Broncos Inside Slant - September 9

Jason Elam and the special teams deserved a A for their efforts in the Bengals game. How did each of the other units of the Broncos grade out? Read about it in our weekly report on the Broncos.

Mike Shanahan stood behind his quarterback a day after Sunday's three-interception performance. And why wouldn't he? The Broncos won, and won big.

That hasn't stopped the criticism of Jake Plummer, who lit up the airwaves after the debut performance that saw him finish with a 21.7 passer rating.

"I don't think he cares (about the criticism)," Shanahan said. "I just think he believes in himself. He's going to go out there and compete. I think he's got a lot of the same attitude as John Elway."

Plummer's first interception was tipped at the line. But on his second, his pass floated like a butterfly, and he threw behind the receiver on the third pick.

Plummer reminded those watching that these were bad passes, not poor decisions, a significant difference in his mind from his days in Arizona.

Tight end Shannon Sharpe attributed the miscues to Plummer "wanting to do well" in his regular-season debut with Denver. He had a feeling that Plummer might struggle after watching him sail a few passes in pre-game warm-ups.

Coach Mike Shanahan noticed it, too.

"He looked like a rookie out there (in warm-ups). You could see the expectation level was very high. He was like a young guy starting his first game," Shanahan said.

--RB Clinton Portis stayed down on the ground for a few seconds in the third quarter after getting his foot stepped on. But he returned, and said he is OK. He finished with 120 yards rushing on 24 carries.
--LT Ephraim Salaam held up for the entire game despite seeing only limited action in preseason because of knee surgery. That's a good sign for an offense that rolled up 184 yards on the ground, and gave up just one sack, that on backup Steve Beuerlein.
--LB Ian Gold's interception in the third quarter was the first by a Broncos linebacker in 22 months, dating to Nov. 11, 2001.
--LB Jashon Sykes bruised his rear end but isn't expected to miss any practice time. Sykes is only a backup but has played extremely well on special teams, which turned in one of the best overall performances in recent history.
--DT Daryl Gardener had hoped to begin practicing this week but that looks more doubtful as he is letting his wrist heal after having pins removed last week. He will continue to work on conditioning on his own.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We answered a lot of questions." -- Broncos defensive end Reggie Hayward, of a unit that featured five new starters and a much more aggressive approach in rushing the passer under new coordinator Larry Coyer.

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Jake Plummer's passer rating was barely legal, as in 21.7. He tossed three interceptions, and overshot a wide-open Shannon Sharpe that would have been a big play. Denver didn't really need to pass, but that simply won't cut it down the stretch.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Denver averaged 4.6 yards a carry, 6.9 yards a carry in the first half before the Bengals made some defensive adjustments. Clinton Portis picked up where he left off last season, rushing for 120 yards on 24 carries, with some nice downfield blocking by wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. Even Denver's receivers had a field day, picking up 35 yards on five reverses.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- This was the biggest question on defense, and both the D line and secondary came through. The Broncos manhandled Cincinnati's revamped offensive line, especially rookie left guard Eric Steinbach. Denver sacked Jon Kitna four times, intercepted him twice, forced two fumbles, and batted down three of his passes at the line. Nickel back Kelly Herndon (one interception) and starting left corner Lenny Walls (two passes defensed) showed they can play even though they have no starting experience.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Only a handful of players remain from the unit that allowed Corey Dillon to rush for an NFL-record 278 yards three years ago. But those who did vowed this time would be different and it was as a swarming defense held Dillon to 34 yards on 14 carries. It started up front with defensive tackles Darius Holland and Monsanto Pope, with cat-quick linebackers Ian Gold, Al Wilson and John Mobley, and aided by solid run support from young safety Sam Brandon. Dillon's longest run was just 7 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- One couldn't ask for better production here. Jason Elam was 3 of 3 on field goals, including a 51-yarder. Denver forced a fumble on a kickoff return, Chris Cole averaged 32 yards on four kickoff returns and Denver's coverage units held Peter Warrick to a 1.5-yard average on punt returns and Brandon Bennett to 19.3 on kickoff returns. Micah Knorr also raised his average from last year to 42.4 yards on five punts.

COACHING: B -- Denver did a good job of creating mismatches and taking advantage of them by running the ball when the Bengals were in nickel formation, and passing when they brought the linebackers back in. Shanahan may not appease fantasy-leagues, not with Ed McCaffrey and Ashley Lelie combining for zero catches.

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