Beating Broncos will be tough

The Bills know that going out west to play Denver in their new stadium isn't going to be an easy task. Aside from a noisy new football facility to contend with, there also is the unfamiliarity of being on the road, plus a long plane ride and a two-hour time zone change.

Of course, now, after the Broncos shocked the entire world against St. Louis at home in Week 1, it seems like the task of beating Denver got a whole lot harder.

Mike Shanahan's defense used a cover-2 scheme – two safeties split the field deep, with the three linebackers dropping into coverage underneath – to thwart the Rams and prevent their receivers from making any long gains. It held Marshall Faulk to 19 yards rushing on 10 carries. The Broncos' approach in stopping St. Louis was similar to the conservative defense that Ted Cottrell employed with the Bills – a keep-everything-in-front-of-you approach.

Denver, of course, made just enough plays of their own to win 23-16. Brian Griese didn't look particularly impressive – and he was a fraction away from being replaced in the second half – but he stayed in and led Denver to a clutch fourth-quarter touchdown that sealed the game.

Obviously, it appears that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is a genius again. After last year's 8-8 debacle, in which the team went from Super Bowl contenders to playoff non-participants, Denver is once again a team that can play with anyone.

Running back Terrell Davis retired in the preseason with a bad knee, but Shanahan still has Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and rookie Clinton Portis, who's expected to eventually carry the load this season. Also, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey is fully recovered from a broken leg and he caught the game-winning touchdown against the Rams.

When Buffalo runs

You have to respect a front-seven that limits the Rams' running game to 32 yards. That performance ranked the Broncos run defense as No. 1 in the league after the first week – which, at the very least, indicates that Denver is capable of game-planning a running back completely out of his team's offensive attack. Travis Henry will have some difficulty.

The key run stuffers are defensive tackles Lional Dalton and Chester McGlockton, who stand in the middle and tend to force runs outside. McGlockton is particularly formidable, driving blockers back into the backfield and wreaking havoc on offensive game plans. The 350-pounder is playing with uninhibited enthusiasm and he is using his physical massiveness to knock blockers back, often interrupting the timing of trap blocks. Trey Teague, Ruben Brown and Marques Sullivan must be up to the challenge, which they were when they neutralized Jets nose tackle Jason Ferguson in the opener. Dalton is a quicker defender, able to work around the line and get to the point of attack when he has to.

Henry, will often have to cut back and reverse field. But Denver linebackers John Mobley (strongside), Al Wilson (middle) and Ian Gold (weakside) are fast and excellent in pursuit, limiting a cutback runner's effectiveness.

Edge: Broncos

When Buffalo passes

The Broncos regularly employ a zone-blitz, which will keep the Bills' line guessing as to where the pressure is coming from when they pass. In that scheme, Denver will drop one of the linemen in coverage, in favor of an extra linebacker rushing the passer.

Denver often goes to a "penny package" on third downs, featuring three down lineman: starting left end Trevor Pryce, and reserve ends Keith Washington and Bert Berry. Washington mostly plays as the nose tackle over the center. He intercepted a Kurt Warner pass in Week 1 when he dropped into coverage from that scheme, which wreaked havoc on the Rams' line and helped produce three sacks. Overall, the linemen have been very effective getting push up front.

Broncos right corner Denard Walker is not flashy, but an excellent technician. Walker's job will be to keep Eric Moulds' and Peerless Price's big plays to a minimum. Left corner Deltha O'Neal likes to jump routes and take chances. Last year he was second in the NFL with nine interceptions.

Pryce, McGlockton, Dalton and right end Kavika Pittman are powerful enough to generate pressure by themselves. In addition, they are stout enough to tie up blockers, freeing up the linebackers to make plays too.

Edge: Broncos

When Denver runs

Shanahan has designs on making rookie Clinton Portis their No. 1 back this season. It hasn't happened yet, as Portis had a bit of a fumbling problem in the preseason and veteran Olandis Gary has been more of the complete back, running and catching passes. The thing about Gary is that he no longer has the speed that made him a feared back a couple of seasons ago.

The Bills better keep an eye on Gary as a receiver. He rarely drops passes and is a crafty player who knows how to push for the extra yard, plus he doesn't hesitate to get physical with a defender.

Portis is an explosive playmaker who likely will lead Denver in rushing this year. Right now, the team wants to prepare him for the No. 1 job slowly. Fullback Mike Anderson blocks and runs. He also has a nose for the end zone. Overall, Shanahan seems to like the stable of backs that he's collected over the years.

The Broncos' line is an athletic bunch with Ephraim Salaam, a pickup from Atlanta, taking over left tackle for Trey Teague, now the Bills' center. Still, there are questions on the left side. Also, Buffalo did fine against the Jets' offense. Look for that to continue in Denver.

Edge: Bills

When Denver passes

The Broncos certainly have terrifying weapons in receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, plus tight end Shannon Sharpe, who returned to Denver this year after two seasons in Baltimore.

The problem is that quarterback Brian Griese is among the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league. When he's on, he can be very good. When he's off, he can simply be dreadful. Word on the street is that Griese has trouble reading defenses and making good decisions. After his play slumped during the middle of the Rams game in Week 1, Shanahan was close to inserting backup Steve Beuerlein into the lineup. But Griese convinced him otherwise and Shanahan's decision to stay put was rewarded with a 71-yard game-deciding touchdown drive that simply was masterful. Still, Griese is suspect. He can have all the weapons in the world, but Bills fans know what shaky quarterback play can mean to an offense with weapons: The offense will simply struggle, as the Bills did under Rob Johnson.

On top of that, Denver's pass protection was shaky vs. the Rams with the line giving up four sacks. Watch Jerry Gray come up with a scheme to befuddle Griese and the line. Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Edge: Bills

Special teams

Broncos kicker Jason Elam, one of the NFL's best, has a sore hamstring that bears watching. Punter Tom Rouen is a steady punter. Punt returner Deltha O'Neal is a speedy player who has the capability to break one long every time he touches the ball. But against the Rams, he only had one return for four yards. Of course, St. Louis does not punt that often. Kickoff returner Kevin Kasper suffered bruised ribs, but should be ready for the Bills. If he can't play KaRon Coleman will take his place. The kickoff and punt teams are among the better units in the league in preventing long returns. The Bills did nothing spectacular on special teams in Week 1 except allow 98- and 96-yard touchdown returns. Mike Hollis did kick a 52-yard field goal. Right now, you have to say the Broncos are stronger, until the Bills prove otherwise.

Edge: Denver


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