Broncos Inside Slant - October 28

It comes as no surprise that the Broncos received their lowest grades of the season in this week's early edition of the Broncos Update Inside Slant. Check out the grades as well as all the latest personnel updates.

The easy thing to do would be blame injuries. There's no denying the Broncos have had more than their share - with their top two quarterbacks, two starting linebackers, two wide receivers and their left tackle hurt in recent weeks. But tight end Shannon Sharpe refused to make excuses for an offense that has struggled to do much of anything the past two weeks.

"We're a mess right now," he said.

Coach Mike Shanahan believes, however, that it is possible to get the offense back on track even before Jake Plummer returns after the bye.

"Sure we can. Everybody's got to play a little bit better, everybody's got to play at a higher level. You can't make mistakes and you've got to do the little things perfect," he said. "You can use the excuse that you're missing a player here or there. I'm not buying it. We can play a lot better than we have."

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--LB John Mobley was released from a Maryland hospital after spending the night for observation after suffering a bruised spinal cord. All tests were negative though there remains some swelling. He returned to Denver on Monday afternoon, but his status is uncertain pending additional tests.

--WR Ed McCaffrey was deactivated for the second straight week, and though coaches reported he was feeling better Monday, they really won't know for sure until he runs and practices on the knee.

--QB Danny Kanell sprained the index finger on his throwing hand, but X-rays were negative. He should be able to practice and start this week.

--WR Chris Cole was back running Monday but is still not able to cut on his sprained ankle. Until he does he will remain questionable.

--FB Reuben Droughns had an MRI on his neck Monday but it was negative so he will just receive treatment and probably won't miss any practice time.

--QB Steve Beuerlein underwent surgery Monday to repair a broken finger on his throwing hand, an injury that landed him on injured reserve.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it puts everything in perspective when you see something like that happen, especially when it's a guy you've been around for so long." -- Mike Shanahan on seeing veteran linebacker John Mobley lying motionless on the ground during Sunday's game after suffering a bruised spinal cord.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Danny Kanell was making his first NFL start in nearly three years, and it looked like it. The timing wasn't there with the receivers, and he tossed two interceptions - the first by Ray Lewis breaking open a tight ballgame. Kanell's longest completion was 19 yards, and all but two were in the 0-9-yard range. Several drops didn't help his cause. In his defense, this was a tough assignment, and the wind didn't help.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Ravens knew the Broncos would try to run the ball, and were geared up to stop it. It didn't help that the Broncos were without regular left tackle Ephraim Salaam (knee surgery) and lost right tackle Matt Lepsis during the game (ejected). A big play in the game came early when Denver was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from its own 48. Clinton Portis ran hard, getting many of his yards on second effort, but finished with only 86 on 22 carries.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Kyle Boller passed for only 137 yards, but the Broncos sacked him only twice, and couldn't force any turnovers. He ran the offense efficiently, and made some plays when he needed, setting up a 5-yard TD pass with play-action, and having another TD pass overturned by a questionable call.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Broncos allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season, and did a decent job on Jamal Lewis early. But after spending so much time on the field, he eventually wore them down. His 28-yard TD run accounted for the final margin. Though Daryl Gardener made his first start for the Broncos, he did OK, but hardly had the type of impact the team is expecting in the middle.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Jason Elam did his part, making two short field goals, but punter Micah Knorr's early struggles put the Broncos in bad field position. His first punt went just 35 yards and his next two just 32, including one that was partially blocked. In a game of field position, those were costly. With Deltha O'Neal deactivated because of inconsistent play, the punt return duties fell to wide receiver Rod Smith, who hadn't done it on a full-time basis since 1996. He did just fine, averaging 9.5 yards. Reuben Droughns, filling in for Chris Cole on kickoff returns, also was nothing spectacular (averaging 20 yards).

COACHING: C-minus -- The Broncos were down to their third-string quarterback, missing both starting tackles and missing two of their top four wide receivers. But the game plan was so scaled down it was very predictable. Coach Mike Shanahan admitted he wrongly gambled early in the game on fourth-and-inches from his own 48. The defensive stop only gave the Ravens more confidence against Denver's run game.


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