Broncos Update Insider - 11/19

One by one Thursday, Denver players launched themselves onto a mat, arms outstretched, while special-teams assistant coach Keith Burns kicked the ball into their hands and bodies.

It will be well worth the punishment if the Chargers can once again oblige and add to what to date has been a jaw-dropping total of punt blocks this season.

Consider that San Diego has had that occur already four times, with another attempt tipped and resulting in a 1-yard punt. The rest of the league combined only has had only six punts blocked this season.

"People have found some opportunities there in the kicking game and tried to take advantage of some things there," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "But it's a long season and there's a bye week and you have time to adjust to different things. ... I'm sure San Diego did some of those things on every phase of their team."

In fact, on Nov. 10, instead of spending time on two or three special teams phases, the Chargers official website reported that the time was devoted exclusively to punt protection.

"I know they've had injuries and whenever you're changing people on special teams it's a big deal because you get in a rhythm with one another. Changing people up can be a cause of that," Broncos punt returner Eddie Royal said. "But we're preparing for them like always they have. They're going to be a problem and we've really got to focus on them."

It isn't as if special teams haven't had a glaring effect on San Diego-Denver either. In last year's Monday night meeting in San Diego, a scenario that will replayed again this coming week, Royal returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score and added a 71-yard punt-return TD as well as part of a team record 235 return yards. The Chargers' Darren Sproles added his own 77-yard punt return TD that same night.

"Special teams, it's always hard to say," Broncos fullback Spencer Larsen said when asked if he was surprised at San Diego's special-teams issues to date. "The coach over there (assistant Steve Crosby) has been a great coach for a long time. It's just one of those things -- a thing here, a thing there -- and you have to constantly have to be vigilant on it so it doesn't happen to you.

Royal and Sproles will resume their return roles Monday night, though Demaryius Thomas will have kickoff return duties for Denver.

The Chargers also have yielded a kickoff return and punt return TD this season. The Broncos have allowed one kickoff runback the distance.

Given the backdrop, fans watching on TV may consider postponing a trip to the refrigerator for that next icy beverage until all the way to the commercial break -- especially since Chargers coach Norv Turner has vowed that his team won't have another punt blocked for the remainder of the season.

--Broncos defensive end Kevin Vickerson thinks he knows what to expect when the top two passing teams in the NFL square off on Monday night in San Diego.

"Bombs away," he said. "It might be 800 yards, you never know. We have to get them off the field and defend the deep ball, because we know their tendencies. But they may change that, too."

Probably not.

In passing for 2,944 yards this season, San Diego has failed to reach a net of 300 yards or more only three times, the Chargers average a league-high 312.4. The Broncos' 2,668 passing yards include four games with a 300-plus net and another at 472.

The teams also are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the AFC in passes covering at least 20 yards and 40-plus yards, with 110 such plays combined.

Quarterback Kyle Orton joked this might be the first time in his career one of his matchups might be billed as a battle of gunslingers. There's no question he envisions Philip Rivers in that vein.

"I like the way he plays," Orton said. "He's tough. He stays in the pocket with a lot of guys around him, and he and Norv (Turner, Chargers coach), it's just shot after shot after shot. Norv's a great play-caller who has a lot of imagination. Throughout the week, I always watch San Diego's offense."

Rivers has a 6-3 career record against the Broncos with some gaudy peripheral numbers. He's completed 67.1 percent of his 222 attempts for 2,078 yards -- 9.36 per attempt -- with 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He's been helped by a receiving corps that's contributed 943 yards after the catch.

"He is the best deep-ball thrower that we are going to play or that I have studied," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said of Rivers. "He has an uncanny ability to ignore everything that is going on right around him in the pocket, and he maintains all of his focus down the field. So every time you make a mistake, it doesn't matter how close you are to him in the pass rush, if you make one small mistake in the secondary in coverage, he always sees it, and once he sees it, he has a quick release and is extremely accurate."

Vincent Jackson's holdout, Antonio Gates' foot issues, Malcom Floyd's hamstring and other ailments have had Rivers throwing to a relatively unknown cast, and he's still produced a 102.9 passer rating that's No. 3 in the NFL.

"Obviously Philip Rivers is the engine, man, and if we can just stop this guy at any point in the game, I think we give ourselves a chance," Denver linebacker Mario Haggan said.

San Diego likely feels similarly about Orton. He may be coming off his best overall game with the Broncos, producing just the 10th game in club history with at least four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Orton has a trio of receivers with at least 40 catches despite frequent attempts at double-teams, particularly on top target Brandon Lloyd.

"The schemes in general are not the same," McDaniels said of his offense compared to San Diego's. "We've just found a way to be productive in different ways."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Brandon Lloyd is older, wiser and, most surprisingly, more productive than he's ever been during his eighth NFL season.

With 32 yards Monday night against the Chargers, he'll become just the 16th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 at this late a date in a career.

The last five players to wait then dominate are: Seattle's Bobby Engram (12th season, 2007); Kansas City's Eddie Kennison (ninth season, 2004): New England's Troy Brown (ninth season, 2001); Denver's Ed McCaffrey (eighth season, 1998) and Detroit's Brett Perriman (eighth season, 1995).

"I work hard. I always have," Lloyd said. "I'm dedicated, devoted. This is just something that happened. I think I've been prepared for it my entire career, and I didn't do anything different or extra to make it happen this year. It was just right place, right time, right opportunity. I'm just seizing the moment."

--Denver released linebacker Jarvis Moss, the team's 2007 first-round draft pick.

Moss' career numbers suggest the bust label the ex-University of Florida star always tried to avert. He started just once in 34 appearances, and he had 42 total tackles (25 solo) and 3.5 sacks.

His exit leaves two players from that '07 class, as those draftees taken during the Mike Shanahan era continue to dwindle, now just seven players in all: D.J. Williams (2005), Elvis Dumervil and Chris Kuper (2006), Ryan Harris and Marcus Thomas (2007), and Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal (2008).

"I know he wasn't drafted to play in this system necessarily," coach Josh McDaniels said, saying there were "a number of different reasons for Moss' release. ... It just hasn't been a perfect fit, and we wish him the best and hopefully he can find a place that better suits what he does and what he does well."

Moss started his Denver career as a 4-3 end but didn't have the bulk to fend off opposing tackles with regularity. In the pass rush, he didn't have elite speed to the outside and lacked an array of counter moves.

Some of the same issues cropped up once he moved to a 3-4 outside linebacker. He had difficulty holding the edge, so the team was reticent to play him on run downs. And he didn't have the necessary burst to reach the quarterback.

"You're losing a family member. But we all know that when we sign on the dotted line, it's a business. The job is kind of dangerous when we took it. That's how we've got to look at it," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "I'll continue to be friends with Moss and talk to him. You never know; he may end up back with us."

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- Consecutive years that Denver has appeared at least once on "Monday Night Football," which is the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for second in NFL history. Oakland had 28 straight years with at least one MNF game from 1970-97.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know what's kept them from winning. What I do know is they have players that can get things going in a hurry. You can't worry what they've done, but what they can do." -- Broncos safety Renaldo Hill, on the Chargers (4-5) seemingly coming on again after another slow start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos' linebacking unit received a huge boost Wednesday with the return of OLB Robert Ayers to practice off a foot injury. Ayers and Jason Hunter, with D.J. Williams and Mario Haggan inside, gives Denver the stoutest group against the run that it can muster with its current roster. Ayers may not be ready for full-time duties given he's sat for more than a month. So the Broncos may have to get creative with their sub packages, shifting Haggan to outside linebacker some -- he had three sacks last week, a career high -- and also giving Joe Mays some playing time on a rotational basis. Ayers has the versatility to be a standup outside linebacker or play with his hand on the ground, providing defensive coordinator Don Martindale more flexibility in his pass-rush schemes.

PLAYER NOTES

--OLB Robert Ayers (foot) made it through Wednesday's practice unscathed and once again was on the field Thursday. The team is trying to gauge just how many snaps Ayers can handle Monday, but his availability at this point isn't in question.

--CB Andre Goodman continues to be the only player missing practice with a recurring quadriceps issue. Rookie Perrish Cox likely starts in his place yet again, with Nate Jones manning the nickel.

--NT Jamal Williams for the first time will face the team for whom he played 12 seasons. Williams made the Pro Bowl from 2005-07 with the Chargers and was a two-time All-Pro during that span, too.

--RB Andre Brown returned to Denver's practice squad for the second time, a week after being released by Carolina. Brown originally was acquired via waivers from the Giants after training camp. Brown also made a post-Denver stop with Indianapolis. The Broncos had one open vacancy on the practice squad so they didn't need to cut another player.

--QB Kyle Orton and this week's counterpart, San Diego's Philip Rivers, are the only two AFC players at the position to post seven games with a rating of 85-plus. Eli Manning of the Giants is the only NFC QB to match that feat.

--PK Matt Prater badly missed a 58-yard field goal Sunday, and only two of his eight kickoffs were touchbacks vs. Kansas City. Prater, though, chalked it up to a poor day and not a recurrence of a late-season "dead leg" he's experienced in the past. Prater's foot nicked the ground on his long field-goal attempt. His high kickoffs actually resulted in two returns tackled inside the 20 and another at the 21.

--QB Kyle Orton, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week, completed 20 of 29 passes for 229 yards and two TDs against San Diego on "Monday Night Football" last season.

--QB Tim Tebow last Sunday became the first Denver rookie quarterback to rush and pass for a TD in the same game since Gary Kubiak on Nov. 20, 1983.

--TE Daniel Graham needs one TD to join Tony Gonzalez and Todd Heap as the only players at the position to have at least one scoring reception from 2002-10.





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