Ward, S, Second Pro Bowl selection: The Broncos signed three defensive players in free agency -- Talib, Ware and Ward -- and Ward’s selection to the Pro Bowl means all three players were selected for the all-star game. Ward has lined up at a traditional safety spot this season, has essentially played weakside linebacker in the specialty packages and played in coverage with the Broncos more than he was asked to do with the Cleveland Browns. He’s second on the Broncos in tackles (74), and the Broncos have spent much of the year as the league’s No. 2 run defense.

Whom he beat out: San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea played at a Pro Bowl level for a team that did not make the postseason.

SNUBS

Emmanuel Sanders, WR: Although it was Sanders who said when he signed with the Broncos last March that he was coming to “wide receiver heaven," the Broncos are thanking just as many lucky stars. Sanders is fifth in the league in receptions (95) and sixth in receiving yards (1,331) -- both career highs. He has also displayed remarkable toughness, as he has made impact plays lined up both on the outside in the formation and in the slot.

Whom he should have beaten out: It’s hard to bump anybody at receiver in these pass-happy times, and it's a little quirky to say a team that got nine Pro Bowl slots missed out on a couple, but Sanders’ ability all over the formation was worthy of a spot. Although it's difficult to say Calvin Johnson shouldn't be among the group, his injury-marred year wasn't to his usual standards.

Terrance Knighton, DT: Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was a snub on performance, given what he’s done as an every-down player to lead the Broncos in tackles, but Knighton makes what the Broncos do on early downs go and constantly surrenders his own opportunities at some statistics because his job is to clear the way for others.

Whom he should have beaten out: The Kansas City Chiefs are 28th in run defense and allow 128.3 yards per game, so Knighton's body of work is, according to several personnel executives, at a higher level than Dontari Poe's.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos head coach John Fox said Tuesday that safety T.J. Ward has a neck strain and didn’t suffer significant damage during Monday night's game.

Ward
Ward was injured on a fourth-quarter tackle in the Broncos’ 37-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. X-rays taken at the stadium were negative, Ward said following the game.

Ward underwent some additional tests, including an MRI, Tuesday morning after the team returned from Cincinnati.

"MRI proved and things proved negative as far as anything serious," Fox said. "He has a neck strain."

Ward suffered the injury with just under eight minutes remaining. He tackled Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and got pinned at the bottom of the pile. Broncos players immediately took off their helmets and each went to one knee as the team's medical staff evaluated Ward on the field.

Fox walked onto the field as well, and said Tuesday that he thought Ward's injury was collarbone related. A fractured collarbone would have ended Ward’s season.

Ward is expected to miss some practice time in the coming days, but Fox said, as he usually does when it comes to injured players, that Ward was day to day.

Ward is the team’s second-leading tackler with 74.

Following the game, Ward said: "I hit, it was actually to the side of [Bernard] and then Von [Miller] landed on top of him, landed on top of me, and it went all the way back. Just the weight of all the people falling on me … I don’t want to discuss it until I figure it out. … I’ve had enough stingers to know what they feel like, this was a little different."
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Denver Broncos' 37-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium.
  • Ward
    T.J. Ward will have his neck evaluated further Tuesday after the team has returned from Cincinnati. Ward left the game with a neck injury with just under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Ward had tackled Bengals running back Giovani Bernard on a 2-yard gain on third-and-5 that had begun at the Broncos' 7-yard line. Ward got pinned at the bottom of the pile. "X-rays were negative that I took [Monday], but I still got to go get it checked," Ward said. "I hit him, it was actually to the side of him, and then Von [Miller] landed on top of him, landed on top of me, and it went all the way back. Just the weight of all the people falling on me." Asked if he had lost feeling in any of his limbs briefly following the hit, Ward added; "I don't want to discuss it until I figure it out. … I've had enough stingers to know what they feel like; this was a little different."
  • The Broncos lost their last chance at home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs but still can clinch a first-round bye if they can win their regular-season finale Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. "All this loss did was make next week's game a must win," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. And in a locker room full of players in no real mood to search for good things from the game, Miller said; "We can't play that type of football."
  • Running back C.J. Anderson took a page from fellow California alum Marshawn Lynch's postgame interview playbook following Monday's loss. Anderson was asked three questions and answered; "Played terrible; just got to get better. Look at the tape and get ready for next week." He then followed with "Just played terrible tonight; all we can do is try to get better next week." Anderson then followed with his next answer; "Just played terrible; got to get ready for next week."
  • The numbers were staggering, but the Broncos' special-teams units consistently surrendered field position the Broncos desperately needed for themselves. The Bengals had 72 punt return yards, including a 49-yarder from Brandon Tate, to go with 134 kickoff return yards from Adam Jones, including an 80-yarder. "The kicking game, as far as coverage, kind of broke down," said Broncos head coach John Fox. I think we gave up 200 return yards, which didn't help our cause."

W2W4: Broncos vs. Bengals

December, 22, 2014
12/22/14
3:30
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CINCINNATI -- A few storylines to watch Monday night when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium:

Ayodele
Knighton
Line anchors: Keep your eyes trained on the Bengals' offensive line. Not only will the unit have a massive challenge to contend with in the running game -- both literally and figuratively -- in the form of Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, but it will have a pair of tough-to-block edge rushers in the passing game, too. An athletic 330 pounds, Knighton is adept at plugging holes on interior rushing plays. The presence of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on the outside doesn't make it easy for rushers to cut back outside if the inside run is a no-go. Ware and Miller also are among the game's most effective rushers in passing situations. If the Bengals have any hope at moving the football Monday, it will be to play physically with Knighton in the run, and to provide solid pockets when quarterback Andy Dalton is passing. One way the Bengals are doing that on the right side of their line, in particular, is by anchoring the unit with veteran Eric Winston. Expect him to get his first Bengals start there, lining up opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Red zone a factor: Cincinnati's defense will try hard to keep the Broncos out of the red zone, but recent trends show that might not be a bad thing if it happens. According to ESPN Stats & Information, after leading the league in red-zone completion percentage, touchdown passes and total QBR through his first 11 games, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning ranks outside the top 20 in each category over the past three weeks. The absence of tight end Julius Thomas for two of those three contests correlated with the declining production inside the 20. Although Thomas returned last week, he wasn't that effective on his hurt ankle. He is considered healthier this week, which means you should look for him to play a bigger role in the red zone Monday for the Broncos. He entered the week leading the league in red-zone touchdown catches with nine.

Green
Toss it to Green: As much as we have hammered home all week the importance of the Bengals running the football in this game, you simply can't ignore the fact that this is a team with A.J. Green on its roster. Cincinnati has to be smart with the way it runs the ball, but it also has to be savvy about the way it utilizes Green, the Pro Bowl wide out who went on a four-game tear in November and early December, catching 33 passes for 529 yards and three touchdown. He was at his best in that stretch in the deep passing game. Of his 33 catches, 12 came on throws that traveled 10 yards or more in the air. All three of his touchdowns came on such throws, including an 81-yard reception against Pittsburgh. What helped him get open downfield for those catches? The running game. Specifically, the play-action pass that resulted from it. With linebackers and safeties flowing up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Green has been single-covered by the end of recent games. Be on the lookout for similar opportunities Monday if Cincinnati's running game gets going early.

Broncos vs. Bengals preview

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
8:00
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video
When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati TV: ESPN

Peyton Manning is good. Under the lights, the Cincinnati Bengals are not.

But if the Bengals have plans of joining the Denver Broncos as a playoff-bound team, they will have to overcome the future Hall of Fame quarterback and put to rest their atrocious recent prime-time showing.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton became its starting quarterback, Cincinnati is 2-9 in nationally televised playoff games and night games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to preview this week's "Monday Night Football" game:

Harvey: Manning is 8-0 against the Bengals, including a 3-0 mark against them in December. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in December. For the Bengals to have any hope of stopping him, what are two things their defense must do?

Legwold: As an opposing defensive coach told me this season, "I don't know why anybody needs to list the stats for him; let's just assume they're good against everybody and go from there." Manning has won at least eight games against 10 different teams in his career. And defensively, the formula is not complicated, yet difficult to do. Defenses who succeed against him generally create some kind of consistent pressure in the middle of the field -- they win the A gaps -- keeping him from setting his feet, and they don't give him room to climb the pocket to step into his throws. Those defenses also limit the Broncos' ability to use their variety of crossing routes. They play physically against the Broncos' receivers and limit yards after the catch because they tackle well. Not rocket science, but difficult to do because the Broncos are creative in play design. Manning delivers the ball quickly and consistently makes defenses pay for sending extra rushers (game video shows Manning had five completions this past weekend against the Chargers' blitz for 111 yards and a touchdown). So, a defense has to get all of that done largely by rushing four players, and it can't miss assignments behind that rush.

Defending a rookie in his first NFL start is one thing, and the Bengals did well in a 30-0 win against the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel behind center last week, but how do you expect them to defend Manning?

Harvey: You just summed it up perfectly, Leggy. I'll add this. A defense can best stop Manning by sending a standard four-man rush and hope and pray the coverage downfield holds up. Last week, in fact, this was exactly what allowed the Bengals to bully Manziel. Only twice did they send blitzes on the mobile young quarterback. The rest of the time, they did exactly what you prescribed: They attacked the A gaps with great interior pressure from the line and forced Manziel to roll to his right. Obviously, Manning isn't rolling anywhere, but the Bengals have to hope Geno Atkins is up to pushing back the line the way he has finally started doing in recent weeks. With the Bengals also expected to use a lot of nickel defense to counter the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end looks, don't be surprised if defensive end Wallace Gilberry goes inside to give some extra athleticism to the interior rush.

Jeff, it seems like over the past seven weeks, running back C.J. Anderson has exploded onto the scene for Denver. First, why did it take so long to get him involved in the run game, and second, what did Buffalo do so well to hold him in check two weeks ago?

Legwold: During the Broncos' offseason work, especially in minicamp, there was some thought around the team that Anderson's spot was pretty tenuous and that he might not make the roster because he had tried to bulk up a bit and looked sluggish. Anderson showed up to training camp leaner and looked far better, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman had already pushed their way in front of him. Anderson had routinely flashed in practice and in his limited game work, at least enough to stay in the mix, and when injuries forced the Broncos to hand him the ball, he showed patience and vision as a runner -- perhaps more than they thought he had -- and he almost always made the first defender miss or powered through the attempted tackle. If you're looking for a play that got everybody's attention, it was his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland when he made a one-handed grab on a screen pass -- a play Manning said he thought was "going to be a 1- or 2-yard loss" -- and five different Raiders had a chance to bring Anderson down and did not. In terms of Buffalo's plan, it was a sound group that was assignment-disciplined and tackled well; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Manning plenty over the years because of Schwartz's time with the Titans. The Bills came into the game against the Broncos leading the league in sacks, and they didn't sack Manning in the game. Anderson did pound the ball into the end zone three times, but his 2.8 yards per carry were the lowest since he became starter.

The Bengals are one of six teams averaging more than 30 rushing attempts per game this season; the Broncos are No. 2 in run defense. Do you think the Bengals will still try to pound away some to limit the Broncos' possessions, or because they believe they will be able to make some running room?

Harvey: One of the Bengals' most recent additions is NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, an offensive tackle who, before coming to Cincinnati three weeks ago, spent six seasons with the Texans and one with the Chiefs. He had an up-close look at Manning twice a season during the Texans' AFC South games when the quarterback still played for the Colts, and saw him twice in Kansas City in 2012. This week, Winston said those teams' mindset against Manning always involved running. So yes, I believe the run should, and will, be the Bengals' approach. Besides, Jeremy Hill has been running well in the past six weeks, topping 140 yards three times in that span. His hard running and guard Kevin Zeitler's constant pulling made for a nightmare day for Cleveland's defense. Also, I noticed that of the four times this season when teams have run 25 or more times against Denver, they beat the Broncos three times. To me, Cincinnati's best hope of winning is to run well, run often, get a late lead, and play keep-away from Manning.

Jeff, I'm sure the Broncos' many pass-rushers will be hounding Dalton all night, but why has Denver's front seven been so good against the run?

Legwold: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is -- even nationally, perhaps -- an undervalued player when it comes to what he means to the Broncos' run defense. He's disruptive, ties up blockers and doesn't get turned in the hole. He stays square and takes away run lanes. The Broncos also have plenty of team speed across the front and pursue the ball well. Even their pass-rushers, like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, are disciplined in their run fits. Ware especially has shown himself to be reliable in how he sets the edge, and as a result, offenses haven't been able to run the ball to the inside shoulders of Ware and Miller because they play with some vision as they move up the field. That wasn't always the case earlier in Miller's career, when offenses would catch him at times being a little too aggressive as he tried to get upfield. The Broncos have tackled well for the most part, too. They have helped themselves with good work on first down, as well. Offenses are routinely facing second-and-8 or third-and-7, and that takes those offenses out of any rhythm to run. For example, the Chargers ran the ball 10 times on first down last Sunday. Only one of the runs went for more than five yards -- an 11-yard run by Branden Oliver early in the fourth quarter -- and six went for three or fewer yards.

Few players take as much heat for their prime-time and/or postseason performance as Dalton. Is there significantly more pressure on him in this one given it is the "Monday Night Football" regular-season finale and the Bengals need the win to keep the inside track for a shot at the division title?

Harvey: It's more of the latter, Jeff. The pressure will be raised on Dalton this week because the Bengals simply have to get it done. Though there is an outside shot they will sneak into the playoffs as an AFC wild card if they lose the next two games, they would do themselves so many favors if they won at least one. The finale at Pittsburgh next week won't be a cakewalk, either. The heat Dalton has taken is real and deserved. It seems like he's mostly great at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. But turn on the lights and he's not. From a personal standpoint, Dalton wants to make up for his last nationally televised outing. The Bengals lost to Cleveland 24-3 in a Thursday night game last month in which Dalton registered a 2.0 passer rating.

Bills vs. Broncos preview

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
8:00
AM ET
When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris pretty much spoke for any and all folks who still find themselves in the playoff conversation this week.

Asked what the Broncos (9-3) need to do over the last four games of the regular season, Harris said: "I've been saying, we need to treat every game like a playoff game because everybody we play is going to be looking at us like that. So, we need to be our best, play our best, because anybody we play is going to be doing that. You don't want to look back and think you let a game slip away."

The "fourth quarter" of the regular season, as Broncos coach John Fox calls it, starts with the Buffalo Bills' visit to Denver. The Bills (7-5) have designs on a playoff spot as well, and bring along a familiar face to Broncos fans in quarterback Kyle Orton.

Orton started 33 games for the Broncos before Denver's coaching staff benched him after the team's 1-4 start in 2011, replacing him with Tim Tebow. Orton won the most recent game he started against the Broncos -- a 7-3 Chiefs win to close out that '11 season after Denver had released him.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at Sunday's matchup.

Legwold: Mike, the Bills have had an ownership change this season, a home game in Detroit because of the enormous winter storm, and their share of injuries. How have they kept their balance, and do they feel like they are an ascending team?

Rodak: It definitely has been a season unlike any other for the Bills, especially when you consider their change at quarterback. From this perspective, players and coaches have shown poise throughout all of the bumps in the road. Buffalo's 38-3 win over the Jets at Ford Field two weeks ago was a good example of that: Despite the upheaval of its normal week of preparation, the team turned in its best all-around game of the season. Players have credited a long training camp (they stayed in dorms for nearly five weeks), an extra preseason trip to Canton, Ohio, and two days of joint practices with the Steelers on the road with helping the team bond. So when some of these outside factors have invaded, the team has responded well.

Jeff, I get the sense that Bills fans have some hope in this game after watching the Dolphins go into Denver a few weeks ago and nearly take down the Broncos. Between that game and Denver's loss to the Rams a week earlier, what made the Broncos so vulnerable?

Legwold: Denver's 22-7 loss to the Rams in St. Louis is certainly one that got most people's attention. So much so that this past Sunday, the Chiefs tried to run the same play the Rams used for a 63-yard scoring pass. It didn't work for the Chiefs, a small indication the Broncos learned at least some of their lessons from a bad outing in St. Louis. For the most part, the same formula gets the Broncos in trouble at times. They allow pressure on quarterback Peyton Manning in the middle of the field, they don't run the ball effectively enough to slow down opposing pass-rushers with play-action, and they don't defend the run well enough out of some of their specialty packages on defense. The hangover from the Rams loss lasted until almost halftime of the following week's game against the Dolphins, when the Broncos trailed Miami 21-10 with less than two minutes to go in the first half. But Manning and the Broncos put together an 80-yard touchdown drive before halftime, dominated the second half against the Dolphins, and overpowered the Chiefs this past Sunday. They've used a far more balanced look on offense -- 80 run plays over the past two games -- and it has settled things down on both sides of the ball.

Staying with the quarterbacks: Orton arrives to face his former employer with a team in the playoff mix. How has he played for the Bills?

Rodak: Orton has teetered between adequate and inadequate -- never truly great and never a disaster. His QBR since taking over the starting job is 44.1, which is ahead of only a handful of other quarterbacks, some of whom have lost their jobs. He's been worse over the past month than he was in his first month as the starter, losing some of his accuracy that made him an instant upgrade over EJ Manuel. Orton completed 67.4 percent of his passes and averaged eight yards per attempt over his first four starts. His completion percentage has dropped to 61.3 over his past four starts, while he's been averaging 5.81 yards per attempt. Yet it's still arguably better than what the Bills were getting from Manuel over the first four games -- a 58 percent completion rate and 6.4 yards per attempt -- so Orton remains the starter. As far as returning to Denver, Orton brushed off the notion of Sunday's game having any extra meaning when we asked him about it Wednesday. Of course, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also did that before the Bills' game in Detroit this year, and he ended up getting carried off the field, per his wishes. So you never know.

The strength of the Bills' defense is their line and its ability to create pressure, yet Manning is notorious for getting the ball out quickly. How well have opposing defenses been able to get pressure on Manning this season?

Legwold: The short answer is not very well overall. Manning, even with all of Denver's offensive line struggles, is still the least-sacked starter in the league (13 times). The Jets, 49ers and Rams are the only teams to have sacked him at least twice in a game. Those defenses that have some success usually have to do it with four rushers with the ability to drop seven players into coverage. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has had more success than most against Manning, routinely chooses coverage over pressure as he rushes three or four defenders at Manning much of the time. The pressure in the middle is the key since Manning tends to identify any potential pressure from the outside in his pre-snap work, and gets the ball out. Those teams that take away his ability to climb the pocket and step into his throws do far better against him. The Broncos, at least until the past two games, have surrendered more than their share of unblocked rushers in the A gaps. But as they have pounded out 201 and 214 yards rushing in the past two games, they slowed down the Dolphins' and Chiefs' fronts. The Raiders, Rams and Chiefs did bat down some of Manning's passes by making a conscious effort to get their hands up into the throwing lanes when they couldn't get to Manning.

In that vein, the Bills lead the league in sacks, and Marcell Dareus was a player the Broncos took a long look at in 2011 when they selected Von Miller. How aggressive do you think the Bills will be in coming after Manning?

Rodak: I wouldn't expect them to blitz much. First of all, that's not their forte; they've done an excellent job generating pressure just from their four-man line, which includes three Pro Bowlers and can be considered the best in the NFL. Because of their strength up front, they've blitzed on just 19.8 percent of plays, the third-lowest rate in the league. Second of all, I don't think blitzing Manning is the wisest idea, given his ability to diagnose defenses and get the ball out quickly. Manning averages 2.22 seconds before he passes, the quickest rate in the NFL. The better strategy from the Bills may be to drop more players into coverage. There aren't many weaknesses on this defense, but their secondary and linebackers have shown some vulnerability when their front four isn't as effective. Having the numbers advantage against the Broncos' receivers should help.

Opposing defenses have tried (and succeeded) in taking Sammy Watkins out of the Bills' most recent games, whether it's been by "rolling" coverage or putting a top cover man on the rookie. How well-equipped are the Broncos to do that?

Legwold: When all hands are in the lineup, the Broncos have two matchup cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Harris. That gives them more flexibility than most in how they disperse their resources in coverage. Champ Bailey said last month that Harris is playing "the best of anybody at his position in the league," and the Broncos use Harris all over the formation since he has been the nickel cornerback early in his career, so he can play the outside spots or in the slot on either side of the formation with equal comfort. Rookie Bradley Roby has also played well enough. He should get at least some consideration for defensive rookie of the year. The Broncos do play more man coverage than most teams in the league, so there is always potential for a big play if a receiver can win the matchup down the field before Miller and DeMarcus Ware disrupt things up front. Miller and Ware are a key part of the coverage equation as well. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just 11 pass plays of more than 25 yards, and no team has had more than two pass plays of more than 25 yards in any game against them this season. There are opportunities for offenses, it's just that when receivers have found some room to get open, Miller and Ware have closed the deal before the quarterback can deliver the ball.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Before each game, Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware tapes his wrists and hands so tightly, and at such an angle, he has said, “I’m not sure I could even catch a ball if it dropped into my hands."

As Ware comes down the stretch toward what would be his first chance to play in a postseason game since 2009, he has answered questions about his health, how much he has left in the career tank and, now, the answer to the interception question. Ware reeled an Alex Smith pass deflected by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. It was Ware's third career interception.

“I lost the ball in the lights, and I’m like, 'Is it close enough for me to catch it?'" Ware said. “When it fell in my hands, I actually panicked. I turned around, it was like a 360 and I was like, 'Where is everybody?' And then I look and I seen like the red jerseys and I said, ‘Oh, I need to go this way,’ because all of [the Chiefs] were right there in front of me. That was a big play ... and I finally figured out where I was going."

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannBroncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware made his first interception since 2006 on Sunday against the Chiefs.
It was just one play, but it was yet another example that Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway’s mantra in free agency has worked out just fine. Elway, just after the Broncos signed both quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012 and Ware this past March, said, “I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders."

Manning has continued to pile up touchdown passes and wins, and Ware needs two more sacks to have his best season statistically since his 19.5 sacks in 2011. The Broncos took some financial risk in signing Ware, who was coming off a six-sack season in 2013 in which he missed the first three games of his career because of injuries. The Dallas Cowboys considered him a declining player.

While the contracts given to Aqib Taib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders had significantly less salary-cap risk after the first seasons if things didn’t work out, Ware was the oldest player -- the only 30-something -- in the Broncos' initial spending binge this past March. And his three-year, $30 million deal had $16.5 million guaranteed as soon as Ware signed the deal and another $3.5 million that’s guaranteed on fifth day of the new league year next March.

But now, 12 games into Ware’s first season in Denver, it certainly looks like everybody got what they hoped to get.

“DeMarcus? DeMarcus has shown he’s still got it; everybody can see that," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “A lot of people were saying stuff about DeMarcus about his game. But his game is still at the top, and I think he’s just going to get better and better as we, you know, chase quarterbacks more and more."

Ware has 10 sacks, tied for eighth in the NFL. It's his eighth season with at least 10 sacks. And his presence has prevented offenses from piling too many blockers on Miller’s side of the formation as well. Miller has 12 sacks, tied for fourth in the league.

Ware signed with Denver in the hopes that the Broncos could lead him to the playoffs, that games in December and January would push him to the one in February.

In nine seasons with the Cowboys, Ware played in four playoff games, with appearances to close out the 2006, 2007 and 2009 seasons.

“I’ve been in December seasons where you are already in at 8-8," Ware said. “But now, being 9-3 and looking for some kind of playoff berth and make it to the end, where everybody wants to make it and that’s the Super Bowl. But you’ve got to take it one game at a time and just ... attack it each week."

Ware leads the Broncos with 14 tackles for loss and is second in sacks behind Miller, and his 34 tackles are already more than he had all of last season (24). In Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, Ware had a sack and two tackles for loss to go with the interception.

Asked Thursday whether it was his best game since he signed with the Broncos, Ware also gave the answer the Broncos want to hear as well.

“I think the best is yet to come."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you were to make a list of the conditions the Denver Broncos didn't want in a football game, Sunday night included most of them.

The game was:
  • A. On the road.
  • B. Windy.
  • C. Frigid.
  • D. And quarterback Peyton Manning simply wasn't going to be in a position to carry them to the win.

Yet, in a rather tidy show of what Denver is going to need to be in the postseason, the Broncos flashed their playoff profile with a power-run game fueled by C.J. Anderson, a dominant defense and a variety of game-tilting special teams plays in a 29-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It has to be like that," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. "Defensively, we have to stop the run. Offensively, they've got to come with that tenacity where they run the ball when we need to and like they did. The last two weeks, what, they rushed 200-some yards? That's very big. We have to play like that every week, and we showed people we can have that look."

The Chiefs, at least on paper, completed Job 1 against the Broncos. They kept Manning from beating them.

Manning finished with a season-low 179 yards passing, a season-low 17 completions and a season-low 50 percent completion percentage in a game that started with a windchill of 14 degrees and only got colder and windier as the night went on. Yet, the Broncos won by 13 points.

They did it with Anderson growing into a No. 1 running back right before the Broncos' eyes. Anderson, who suddenly finds himself as the team's workhorse back after injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, finished with 168 yards on 32 carries.

Last week, in the win over the Miami Dolphins, Anderson had 167 yards. He is the first back in the league since Adrian Peterson in the 2012 season to have back-to-back games of at least 150 yards rushing. The Broncos' 214 yards rushing yards gave them back-to-back games of at least 200 yards on the ground.

Asked about that balanced, grind-it-out look, Manning said: "I like it, I like it. I like winning games." He then added: "Our offensive line was awesome."

"We knew to give us a chance to win we had to stop the run," Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said. "And we didn't do it."

The Broncos dove-tailed Anderson's work in the run game with a get-it-done defense, despite having two of their top four cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (left hamstring) and Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) -- out of the lineup. The Chiefs had minus-10 yards to their credit at the end of the first quarter and wound up with a paltry 151 total yards. They finished with five drives that were three-and-outs, three in the opening quarter.

The Broncos registered six sacks for 43 yards plus 12 hits on Alex Smith. Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadowed Dwayne Bowe all over the formation and held him to two catches for 18 yards.

"It was a good day for us," linebacker Von Miller said. "We knew it was going to a tough kind of game. … We stopped a lot of stuff they were trying to do."

Toss in five field goals from Connor Barth, who has been a Broncos kicker since Tuesday, a fake punt that turned into a fourth-down conversion by safety David Bruton Jr. and Omar Bolden's recovery of a Broncos punt that bounced off Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper's left leg, and you have the full everything-but-Manning win many have wondered if Denver could pull off.

Two weeks ago in a dismal 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Broncos had 10 rushing attempts, one of which was a kneel-down by Manning before halftime. In a Nov. 2 loss in New England, the Broncos' defense couldn't get the Patriots off the field, Brandon McManus missed a field goal and Denver looked out of sorts on a cold night.

The Broncos now have run the ball 80 times in their past two games, both wins. They've put themselves back in the conversation about the AFC's top seed, which they can earn if they win out and the Patriots stumble at least once.

"I think you need to be able to win different types of football games," Manning said.

"Sometimes, this is how it looks," Ware said. "You have to play in the cold. You have to win on the road. You have to be physical on both sides of the ball. We can do those things. We've shown we can do those things, and we want to be able to do whatever we need to do to win however we need to win. Those are the best teams."video
DENVER -- When the Denver Broncos rolled into the offseason off their Super Bowl loss, they made a major investment -- in both free-agency dollars and draft capital -- to remake the defense.

That portion of the depth chart has already been tested some this season and will be tested even more in the coming weeks after another round of injuries in Sunday’s 39-36 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall suffered a concussion during safety T.J. Ward’s interception return in the fourth quarter and is now under the NFL’s concussion protocol. Marshall will be evaluated by both the Broncos' medical staff and an independent physician.

Marshall suffered the injury when he collided with Dolphins tight end Dion Sims during Ward’s return and was immediately taken to the Broncos' locker room following the play. At linebacker Nate Irving is already on injured reserve for the Broncos while Danny Trevathan is eligible to return to practice this week, but will not be eligible to play coming off injured reserve until the Broncos Dec. 14 game in San Diego.

That will put rookie Lamin Barrow, who played as the second linebacker alongside Marshall in the nickel, for much of Sunday’s game in line for more playing time. Rookie Corey Nelson could be worked into some of the specialty packages as well.

“Everybody has to get in there and be ready to play,’’ said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “We get all the troops in there.’’

The Broncos could also have some juggling to do in the secondary as cornerback Aqib Talib, who has never played in 16 games in any season of his career, left the game with a hamstring injury in the first quarter. He tried to return for a handful of plays, but did not play in the second half.

The player the Broncos put into some of the nickel and dimes looks after Talib suffered his injury, cornerback Kayvon Webster, suffered a right shoulder injury as well. Both Talib and Webster are expected to get MRI exams Monday, but Webster was wearing a sling on his right shoulder following the game.

“On this defense we play everybody even when everybody’s healthy,’’ defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “Guys get ready to play because they know we need everybody.’’

Dolphins vs. Broncos preview

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
8:00
AM ET
When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos (7-3) were poised to enter a stretch of three consecutive road games with their sights set squarely on the AFC’s No. 1 seed. After that road trip ended with a 1-2 record, including a surprising loss in St. Louis this past Sunday, the Broncos are now in a scrap just to win their division.

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) come to Denver having won four of their last five games. They have surrendered 56 points in those five games combined. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday’s game.

Legwold: James, Ryan Tannehill was a player the Broncos took a long look at leading up to the 2012 draft as they looked for a quarterback prospect to pair on the roster with Peyton Manning. What’s been the key for his improvement this year and how he’s handled things?

Walker: Tannehill is on pace for a career year. I’ve watched all 42 career starts, and this is the most decisive I’ve seen him with the football. His play speed is better and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a good job of accentuating what Tannehill does well and avoiding where he struggles. He’s posted four games with a triple-digit passer rating, including the most recent win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the Dolphins’ offense is getting away with a lot of short and intermediate passes, and I’m surprised defenses haven’t worked harder to take that away. The biggest issues with Tannehill are inconsistency and lack of a deep ball. These are areas that have haunted Tannehill for three seasons, and it doesn’t appear it will change anytime soon. Yet teams haven’t challenged Tannehill to consistently throw deep. I’m curious to see how Denver plays Tannehill.

The Broncos have lost two of three and both losses have come by a wide margin. What is the mood of the team heading into Sunday’s game?

Legwold: The mood from the Broncos players and coaches is, essentially, they got what they deserved in losses to the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 and to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday. They've owned up to it and unveiled the usual vows to repair the mistakes. But perhaps most troubling, for a team that has designs on a Super Bowl trip, is they didn’t have a response after some early trouble in either of those losses. They simply didn’t show the kind of bounce-back capability on the road that any team is going to need if they want to go deep into the postseason. The Patriots had a 24-point second quarter filled with Broncos mistakes and the Rams went up 10-0 in the first quarter. In both cases, the Broncos were wobbly and stayed wobbly. They know they didn’t execute on offense. They let pressure get to Manning, and defensively the Broncos had moments, but never really slammed the door to get the team back in the game. And now with the Kansas City Chiefs at 7-3 as well –- the Broncos have a Week 2 win in hand, but go to Kansas City Nov. 30 –- the Broncos know every week matters as they pursue their fourth consecutive division title.

Keeping with one of the Broncos’ trouble spots of late, defenses have tried to rattle Manning in the middle of the formation. How aggressively do you think the Dolphins will rush Manning, and what’s that mean for Cameron Wake?

Walker: The Dolphins are definitely bringing the pressure. They’ve done that against every quarterback they’ve faced, whether it’s an elite talent such as Aaron Rodgers or a developmental rookie such as Blake Bortles. Manning’s constant audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage could provide reason for Miami’s defense not to dial up as many blitzes. But the team knows the best way to win is to get hits, sacks and pressures on Manning. Several players I spoke to were impressed with the way the Rams defended the Broncos’ offense last week. St. Louis provided a nice blueprint, especially with its defensive line. This will be a big game for Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and others on the defensive line to win those one-on-one matchups.

Miami’s pass protection has been an issue lately. What are your thoughts on the Dolphins’ offensive line pass protecting against the Broncos’ front seven?

Legwold: The Broncos are at their best in the pass rush when they move into a six-defensive back look -- a dime package that really plays more like the average five defensive back (nickel) package when safety T.J. Ward moves down and plays at a linebacker spot. They have speed all over the formation, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware moving around some. As a result, Miller is tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Ware is tied for eighth with nine sacks. They use plenty of pre-snap movement, moving players toward and away from the line of scrimmage, to give the quarterback some indecisiveness, and it’s been a productive personnel grouping. However, some teams have found ways to convert some long third downs; the Chiefs converted seven third downs on third-and-8 or more, while the 49ers and Chargers each converted three times at third-and-6 or more and the Rams converted two third-and-10 situations this past Sunday. Tannehill can extend plays and that will be an issue for the Broncos to consider. But at home they play fast on defense as Ware and Miller have repeatedly caved in the edges of the pocket.

Overall, the Dolphins have had plenty of drama over the last year –- the Broncos had Richie Incognito in for a workout last week -– how has coach Joe Philbin done in the swirl?

Walker: This was a major storyline in the offseason and throughout training camp. But at this point in late November, more than a year since Jonathan Martin left the team and Incognito’s subsequent suspension, the Dolphins have moved on from the fiasco. Miami made the right call to remove both players from its locker room in the offseason. The team didn’t re-sign Incognito and traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers. That set the tone for a better locker room culture to develop. This year’s team is together, and I think winning six of 10 games has helped. In some ways, earning a playoff spot would validate the thought that they learned from the situation and became better for it.

Denver suffered a lot of injuries last week against the Rams. What’s the latest update on tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tailback Montee Ball?

Legwold: That’s been the dark cloud hanging over this team this past week. Sanders, who has been one of the best free-agent signings in the league, is the team’s second-leading receiver with 67 catches to go with 954 yards. He’s now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so the Broncos have to simply wait until he is cleared to return. Ball re-injured his right groin as he played just four snaps against the Rams, an injury that kept him out of the previous five games. He is expected to miss, at minimum, two to three weeks. And Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the Rams. While Thomas’ injury wasn't nearly as serious as the team initially feared at the stadium Sunday, he has had ankle troubles before in his career and will be watched closely. His impact in the offense is no small matter. Thomas played just 13 snaps against the Rams and he still leads the league in touchdown receptions with 12, or at least two more than any other player.

The Broncos don’t have a fullback on the roster, so they can’t simply go to a two-back look to cover for some injuries. Tight end Virgil Green and running back Ronnie Hillman were out last week and Hillman is expected to miss additional time. That means young players such as C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson have to be ready to be the guys at running back and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer should get some snaps in the offense as well.

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