Broncos Update Inside Slant - November 20

The Broncos meet the Chicago Bears for the 12th time on Sunday, holding a 6-5 edge. Read about Denver's game strategy, key matches, the latest personnel updates and notes, quotes and anecdotes in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

Eight months ago Jake Plummer made two free-agent visits -- to Chicago and Denver -- as he mulled his future. On Sunday, he'll get a chance to show the Bears what they lost out on when the two teams meet at Invesco Field.

"I was coming out of Arizona and leaving every option open," he said of those two stops. "When I was down to my final thoughts, though, I obviously made the right choice."

Plummer is on pace to tie his career high for touchdowns (18), has a career-best 62.4 completion percentage, and has thrown by far the fewest interceptions (4) of his career. Most importantly, Denver's six wins already are as many or more than he had in four of six seasons with the Cardinals.

The guy the Bears ended up with instead of Plummer, Kordell Stewart, is riding the bench after a 1-4 start. Though the Bears are only 3-7, their defense represents the toughest challenge this year for Plummer. Their 11th-ranked unit is the highest-ranked defense he has faced.

"I missed playing against probably the three best defenses we've seen this year, in Pittsburgh, New England and Baltimore, but this is another one that's a very good challenge for us," Plummer said.

In his five wins, Plummer has faced a defense ranked now no higher than No. 22 -- that being Detroit, in which Denver escaped with a 20-16 victory. Cincinnati (23rd), Kansas City (24th), Oakland (28th) and San Diego (30th) all currently rank lower. By comparison, the Steelers, Patriots and Ravens rank Nos. 9, 11 and 3, respectively.

"If you're going to beat Chicago, you've got to play well against their defense because they're capable of making you turn the ball over and beating you up pretty good," Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "They've done it to some good offensive football teams. We know, because we played them in preseason, how physical they are and what the Chicago Bears stand for."

In that game, Denver's first-string offense failed to score a touchdown as one drive stalled at the Bears 4, and another ended with a Plummer interception. He has shown steady improvement since then, and will need to continue to make strides if Denver is to make a drive toward the playoffs.

SERIES HISTORY: 12th meeting. Broncos hold a 6-5 edge. They are 4-2 at home, and have won the past two meetings and three of the last four. The last time the two teams met, the Broncos D held on four straight goal-to-goal plays to preserve a 17-12 win on Nov. 10, 1996.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Tight end Shannon Sharpe won't say for sure, but he has given the strongest indication that this season, his 14th, will be his last. He has said that he'd rather leave one season too soon, than stick around one year too long. Again Wednesday, he indicated that his mind is made up, but that he won't reveal his decision until some point after the season ends. He said he'd prefer that no one ask him about it anymore.

"I think it's becoming too much of a distraction. You are constantly asking my teammates, and Mike (Shanahan) and (owner Pat Bowlen). It's not like they are going to say, 'Yeah we wish he would go.' Because it's really become kind of a distraction and I'm really tired of answering the questions."

Sharpe is now the all-time leader in receptions (794), receiving yards (9,786) and touchdowns (61) by a tight end in NFL history. Sharpe ranks No. 1 in Broncos history with 654 receptions and 54 TDs, Owns the franchise and NFL record among tight ends for yards receiving in a game (214) and has 20 100-yard games. He is on pace this season for 66 catches for 794 yards and 11 touchdowns (one more than he had in the last four seasons combined).

--The Broncos started Mario Fatafehi, who wasn't even on the team when training camp started, over high-priced free-agent Daryl Gardener last week. Coaches said Fatafehi, who had played for Arizona and Carolina, but was unsigned until the Broncos called this summer, has 24 tackles and 2 sacks in limited action.

"Our whole deal is we're going to play the 11 hardest playing fellas we can play, period. That's the whole deal. If we didn't do that we'd be cheating our team," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "He earned it in practice."

Gardener is still slowed by wearing a cast on his surgically repaired right wrist, injured in an off-the-field fracas.

BY THE NUMBERS: 101 -- yards needed by Clinton Portis to hit the 1,000-yard mark this year. He already has six 100-yard games.

3 -- linebackers placed on injured reserve by Denver this year. Ian Gold, John Mobley and now rookie Terry Pierce.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well, obviously if I'm in Chicago I'm going to say Urlacher, but since I'm with the Broncos, I'm going to say Al. I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the game who plays with more energy, or plays the game at any higher level. He makes plays. There is no question that he is the leader, the emotional leader of that defense, and when he plays well, the defense plays well. So since I'm with the Broncos, I'm going to take Al." -- Tight end Shannon Sharpe, when asked whether Brian Urlacher or Al Wilson is the better middle linebacker.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos have put a third linebacker on injured reserve, with Terry Pierce suffering a torn pectoral muscle last week and joining Ian Gold (knee) and John Mobley (neck) on the bench for the rest of the season. They still have a roster spot open. To provide depth at the position, at least for practice, they signed linebacker Louis Green to the practice squad.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--QB Jake Plummer said he was a little sore after last week' game but that his foot is a non-issue anymore. He has taken all his normal reps and will start Sunday.

--WR Ed McCaffrey gave coaches reason for encouragement with the way he practiced Wednesday but they still must wait to see if he has any setbacks. He has missed the past four games with a quadriceps tendon injury and remains listed as questionable.

--K Jason Elam is doing much better this week than a week ago because of a groin strain, and chances are they won't be a limit n how long a field goal he will attempt. That is unless the weather conditions are bad as predicted.

--LT Ephraim Salaam will start despite some soreness and fatigue in his right knee, where he had surgery. But look for him to continue to rotate with Blake Brockermeyer.

--DT Daryl Gardener likely will be a backup again Sunday, replaced in the lineup by Mario Fatafehi, who has earned the job in practice.

--LB Donnie Spragan rested his ankle for two days and should be read to go the entire game again Sunday.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos will use the same formula that worked well last week, running the ball left, and passing off play-action. The Bears may not play quite as much man as San Diego did, especially against tight end Shannon Sharpe, who is having a career year with seven touchdowns already. But look for the Broncos to try to spread the field, with several receivers. Defensively, look for the Broncos to go with Mario Fatafehi at defensive tackle over Daryl Gardener since the Bears bring a pretty solid running attack. Fatafehi isn't limited by a cast on his wrist. As for the pass rush, look for the Broncos to continue with the rotation, but try to generate a rush without too much blitzing.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos WR Rod Smith vs. Bears rookie CB Charles Tillman. Tillman is the Bears best corner right now, but he's still susceptible to rookie mistakes. He also has been called for a league-high six pass interference penalties.

--Broncos RB Clinton Portis vs. Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Portis struggled to find running room against Baltimore's Ray Lewis, but while Urlacher gets his share of tackles, he hasn't been making as many huge impact plays this year.

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