Broncos Inside Slant - September 4

Much attention has been focused on Denver's defense, and how it must slow down Cincinnati back Corey Dillon, who set an NFL rushing record the last time these teams met. <p>But don't forget the success Marvin Lewis has had against the Broncos offense in recent years.

But don't forget the success Marvin Lewis has had against the Broncos offense in recent years.

His defenses in Baltimore allowed the Broncos just one touchdown in the last eight quarters, including the Ravens' 20-3 wild-card romp in the 2000 playoffs.

That he is getting the Broncos early is a plus as new QB Jake Plummer is still learning Mike Shanahan's complicated offense.

The Broncos haven't exactly been sharp in preseason. The first-string offense committed nine false start penalties in nine series, and Plummer has been somewhat inconsistent.

That said, the key is whether the Broncos can get Clinton Portis going.

Cincy's linebackers are all in new positions this year, and last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year will give them all they can handle.

Establishing the run game sets up Denver's play-action game, and that's where Plummer is most dangerous, making plays outside the pocket.

There's no denying he has an assortment of weapons in Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie and Sharpe.

And Portis is dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.

"I think Mike and the organization have put a lot of eggs in his basket," Sharpe said of Plummer's numerous weapons. "We just hope he doesn't trip on the way to the market."

McCaffrey is confident Plummer won't.

"When our offense is at its best, the ball gets spread around," McCaffrey said.

"The mark of a great offense is unpredictability. Hopefully we'll be unpredictable as possible."

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. Broncos lead series, 14-7, but are only 4-5 on the road. The Bengals won the last meeting, 31-21 in 2000 when Corey Dillon ran for an NFL record 278 yards.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Wide receiver Rod Smith looked funny taking the snap from center, but he showed he's got a pretty good arm. The Broncos are just hoping he doesn't have to use it in a game.

Smith is Denver's emergency quarterback after coaches cut both Danny Kanell and Jarious Jackson.

In practice Wednesday, Smith was 5-of 6 with the scout team.

Even Shanahan got into the act, throwing passes during warm-ups.

Sharpe chose to return for another season rather that pursue a broadcasting career. Had he not, reporters wondered if he could have kept Rush Limbaugh off Monday Night Football broadcast.

"They tried it with Dennis Miller on Monday night. I don't know if Rush knows the difference between a screen porch and a screen pass, but we'll see," he said.

Everyone knows what the high point of Corey Dillon's career was, rushing for an NFL-record 278 yards against Denver three years ago.

But what was the low point in Cincinnati?

"Oh boy, I mean this could take all day," Dillon said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 278 - Yards rushing by Corey Dillon the lasts time Denver faced Cincinnati. It shattered Walter Payton's single-game NFL record.

--3 - Broncos defensive starters remaining from that 2003 debacle against Cincinnati.

--6-2 - Mike Shanahan's opening day record as coach of the Broncos.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Opening on the road is a challenge to start but we're ready for that challenge." -- QB Jake Plummer, whose Broncos open with back-to-back road games against Cincinnati and San Diego.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos dumped third-string quarterback Danny Kanell, opting instead to use his roster spot for a backup cornerback (Roosevelt Williams) claimed off waivers. That means Rod Smith is the emergency QB in case Jake Plummer and Steve Beuerlein are injured.

The Broncos have room for an extra defensive back since safety Lee Flowers is suspended and doesn't count against the 53-man limit.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES:

--LT Ephraim Salaam has played only sparingly in preseason, and it will be a test for him to get through an entire game after having knee surgery just a few weeks ago. But he has been practicing since Monday after having fluid drained again.

--DT Daryl Gardener had four pins removed from his left wrist Wednesday but isn't expected to return to practice right away. He needs time for the area to heal, so he doesn't risk re-injuring himself. In his place Monsanto Pope will start.

--TE Shannon Sharpe got a scare at the end of practice but trainers said it was just muscle spasms in his back and he should be ready to go Thursday.

--CB Jimmy Spencer, the first player-coach since Dan Reeves, will play in Denver's dime package. He may be getting up in the years, but Spencer is a wily veteran who can help a young secondary.

--CB Deltha O'Neal apparently has won the starting right corner job. But he has to play well to keep it, defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said.

--DT Darius Holland wasn't on the Broncos roster at the start of camp but he has skyrocketed up the depth chart and figures to see plenty of playing time especially with Dillon such a dangerous runner.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos have to focus on Corey Dillon after what he did to them last time. The key is some big hits early. But the Broncos will be smart, with plenty of defensive linemen in the rotation to keep everyone fresh for the fourth quarter when Dillon could be at his best.

Offensively, look for plenty of multiple-receiver sets for Denver, so the Broncos can get all of their weapons on the field at once. Though Jake Plummer has developed fine chemistry with second-year pro Ashley Lelie, his most frequent targets may be his tight ends, who figure to get single-coverage in the middle of the field.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Colts C Mike Goff vs. Broncos LB Al Wilson. Goff is making his first NFL start at center and needs to have a good game if Corey Dillon is to get rolling. Wilson is the heart and soul of Denver's defense, and if he doesn't play well the Broncos don't have a prayer against Dillon. This will be a good test for the Broncos revamped defense, which ranked - in third-down conversions last year.

--Broncos RB Clinton Portis vs. Colts MLB Kevin Hardy. Hardy is making his first NFL start at Mike linebacker and needs to be on his toes against the spry Portis. Portis rushed for 228 yards in his last regular-season game, and has added a few pounds to better take the punishment of a 16-game season.

INJURY IMPACT: DT Daryl Gardener had four pins surgically removed from his left wrist but it's very doubtful he'll able to practice right away, and the opener seems out of the question. That means Monsanto Pope starts in his place.

--LT Ephraim Salaam practiced and figures to start. The test will be how his knee reacts after the game

--TE Jeb Putzier, two weeks removed from a separated shoulder, is available if needed. He has been practicing since Monday.

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