Broncos Inside Slant - October 2

The Broncos are 4-0 for the fifth time in franchise history, but there's a big question as to whether they've really been tested. Their first four opponents have a combined 4-12 mark. If they beat 4-0 Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, critics will have to admit they're for real. Read about the Broncos' plans for the Chiefs, key matchups and all the latest personnel information in this latest inside report.

The Broncos are 4-0 for the fifth time in franchise history, but there's a big question as to whether they've really been tested. Their first four opponents have a combined 4-12 mark. If they beat 4-0 Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, critics will have to admit they're for real.

"This will be a game that both teams will look back to when the season is over and say that was a key game either positively or negatively," backup QB Steve Beuerlein said.

"Not to say whoever loses isn't going to be able to rebound, but it's definitely a big game early that can set the tone for what's to come."

Sunday will be the biggest test yet not only for resurgent quarterback Jake Plummer but also for the Broncos defense. The Chiefs are the NFL's highest-scoring team, averaging 31.8 points per game, led by all-everything running back Priest Holmes.

"You don't just tee off and go after them," defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said of pass-rushing the Chiefs. "If they hand Priest the ball and you're going the other way, it's a long day."

Arrowhead Stadium, meanwhile, has a way of humbling teams.

Dating to 1990, four different teams have entered Arrowhead with 4-0 records or better to start a season and all four left with a loss. The most recent was the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, who were rolling along at 6-0 when they faced the Chiefs. They left with a 54-34 defeat.

Plummer knows what a tough place it is to play. He lost 49-0 to the Chiefs there last year.

"That was ugly," Plummer said. "Like I repeatedly said, I've kind of forgotten what's all happened in the past, learned from it and am ready to move on and focus on getting to 5-0."

Plummer will have to contend with more than a raucous crowd. He'll have to deal with the SI cover jinx.

"If there's such a thing (as a jinx), I'm not letting it get me," he said.

The Broncos quarterback has been working a little of his own black magic in recent weeks. His recent three-game stretch, with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions and passer ratings of 129.5, 128.5 and 116, is the best in franchise history.

"I'm feeling good out there," said Plummer, who in six years in Arizona had an abysmal 69.0 passer rating. "There are still plays that I know I can make."

Plummer shouldn't have to bear quite the burden this week with running back Clinton Portis expected back in the lineup.

SERIES HISTORY: 86th meeting -- The Chiefs hold a 48-37 advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to 1960. The Broncos are only 12-30 on the road. Denver has won three of the past four meetings, including a 37-34 overtime win last October at Arrowhead.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Shannon Sharpe has no regrets about returning for a 14th NFL season. He leads all NFL tight ends this season in touchdowns with three and is only four from breaking Jerry Smith's career record at the position (60). He also has scored in thee successive games for the third time in his career. Heading into the KC game, his current average of 12.5 yards a catch is his beset since the 1997 season.

"A lot has been written that maybe I've lost a step. But I know I can play this game with any tight end that's playing," Sharpe said.

Whether Sharpe returns for a 15th NFL season isn't certain but he's certain of one thing.

"I enjoy the game. I always will. But I want to be one of these guys that leaves a year too early than a year too late," he said.

Sharpe now is in 10th place all time with 766 career receptions.

--Safety Lee Flowers is back from a four-game suspension, which he blamed on taking a vitamin supplement that didn't accurately label its ingredients. The mistake subjected him to weekly drug tests. And while he maintains he has put the suspension behind him, it hasn't been erased completely from his thoughts.

"I find myself reading the back of a cereal box making sure there's no ephedra in there," he said.

The Broncos have a weeklong grace period before having to make a decision on a roster spot for Flowers. Coach Mike Shanahan wants the safety to get in football shape before any evaluation of his future role is made. The health of strong safety Kenoy Kennedy, who missed Sunday's game because of an ankle sprain, could be a factor in this decision.

BY THE NUMBERS: 214 -- Receiving yards by Shannon Sharpe last year against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

7 -- TDs thrown by Jake Plummer in the last three games, against zero interceptions.

35 -- yards needed by Rod Smith to reach 8,000 career receiving yards -- a first for a Bronco.

4 -- points needed by kicker Jason Elam to pass Pete Stoyanovich and move into 20th place all-time in NFL history with 1,236 points.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Oh yeah, it was ugly. Like I repeatedly said, I've kind of forgotten what's all happened in the past, learned from it and ready to move on and focus on getting to 5-0. That's going to be a tough task there in Kansas City against a good team." -- Quarterback Jake Plummer on his last trip to Arrowhead, where his Arizona Cardinals lost 49-0.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos got safety Lee Flowers back from suspension, but if Kenoy Kennedy can return from an ankle sprain, don't be surprised to see Flowers inactive this week. The Broncos have a one-week exemption before making a move.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

• RB Clinton Portis practiced Wednesday and took his normal reps. Though coach Mike Shanahan said he wanted to see how Portis' chest injury was later in the week, there's no way Portis will miss this game.

• SS Kenoy Kennedy lined up with the first unit and said he's ready to go after missing last week with a severe ankle sprain.

• C Tom Nalen figures to be a bystander at practice all week, but at least he is walking now after suffering a sprained ankle vs. Detroit. If he can handle the pain Sunday, he'll play but that's still a long shot.

• DT Daryl Gardener said he wouldn't know until Friday if he can play, but the Broncos have done just fine without him, and probably are not counting on him making a big contribution even if he does play.

• RT Matt Lepsis practiced after an MRI on his sore knee was negative. He'll start.

• LG Cooper Carlisle likely will start at left guard if Tom Nalen can't go this week. The Broncos move Ben Hamilton over to Nalen's spot. Carlisle played about a dozen plays last week and did well, but Arrowhead is a much tougher place to play.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos know they need to stop Priest Holmes if they have any chance in this game. That means tackling much better than they did last week. Offensively, they need to establish the play-action and get a lead to nullify the crowd noise. Denver was forced to throw the ball more with Clinton Portis hurt last week, and don't be surprised to see the Broncos use some of that spread offense again, but if Jake Plummer has to do it all, Denver could be in for a long day against a much improved defense.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos DL Trevor Pryce vs. C Casey Wiegmann. The Broncos like to move Pryce around, especially inside as part of Denver's nickel package, and he has been a beast. Shanahan said Pryce's effort the past three games is the best he's ever seen a lineman play. Wiegmann is a bit undersized, so he'll need help to fend off Pryce.

--Chiefs KR/PR Dante Hall vs. Broncos WR Chris Cole. These two guys are buddies from their Texas A&M days, and as the gunner on special teams, Cole will be the first line of defense against the league's most dangerous return man. Hall already has three returns for TDs this year.

INJURY IMPACT: The Broncos struggled to run the ball last week against Detroit. With center Tom Nalen hobbled by a severe ankle sprain, the yards may be tough to come by this week, especially against a solid defensive front. At least Denver has Clinton Portis back, as he is capable of getting many yards on his own.

Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board


Mile High Huddle Top Stories