Broncos Inside Slant - October 21

Why did coaches call all those seven-step drops for Steve Beuerlein, who was getting pounded into a pulp? And why the draw on third-and-10 from the Vikings' 30-yard line with just over a minute remaining? The biggest question is why coaches didn't go to Danny Kanell sooner.Read about these and other questions in the latest edition of Broncos Inside Slant.

The Broncos got some more bad news Monday, though it wasn't entirely unexpected. Left tackle Ephraim Salaam has cartilage damage in his right knee and will undergo surgery that will keep him out three weeks.

Salaam's injury is the latest in a string, following a season-ending knee injury to linebacker Ian Gold, broken foot for starting quarterback Jake Plummer and backup Steve Beuerlein's broken pinky finger. Asked if the Broncos were feeling snakebit, coach Mike Shanahan squashed that notion.

"I think sometimes that can creep into a team that uses that for an excuse," he said.

But a veteran team like Denver has players who will realize they were a couple plays away from beating Minnesota even with three turnovers.

"I don't think an experienced team will use injuries as an excuse, because they know they have pretty good players playing on the second and third team," Shanahan said. "If you don't have very good players, players know very quickly. But I think we have good enough players where we can still go out there and play at a high level."

With Beuerlein out, Danny Kanell will make his first start since Nov. 12, 2000 when the Broncos travel to Baltimore - a place where they haven't had much success lately.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--QB Steve Beuerlein is out 4-6 weeks with a broken right pinky finger, and very well may have played his final down of a 17-year career. He has not played well in preseason or regular season, and coach Mike Shanahan, while insisting he has faith in the 38-year-old QB, acknowledged that there are several directions he can go.

"I brought Steve in (Monday) and talked to him," Shanahan said. "I told him, 'Steve, I'm not really sure what we're going to do. I'm going to sit down and talk to the doctors and (find out) is it 2-3 weeks, is it three-to-four weeks, is it four-to-six weeks? ... There's a bunch of scenarios that I have to think through. ... But the bottom line is we'll make a decision probably later on in the night and get our game plan and go."

--QB Danny Kanell will make his first NFL start since Nov. 12, 2001, in place of the injured Steve Beuerlein. The Broncos will sign another quarterback to be Kanell's backup but no decision on that player has been announced. "He's a very sharp kid," Shanahan said. "I think he'll do a good job for us."

--LT Ephraim Salaam had an MRI on Monday and it showed cartilage damage in his right knee. He will have arthroscopic surgery and be out three weeks, through Denver's bye. Either Blake Brockermeyer or Cooper Carlisle will replace him in the lineup.

--TE Patrick Hape suffered a mild concussion but a brain scan showed nothing abnormal and he should be back at practice this week.

--WR Ed McCaffrey also had an MRI on his knee/thigh but it was negative. Still, he has been hampered by the injury for the last few weeks, and his status for Sunday's game is in doubt.

--TE Shannon Sharpe has only a deep knee bruise, and while it may limit him in practice, he is expected to play Sunday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Now you find out what you're made of. We've got a few guys hurt and banged up. We will go into Baltimore and find out what type of character we have, what type of team we have. But I will be surprised if we don't step up and get the job done." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Steve Beuerlein, with three interceptions and five sacks, was horrible. Then again so was his protection. The Broncos should have known the Vikings were going to bring the blitz early and often, yet Beuerlein was like a sitting duck in the pocket. When the Broncos did get something going, team captain Rod Smith cost them dearly with a taunting penalty. The only player who gave Denver much spark was third-string quarterback Danny Kanell, who hadn't taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game in three years.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Clinton Portis had a 100-yard rushing game, but the Broncos were incredibly inconsistent running the football. Twelve of his 25 carries went for two yards or less. Part of it was Minnesota's defense. But the offensive line is beat up, and it showed. It also hurt that the Vikings were intent on making immobile quarterback Steve Beuerlein beat them.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Broncos allowed catches of 47, 44 and 39 yards. The 44-yarder was a touchdown by Kelly Campbell and it offered solid proof why Deltha O'Neal has been benched at left corner. While Lenny Walls talked a big game in trying to rise to the challenge of covering Randy Moss, Moss got the better of everyone (10 catches, 151 yards). Another key was Denver's inability to keep QB Daunte Culpepper in the pocket. He consistently bought his receivers more time downfield with his scrambles.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Broncos held Minnesota's potent 1-2 punch of Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith to 71 yards, but they couldn't keep Smith out of the end zone when they needed it most. Smith's 5-yard TD run capped a 71-yard drive to open the second half.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- Jason Elam remains rock-solid, nailing a pair of 46-yard field goals. Chris Cole consistently gave the Broncos good field position with a 30-yard kickoff average. Punt returner Deltha O'Neal, however, remains in a slump, making bad decisions on which punts to return and fair catch. Denver's coverage units were consistent for the most part.

COACHING: D -- Plenty of questions all around. Why did coaches call all those seven-step drops for Steve Beuerlein, who was getting pounded into a pulp? And why the draw on third-and-10 from the Vikings' 30-yard line with just over a minute remaining? The biggest question is why coaches didn't go to Danny Kanell sooner. Granted he hadn't played a regular-season game in three years, but he couldn't fare any worse than Beuerlein.

Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board


Mile High Huddle Top Stories