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Depleted Broncos team rallying behind backups to keep winning

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Fighting the war of attrition is proving a big challenge for the Broncos as they host a streaky Raiders team that could cause some serious problems for the Broncos.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

Von Miller said it last week. Gary Kubiak said it Wednesday. Wade Phillips said it one more time yesterday.

The Broncos' backups are crucial.

The fact that we were willing to play everybody early in the season is paying off in the long haul.  -Gary Kubiak

And it's not just the first set of backups but also the backups' backups that are the ace bandage holding this beat-up team together.

More importantly, for the next four weeks these guys are the key to keeping the team on its winning streak and in good position heading into the playoffs.

"Yeah, it's extensive," Kubiak said of the 22-member injury report that the coach called "a little worse" even than last week's already disconcerting list. "I think our guys have done a really good job. We've had some guys do a great job of making their way to Sunday and being able to do it. I'm still hopeful that some of these guys in this list will get there. We'll see."

Kubiak spent most of his Thursday presser discussing all the injuries, saying he has never had a team quite this beat up at this point in the season. But the foresight Kubiak and his coaching staff had back in OTAs and Training Camp to rotate in a lot of guys for playing time, is looking pretty brilliant at this point.

"I think the fact that we were willing to play everybody early in the season - that was a topic with you guys all the time ... it's paying off in the long haul," Kubiak noted, adding that he doesn't see any panic from the guys filling in for starters.

Nowhere has the vision of this approach been more noticeable than at the quarterback position where Brock Osweiler stepped in midseason and hasn't missed a beat. Having to come in mid-game and then become the starter for an indefinite period of time could have been much more problematic last season when Osweiler rarely (if ever) practiced with the first offense. This season, he's owning that offense.

And now that Broncos waived third-string quarterback Christian Ponder - whom they signed two weeks ago "for insurance" while Peyton Manning rehabs a foot injury - Osweiler's backup, Trevor Siemian, needs to be ready for anything.

"He better be," Kubiak said on whether Siemian is prepared to step in. "You know what, he's working well. We've got a lot of confidence in him. If he goes in there, we've got to go in there and still find a way to move the ball and be successful. I think he's got a bright future."

Backup receivers like Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer and Andre Caldwell - all three of whom have had to contribute on offense in place of injured starters at some point - need to be ready to play.

Running back Juwan Thompson jumped in the lineup last weekend and could be a starter as both C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman nurse injuries. Thankfully, tight end Vernon Davis was cleared to play yesterday after entering concussion protocol last weekend.

Rookie Max Garcia was called up last week to the starting offensive line after Evan Mathis needed some more injury recovery time and could see some time there again this week.

There has been a lot more attrition than Kubiak would expect to see, but he's relieved that the guys down the depth chart are holding their own.

"We sat in the meeting room last week and there were a lot of familiar faces missing the night before the game," Kubiak added. "But there's no panic. It's, ‘Let's go play.' I think we've grown from that standpoint."

Though there is great depth on the defensive side of the ball, Phillips is still concerned about the injury state of affairs as starters T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Danny Trevathan, Sylvester Williams and DeMarcus Ware have been sidelined at varying degrees. Even backup safeties David Bruton and Omar Bolden are on the injury report. While Stewart and Bolden are likely able to play, the Broncos signed Josh Bush and Shiloh Keo this week because the safety spots are thin and both are likely to see some playing time on Sunday to fill in a depleted secondary.

"The safety position obviously is a concern for us because the guys haven't been here," Phillips said. "With Bruton, who has really played well for us, being iffy, it's a real concern."

The good news is that Broncos' edge rusher DeMarcus Ware should be back by Sunday on a pitch count. Knowing Ware is going to be pressuring the quarterback is a bright spot for the injury report.

"He possesses a lot of knowledge, but he's got great ability," Phillips said of Ware, noting that despite missing six games, the fellow Texas native still has 6.5 sacks. "That's the key thing. He's smart enough to utilize his ability, which is to be able to rush the passer. He's a force on the field."

And the Broncos will need that force to make Oakland quarterback Derek Carr uncomfortable and off-target, Phillips said, noting that the plan is to continue rushing four and leaving seven guys to cover.

"It's all about having more people back there and still get the kind of pressure you want," Phillips said, adding that the Broncos run a lot of five-man rush when they stack up well on the one-on-ones. "We play one-on-one in the secondary well, and we've got one-on-one pass rushers that can beat people. That's more our philosophy because that fits more of what our players do well."

But as a promising second-year QB, Carr and his talented wideouts in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree could easily challenge the Broncos' No Fly Zone.

"They can be streaky," said Chris Harris, Jr., of the Raiders. "That's something that you don't want to let them get hot, let them get confident. We try to get up early, be able to get up on them and shut that streakiness out."

A win over the Raiders on Sunday would clinch a playoff spot for the Broncos. That - and just playing a divisional rival - will give the Broncos some incentive to play big this weekend, injuries or not.

"There's no let down for us. We know that we want to win the AFC West title, that's first," Harris said. "That's one of our first, main goals. We get that goal and once we do that we clinch the playoffs, but we want to get this home field. We want it to come through Denver."

You can have all the stats in the world. ...We were seventh in the league in Houston, and we went 2-14. It's about winning, if you play well enough to win.  -Wade Phillips

Staying focused on the next win is more important to Phillips right now, who points out that whatever stat column the Broncos' defense is leading in doesn't compare to the win-loss column.

"Wins are No. 1...If you've given up 500 yards and they are on the 2-yard-line at the end of the game and you can win the game and you win the game, you've played well enough," Phillips pointed out. "Stats are important, I think, because they're an indicator on how consistent you are and how well you can play overall, but winning the game is the most important thing."

And that's exactly what this battered team intends to do on Sunday.

"I've been saying it all season long, but now you really get to see it when all the guys behind the starters are coming in, making plays and being productive in the game," said Miller. "It's been pretty great to have guys behind us like that. That's the formula of our defense - guys can come in and we can roll."

Horse Tracks

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