Broncos v. Cardinals Game Preview

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will have to choose between rookie sixth-round pick QB John Skelton or recently-signed Richard Bartel if Derek Anderson isn't cleared from his concussion.

Denver Broncos (3-9) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9)


KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 12/12/10
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Rich Gannon

PREDICTION: Broncos 35-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: Arizona's 30th-ranked defense doesn't stop the run or pass effectively, and now it doesn't know what changes interim Broncos coach Eric Studesville might make. QB Kyle Orton has kept the starting job, but there could be a bigger commitment to the ground game and RB Knowshon Moreno with Studesville having been the running backs coach. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will have to choose between rookie sixth-round pick QB John Skelton or recently-signed Richard Bartel if Derek Anderson isn't cleared from his concussion.

FAST FACTS: Interim coaches are 2-0 in their first games this season (Jason Garret, Dallas; Leslie Frazier, Minnesota). ... The Cardinals have clinched their first losing season under Whisenhunt.

Until this week, Mike McCoy was an offensive coordinator in name only. There was little question it was since-departed head coach Josh McDaniels calling the offensive shots.

But McCoy gets to run the show over the next four weeks.

A wrinkle or two may be expected. But he won't be making wide-scale changes both because of time considerations and belief in the scheme.

"It's a great system. It's a proven system. It's a system I ran in Carolina also before I came here," McCoy said Thursday. "It's very player friendly I would say. So we're not changing. I might call plays a little bit differently than (McDaniels) did, but everyone's going to be different (as a play-caller). But the system's not going to change."

The Broncos for much of the season have had a stern refusal to lean on their running game. Ineffectiveness early was part of the reason. But McDaniels also had a more pass-oriented mindset. And with Knowshon Moreno running the ball better the last few weeks, that could change in the short term with McCoy calling the shots.

"I think we're going to have to run the ball more, especially as teams continue to double-team Jabar (Gaffney) and myself," wide receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "We're going to have to run the ball and score with the run. And once we can prove we can do that, I'm sure the pass game will open back up."

McCoy spent eight seasons with the Panthers, with his final title the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Dan Henning. But McCoy wasn't the primary play-caller with Carolina, except in isolated circumstances. So this is his first real shot running an NFL offense.

McCoy himself was a college quarterback who entrusts the players at that position to be a conduit between himself and the offense.

"Not every play is going to be perfect but we've got to trust the quarterback - that's why he's our quarterback - to make the right decision," McCoy said. "All I want is guys to be honest and up front with me and tell me what they saw and we'll correct some mistakes if it happens."

Creating an early play script and sticking with the weekly routine under McDaniels has stayed the same this week with McCoy as coordinator. By Sunday, he'll have met with quarterback Kyle Orton several times to make sure the game plan is assimilated.

"I think he'll be balanced," Lloyd said. "We're going to take shots when we can. We have our share of deep passes in the game. And he's not going to be bashful about calling them. But I think he's going to be balanced. I think it's pretty simple. There's no magic formula in what he'll try to do and he won't try not to be Josh. He's not going to do that. He's going to call the game and whatever's working, he's going to go with it."

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn't named a starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Broncos, but all signs point toward rookie John Skelton.

Starter Derek Anderson missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and has yet to be cleared medically after suffering a concussion last Sunday. Max Hall, the backup, is out for the year with a dislocated left shoulder.

That leaves Skelton and Richard Bartel, who was signed Tuesday, as the only healthy quarterbacks.

They have both worked with the starting unit in practice, but it's doubtful Whisenhunt would turn to someone who had been with the team less than a week.

That leaves Skelton, a fifth-round pick out of Fordham. He has been the Cardinals' No.3 quarterback all season and played in his first NFL game last Sunday.

Skelton has the physical tools to be successful at some point. He's 6-6 and 244 pounds. He has a strong arm, a fairly quick release and is intelligent.

But he obviously has never started a game in the NFL, and that's a huge challenge, especially for someone from a smaller school.

"That's what it comes down to, being able to handle and process the plays," Whisenhunt said. "It's not just, 'drop back, find the open guy and throw it in there.' There's a lot of things you have to process, whether it's a blitz, whether it's a dog, whether you have a 'hot (receiver),' whether you have a 'sight (adjustment),' being able to make sure you go to the right side of the field, whether it's one-high or two-high (safety).

"You could sit here and talk for five minutes about all the things he has to process in a matter of seconds.


--CB Andre Goodman (hip) continues to practice but given his lengthy layoff, he may not start and if he does, his plays could be limited as he works his way back. He hasn't played a full game since Week 2.

--CB Champ Bailey said that Denver keeping defensive coordinator Don Martindale would be a factor towards keeping him a Bronco when he hits free agency this spring. But he's not expecting that to happen. Bailey said he's also unsure if he's wanted back in Denver, and needs to see whether an extension he nearly signed in October is offered again at similar or lesser financial terms as part of his decision-making process.

--S Darcel McBath practiced a second straight day, coming off a thigh injury, and barring a setback, should play. The Broncos like McBath as a player but (defensive coordinator Don) Martindale mentioned a "dark cloud" of injuries that's followed the player the last two seasons. McBath must show up well in the final month to put himself in consideration within an anticipated reconstituted defense next season.

--NT Jamal Williams and G Russ Hochstein both missed practice Wednesday for non-football-related matters. The team has given veterans days off midweek to try and keep them fresh, and it appears that was the case for both. Williams and Hochstein both practiced Thursday.

--TE Daniel Graham does not have a touchdown to date. He entered this season as one of just four players at his position to tally at least one score for eight straight years. Alge Crumpler, Tony Gonzalez and Todd Heap are the others. Crumpler's streak also is in jeopardy with four games remaining.

--QB Derek Anderson, who has started nine games, has yet to pass neurological tests required to play after suffering a concussion. Anderson hopes to be cleared by Friday, but it seems doubtful he would play against the Broncos.

--QB Max Hall suffered a dislocated left shoulder last week and is out for the season.

--QB John Skelton, a rookie, could get the first start of his career this Sunday against the Broncos. The third quarterback all year, Skelton is thrust to front of the depth chart by injuries.

--QB Richard Bartel, signed on Tuesday, likely will be the backup quarterback against the Broncos. He has never taken a snap in a regular-season game.

--RB Tim Hightower continues to start ahead of Beanie Wells but the club has struggled to stick with the run because it's fallen behind in games.

--RB Beanie Wells wants more carries but is doing nothing to convince coaches he deserves them. Wells fumbled the first handoff two weeks ago against the 49ers and failed to pick up a blitz on a key play last week against the Rams.

--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling figures to be a bigger part of the offense now that he has recovered from a hamstring strain.

--RB Jason Wright will play a limited amount in some passing situations.

--WR Steve Breaston continues to be the team's biggest downfield threat. Breaston has the speed to stretch the field and runs well after the catch.

--WR Early Doucet is playing the third receiver and has done little this year. He rarely seems open and he's not doing anything with the ball once he gets it.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald needs one reception to pass Anquan Boldin on the team's all-time reception list. He needs three touchdowns to pass Roy Green for the No. 1 spot in team history.

--TE Stephen Spach is mainly a blocker and will rarely be a target in the passing game.

--TE Jim Dray has moved ahead of Ben Patrick as the backup tight end. Dray isn't much of a receiving threat.

--PK Jay Feely has a strong leg and his only miss this season in 16 attempts was from 54 yards.

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