It's that time again, time for our weekly chat with RMN Broncos beat-write Lee Rasizer about what he is seeing, hearing and thinking when it comes to the Denver Broncos --
MHR -- OK, be honest. How far into a "Broncos win AFC West" story were you when the Chargers decided to spoil the fun?
LR -- I hadn't written anything. But as I watched the KC-San Diego game in the press box in Carolina early in the fourth quarter, I did plan on maybe doing my story on that topic, discussing all the travails Denver had been through to get to that point. At Bank of America Stadium's press box, there's a bank of TVs behind the rows of seats where the writers work, showing about eight games simultaneously. As the Chargers started their drive inside five minutes, me and about a couple other Denver-area people stood there and watched the TD, onside kick, TD, missed field goal drama, even while the Panthers-Broncos game had begun. The stadium staff had already switched the screens near where we work to the Broncos game and I expected to just see the onside kick recovered by the Chiefs and then go sit down. Oops. Bye, Carl Peterson ... and Herm will be joining you soon."
MHR -- Mike Shanahan admitted that he did a poor job getting the team ready last week, and that allowing them to know what was happening in KC was a mistake. Do you think he is still trying to gauge the best way to motivate his team?
LR -- That's what coaches always say when a team comes out flat. I think Carolina was the better team, by far, though Denver was somewhat dispassionate. I don't believe that the Broncos players were glued to that KC game. They might have watched some of the first half in the locker room and were apprised of the score. But it wasn't like they all had cell-phones showing the Chargers while waiting to enter the game from the sidelines. Far more germane to the discussion is that Denver couldn't run, putting everything on Cutler. And their strategy defensively was flawed because no one could cover Steve Smith, and to a lesser extent, Mushin Muhammad, one on one. I don't think motivation is an issue. It shouldn't be this week especially, knowing they're at home against a team ready to pack it in and a potential one-and-done scenario the following week in San Diego they want to avoid at all costs possibly looming. Shanahan won't let his team watch the Chargers-Bucs this week. But the players will find out somehow during the game, whether from a security guard, fan or someone else. They just have to be disciplined enough to focus on the task at hand. I think they will, personally.
MHR -- Jay Cutler seems to excel when he is the underdog (every week at Vandy). When and the Broncos are supposed to win, expected to even, he has struggled. Do you sense the same thing? In that regard how big was the win against KC a couple weeks ago?
LR -- I don't think it has much to do with being the underdog. These are the pass defense ratings of Denver's last eight opponents: Kansas City 30th, New York Jets 29th, Atlanta 23rd, Cleveland 18th ; Miami 20th, Carolina 12th, New England 15th, Oakland 9th. The Broncos beat the teams in that first grouping; lost to the rest. He's struggled against solid secondaries, regardless of overall team records. And if the Chiefs game was a building block, it didn't show vs. Carolina, because he should have had at least 3-4 interceptions that were dropped. But I will say this. When Cutler is having success, the rest of the team responds to his performances. When he's frustrated and turning the ball over, they follow suit, too. That's part of the youth on the team. It's only going to continue skewing that way the rest of the season because the running game right now isn't much of a threat and their defense isn't good enough, or opportunistic enough, to overcome offensive mistakes.
MHR -- What have your impressions of the team been this week? Confident? Loose?
LR -- I think they believe this is the week they need to get it done, at home vs. a team that's lost seven of nine. And I sense they're confident that will happen. This group is always loose, even during the week after losses. It will be interesting to see how the cold-weather affects things, since if there is any team that is equipped to handle such issues, it's the Buffalo Bills.
MHR -- I won't ask you to predict the Broncos game, but who do you like in Tampa on Sunday?
LR -- You can ask me to predict the Denver game, as long as no one loses money based on my selection and blames me for it. I believe this is the week the Broncos clinch, by winning it outright. I'd feel even more confident if J.P. Losman or the NFL Europe guy they were talking about playing earlier this week were at quarterback. Trent Edwards has put some pretty good games together but has been inconsistent. I don't know why, gut feeling, I believe Denver will force a big turnover or two that swing momentum. Buffalo is among the league-leaders with 29 giveaways. Yes, I know Denver's last in takeaways. The brittle cold won't help in that regard. I see Tampa vs. San Diego as a toss-up. I like the Bucs at home with Jeff Garcia at QB even more.
MHR -- Latest on the injury front?
LR -- As I sit here writing this, there isn't much evidence to go on, but I believe Chris Kuper will play with a cast on his broken left hand and Ryan Clady will work his way through a sore ankle that kept him out of practice. Champ Bailey has to be getting close. He's been running vigorously on a treadmill. The big issue is his ability to move laterally. But he's been testing himself in practice for weeks and eventually will pull the trigger, possibly this week. They could sit Brandon Stokley. He told me he was not going to play vs. Carolina as late as Saturday and was hurting during warm-ups but gutted it out. It's a bad heel bruise that makes it difficult to cut off of and put weight on. He missed Wednesday's practice while rehabilitating.
MHR -- What is your take on the Pro Bowl selections? Was Clady the ultimate snub?
LR -- I can only go on what I see, and he's played at a Pro Bowl level for a pass-oriented offense. While I don't lock on Clady with regularity, since I have to watch the 'big picture' I have only seen him knocked off balance and tossed aside once this season. Even when he's beaten, he's quick enough to recover. I will admit that I don't study cut-ups of other NFL tackles, so it's hard for me to argue with who's been chosen, since I don't have all the facts at hand. The backup, Roos, last time I looked hadn't allowed a sack all season. That's impressive. The one that seems to be most controversial is Jason Peters of Buffalo. Fans will get a side-by-side comparison Sunday.
LR -- Happy Holidays to all the Mile High Report readers ...
MHR -- Happy holidays to you too, Lee, from all of us here at MileHighReport!