Broncos Update Inside Slant - November 27

The Broncos were riding high after blowing out San Diego two weeks ago, but now they are reeling, and have to go into one of the toughest places to play -- Oakland- to get back on track. Read about Denver's game strategy, key matches, the latest personnel updates and notes, quotes and anecdotes in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

The Broncos were riding high after blowing out San Diego two weeks ago, but now they are reeling, and have to go into one of the toughest places to play -- Oakland- to get back on track. That Denver dominated in the first meeting brings no solace, especially after a dreadful all-around performance in a 19-10 loss to Chicago.

If the playoffs were to start today, Denver would be on the outside looking in.

Still, players feel 10 wins will get them in. That means they must win four of their last five -- which includes road games in Oakland, Indianapolis and Green Bay, not to mention a home game against division-leading Kansas City. Possible, not probable.

While team owner Pat Bowlen has given Mike Shanahan a lifetime contract, there is growing discontent in the general populace about the job being done by the head coach. And his bad personnel decisions continue to haunt him.

The latest concerns controversial defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, who he has suspended for a second time. But there are plenty of others.

Consider former first-round pick Deltha O'Neal. A failure at corner, he has been moved to wide receiver. Then there's 2001 first-round pick Willie Middlebrooks, whose only action is on special teams, and he was called for a costly penalty there last week.

On Sunday, Jake Plummer failed to deliver the fourth-quarter heroics that the team expected when they signed him to a huge free-agent contract this off-season. Plummer insists his positive attitude won't change.

"I've got to keep trying to make plays," he said. "We just have to keep our heads up and for me, I've just got to be consistent the way I've been all year. You know, with a good positive attitude out there, upbeat, having fun at practice, keeping guys going. That's what I've been doing all year when I've been out there. That's what I'm going to continue trying to do.

"No one is hanging their heads here. We're ready to go out there and get this win and make a big push. It's got to start this week."

SERIES HISTORY: 87th meeting. The Raiders hold a 52-32-2 advantage. The Broncos blasted Oakland in Week 3 on Monday night, 31-10. Denver is just 14-29 on the road vs. the Raiders.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--The "little man," as Daryl Gardener not-so-lovingly called Mike Shanahan last week, admitted to a big mistake on Wednesday. Asked if he regretted signing the controversial defensive tackle, Shanahan said yes.

"Well, there's no question that when you sign a guy for $5 million dollars and all of a sudden the guy doesn't play, that it's not a good decision," he said. "But what I tried to share with you in the beginning is, we made the decision based on him and what he did last year. I knew there were some issues. I thought I could deal with those issues. ... I thought I had a pretty good relationship with him, to speak to him, to let him know how we run things. The thing I was disappointed in was the level of play and practice and in the games that I had not seen in the past. So ultimately when someone doesn't perform it's a bad decision."

The Broncos have now suspended Gardener for three games, and it's very likely they will suspend him again when the latest suspension is up.

BY THE NUMBERS: $115,587 -- the amount DT Daryl Gardener will lose after being suspended for three games, unless the suspensions are overturned by an arbitrator.

5.4 -- Yards per carry for Clinton Portis -- tops in the AFC.

2 -- The NFL ranking for Denver's third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 40 of 148 attempts. If they keep that pace it would be a new team record.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've got a problem with both of our defensive line coaches, the defensive coordinator and our scheme." -- the words that initially got Daryl Gardener suspended.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos signed defensive tackle Luis Almanzar to fill the final roster spot they've had open for a week. The team also waived center Blaine Saipaia from its practice squad and signed guard Chris Watton in his place. The Almanzar move makes sense considering the Broncos suspended Daryl Gardener for another two weeks.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos didn't have a healthy Clinton Portis in the first meeting with Oakland, but as last week indicated (165 yards rushing) he is capable of doing plenty of damage. Look for the Broncos to get him the ball early and often, and use play-action to set up the big play downfield.

Defensively, the Broncos will rely on their four-man pass rush to generate pressure on Rick Mirer, and concentrate on stopping the Raiders run game. If Denver doesn't have Al Wilson, however, this will be a much tougher assignment.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos D-line vs. Raiders QB Rick Mirer. The Broncos' pass rush was pretty much unstoppable in the first meeting, sacking Rich Gannon five times. But Mirer is seen as Gannon with young feet and he's capable of keeping drive alive with them.

--Raiders WR Jerry Porter vs. Broncos secondary. The Raiders were without Porter in the first meeting, and he does a good job of opening things up for the other players. Denver's corners, meanwhile, are coming off a tough game against Chicago. The question is how they bounce back.

INJURY IMPACT: TE Shannon Sharpe won't try to practice until Friday because of separation in his rib cartilage, a painful injury. Even if he plays, he probably won't be 100 percent.

--LB Al Wilson expressed concern about neck stingers, and though he is practicing, he won't really know how he is until he delivers that first hit. If he cant go, Keith Burns would start inside.

--RB Clinton Portis said his heel injury is better and he practiced and will play Sunday.


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