Allow me to be frank, I don't like our odds this Sunday. Even with a full squad, I think it would be difficult to beat the Colts. I believe that people are underestimating Peyton Manning. The fact that we could be missing our starting running back, right tackle, right guard, cornerback, #2 cornerback and one of our best special teams players is being downplayed. I will never underestimate Peyton Manning because he is arguably the best offensive minded QB ever. Any team going up against him will be challenged let alone a team that could be without it's starting CB's. Now, I am not saying that it is impossible to win on Sunday. But the thought of Peyton going up against Cox and Nate Jones doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence. What I am saying is that I am not getting my hopes up. I am entering this game with a different state of mind then I will enter any other game this season. Allow me to explain.
More after the jump
First off, lets talk about the injuries.
RT Ryan Harris- out
RG Chris Kuper- questionable
RB Knowshon Moreno- out
RB Laurence Maroney- Probable
CB Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman- questionable
LB Wesley Woodyard- questionable
S Darcel McBath- probable
Based on this injury report, we can only conclude that Harris and Knowshon are the only players certain not to play. The rest are questionable or probable (which really means they definitely will play). So the big question is which of these players will play: Kuper, Bailey, Goodman, and Woodyard. Bailey would be the biggest loss with Goodman not far behind. We need Kuper, but not as much as we need our starting CB's to play against Peyton Manning. We can certainly survive without Woodyard.
Personally, I am not sure it's worth it to rush Champ and Goodman back. It would be great to beat Peyton Manning at Mile High. Quite honestly, it would probably be the best accomplishment this season. Imagine the headlines. Broncos beat Manning, Colts without starting RB Knowshon Moreno. Finally, we get some Mile High Magic back.
However, it won't mean diddly squat if we beat the Colts but Champ or Goodman gets hurt further. Keep in mind that this is just 1 game. This is just our 3rd game. It won't matter if we start 2-1 if we finish 2-15. The best we could say at then end of the season was "at least we beat Peyton Manning and the Colts". However, that won't be any comfort at all and we know it. Was it any comfort after 2009? We beat the Bengals, Cowboys, Chargers, Patriots, and Giants. Woopty Tah. All it meant was we wasted a season that started with such promise.
The most important thing for us is to start healing and getting some stability before we start playing divisional foes. I'm not saying we aren't going to try because you know damn good and well that we will. McD is not going to coach a team that doesn't try. He wants to win. But at the end of the day, it comes down to risks. Is the risk of injuring Champ or Goodman further worth a week 3 victory against the Colts? I don't believe it is. I would be pissed if we won, but lost Champ or Goody for 6 weeks because the re-injured themselves. But I am just a blogger, not a Denver Bronco coach. We will see what comes of the situation on Sunday.
Speaking of the game, this is a great opportunity to test ourselves for the challenges ahead. We lost our season opener at Jacksonville, but whipped on the Seahawks during our home opener. We now start a tough stretch of games. After Indy, we travel to Tennessee, and Baltimore. We return home to play against the Jets and then we play our 1st divisional game at home against the Raiders.
Sunday is just the 1st tough game in a 4 game stretch. If we want to make a push for playoffs, we are going to have to rely on more then our secondary and Kyle Orton's arm to win us games. We are going to need a pass rush and a running game. We are also going to need our special teams play to step up. So this Sunday, I am looking for progression. Our RB's are playing against a Colts defense that let Arian Foster walk all over them. Our defense is playing against an offensive line that has the same amount of qb pressures (11) and 1 less sack (3) then our offensive line has. Our special teams are playing against a team that is just 19th in kick return yards. Our weakest areas have a chance to have big games this weekend.
Back Up Running Back
This is probably the key area to focus on this Sunday. Knowshon has suffered an injury during the week and won't play against the Colts. This might actually be a blessing in disguise. If we want to go places this year, we can't rely 100% on Kyle Orton. He is having an outstanding year, but teams are going to notice and start preparing differently. We need our running game to pick up to help balance our team. If our running game can get us into 3rd and short situations, Kyle Orton is going to be able to take care of the rest. The running game has to improve. Clearly, Knowshon is our best runner. However, he is constantly injured and behind him is a bunch of mystery. Buckhalter hasn't been the same Buckhalter that we loved last year. He appears slower and ineffective. He is supposed to be a change of pace back, but there hasn't been much change to his 2 yard pace.
This Sunday, we will see our first glimpse at Laurence Maroney in a Bronco uniform. By the way, what a great trade by McDaniels. Imagine if we had not traded for Maroney. We would be sitting with Knowshon, Buckhalter, Andre Brown, and Lance Ball. Yikes. Maroney gives some veteran stability to a young group. It's a big day for Maroney. His job is simple: be more effective then Correll Buckhalter. If he is able to be more effective then Buckhalter then the back up job should be his.
This should be Buck's last chance. He has looked bad in the first two games. He will likely be the starter on Sunday. He will get the first shot at running the ball. If his play continues to be poor then he should be demoted. If he plays well then great. More power to him.
This game will also be a great time to evaluate Andre Brown. If you have seen his highlights, you can see that Brown has plenty of potential. If he is able to show a glimpse of that ability on Sunday, he could spell the end for Buckhalter. I'm not talking about during the season, but if Brown showed he can handle being in our rotation, what's the use of keeping Buck next year? We will have Knowshon, Maroney, and Brown going forward. There is no need to keep Buck as a #3 or #4. We might as well cut ties and develop another young running back. I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the game at hand.
This Sunday, we should all be looking at the running backs because it's an open audition. McD isn't saying it, but he has said that Buck, Maroney, and Brown are going to play. It's a talent evaluation. If Maroney is more effective then Buck, he will win the back up job and more carries going forward. If Brown shows he can handle being in our rotation, he will gain some trust with the coaches and more opportunities going forward. If Buckhalter proves he is better then the others then he regains his mojo and gets some momentum going forward as the back up. If not, he loses his spot to one of the other guys and the coaches don't waste anymore time. It's a win-win-win for the coaches. After this game, the back up running back situation will be much clearer for the rest of the year.
Rushing The Passer
It's no secret that we miss Doom badly. With Peyton Manning coming to town, we are going to need to apply pressure. Robert Ayers has had a dominant first two games. We need someone us to step up next to him if we want to start getting more sacks.
Jason Hunter is a prime candidate. People don't realize that he is still learning the 3-4. It took Ayers all of last year to learn the system and Hunter is still in the early stages. Despite all that, Hunter has still been able to apply pressure on the QB's the first two games. He was the one pressuring Hasselback when he threw his interception to Dawkins. The more comfortable Hunter gets, the more pressure he is going to apply. He always seems like he is just one step away from getting the sack, but just misses. It will be a big step going forward if he is able to sack Peyton Manning.
Jarvis Moss is the other prime candidate. He recorded his 1st sack of the year last week against the Seahawks. He lost some of his off season shine when Jason Hunter stole some of his playing time, but Moss showed last week that he is still here and contributing. He will need to follow up last week's performance with another solid one this week.
DJ Williams is someone I think should be getting to the QB more. In his career, DJ has just 2 total interceptions, but 10.5 sacks. I think Wink should start using DJ more on some MLB blitzes. DJ had a career high 3.5 sacks last year during Doom's career year. Now that Doom is gone, we can't afford for DJ's ability to get to the QB to start failing. He is a quick player who should be able to get to the QB more then he has been.
Nate Jones is another prime player to start getting more pressure. Nate is a solid nickel blitz corner. He is a fast player who closes to the QB in a hurry. I saw some CB blitzing in the pre season, but haven't seen much so far in the regular season. It's time to open up the play book and get players other then Ayers, Hunter, and Moss to get to the QB.
Special Teams Improvement
So far, our special teams play has sucked. In each of our first two games, our special teams have given up big plays. We can't make this a habit. The return of McBath should help tremendously. He is arguably our best special team player. With the emergence of Cassius Vaughn and the continued strong play of David Bruton and Wesley Woodyard, our special teams should start improving.
The Colts don't have returners that make you have nightmares, but they certainly shouldn't be taken for granted. If we want to win, we need to create turnovers and our best opportunity to do that might be on special teams.
I also want to see more plays from Perrish Cox and Eddie Royal. So far, neither of them have had special teams performances to talk about. Cox has been getting the majority of the work so it's about time for him to start producing on ST. He has the ability. It's just about seeing the lanes (assuming we are making blocking lanes) and hitting the holes hard.
It is like I said, the odds of a 80% Bronco team upsetting the Colts are not very high. But that doesn't mean this isn't an important game. I will not care as much at a loss on Sunday if we see Maroney step up. I will not care as much at a loss on Sunday if Jarvis Moss has 2 sacks and Bannan has 1. I will not care as much at a Sunday loss if our ST give up no extra field position. I will care if we lose, but show absolutely no progression. Just because we aren't likely to win doesn't mean we shouldn't bother trying at all. There are things we need to work on and this game can be a great opportunity to retool going forward and who knows, maybe there is some Mile High magic left.