fter taking the BYE Week off, my weekly chats with Lee Rasizer, Broncos beat writer for the Rocky Mountain News, are back. As always, my thanks to Lee for taking the time --
MHR -- With the loss of Champ Bailey, who fills in? Do you think the Broncos may actually try and attack the quarterback now in order to keep the secondary from getting exposed?
LR -- I would expect Karl Paymah to start for Bailey. He has more experience than Jack Williams, who can then slide in seamlessly into the nickel covering the slot. It's been quite the ride for Paymah. He came out of camp playing better than Domonique Foxworth, which moved him into the nickel and moved Foxworth out of town. But he didn't play particularly well and Williams grabbed the nickel job by the Kansas City game. It's an important time for Paymah. Denver will get one last chance to see what they have in him, as he's an unrestricted free agent after the season. He's got to keep his hands off receivers, a lingering issue, and play the ball better when it arrives over the target's shoulder. His timing always seems to be a tad off. As for pressure, my guess is the Broncos are going to play things pretty straight this week. I think they will back off the 3-4 and hope that Jarvis Moss and Elvis Dumervil can create pressure off the edge in a four-man look. The problem with pressuring Chad Pennington is he's been extremely accurate this season and with extra rushers he may just hit his hot receiver in stride to consistently move the chains, or worse, given the tackling demonstrated by the Broncos thus far.
MHR -- Are the fans getting a bit ahead of themselves with all the Ryan Torain talk?
LR -- I don't really have a pulse on what everyone's been saying, but I can imagine the expectation is he'll immediately be the bell cow in the backfield, which won't happen. Torain has yet to even play a pre-season game. He hasn't even played a game period in 13 months since getting hurt at Arizona State. It's going to take some time for him to get acclimated to the speed of the game. That said, I do see him being the lead back by December if he demonstrates the power-speed combination in the next few games that he did during training camp. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, he is a load. And a statistic that I dug up this week shows the need Denver has for him. While it's true the Broncos have run less than the past, and even in a different fashion, they have only one rushing play in excess of 20 yards all season. They had 17 last year, and only twice did the team fail to have at least one in a game. That, in a best-case scenario immediately, is what I see Torain potentially adding to the mix in the short-term. Teams aren't scared of the Broncos' running game and are dropping into coverage to aggressively defend the pass. Torain has a chance over the next two months to try and change that.
MHR -- Is the defense salvageable this season? Can they at least become serviceable?
LR -- Let me think about this for a second. ... No. ... OK, maybe serviceable. There just isn't enough top-tier personnel among this group to be anything else but average, especially with Champ Bailey out of the lineup. D.J. Williams is good. Elvis Dumveril is a fine pass rusher. But beyond that, name one impact player. The team has tried to scheme through those deficiencies and failed. Now, Denver's backing off a bit and just trying to be fundamentally sound in the short-term in order to try and gain some equilibrium. One person I know affiliated with the Broncos told me recently he thought if Denver could just be in the middle of the defensive pack, they had a chance to do some damage. But right now, that's just wishful thinking, and the team is well aware of the work needed to be done personnel-wise. The four highest rushing totals have come in the last four games. The completion rates have been 81, 75, 72, 74 and 75 the last five contests. The only positive I see if the caliber of some of their upcoming opponents isn't the strongest group in the NFL. And if they can at least tackle and cut down on missed assignments, they've got a chance to keep them in games if the offense produces at early-season levels.
MHR -- Just how big of an impact have the injuries on offense had on Jay Cutler's production?
LR -- The last two games Jacksonville and New England, have swarmed Brandon Marshall and dared Cutler to look elsewhere. And the targets he's had to glance at haven't been all that appealing, to be kind. There's a chance that the offense will be at full strength this week. And, to me, the biggest loss has been Tony Scheffler. He creates mismatches and his ability to go deep down the seam even opens up the underneath routes for others, like Eddie Royal, to succeed. Brandon Stokley's absence also has been huge, because he has an innate feel for the sticks and always seems to hang onto the ball on third downs. You heard it here first, and I'll deny it if I'm wrong, the Broncos will score 30-plus this week. But they may allow more than 30, too.
MHR -- Finally, with a trip to Cleveland coming up next week, what is your favorite road destination?
LR -- You can't beat San Diego in December. Gaslamp District, La Jolla. Pretty nice. But I can pretty much find something in just about every city to like. I'm a huge fan of Boston, Chicago and New York. Kansas City barbeque. I'm even going to make a return trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland with the night game, so that's pretty cool, too. I can't complain about any of the road trips, really, though I do get pretty tired of Indianapolis sometimes, with the combine every year plus a good deal of games vs. the Colts sprinkled in. (But there is a White Castle and Steak and Shake within walking distance, a plus.) I'm going to complete my circuit of covering a game in every NFL stadium this year with Denver's game in Carolina. That's huge for me personally.