Broncos Update Inside Slant - December 19, 2003

The Broncos will have to put a lot more pressure on Peyton Manning than they did Tim Couch last week, disrupting his timing. Otherwise Denver's corners will be in for a long day against the Indianapolis Colts. Read about the Broncos game strategy, key match-ups, the latest personnel updates and notes, quotes and anecdotes in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

Playoff teams are supposed to gain momentum down the stretch. But the Broncos have done just the opposite in recent years, particularly on the road.

They haven't won a road game in the final month of the season since they beat New Orleans 38-23 on Dec. 3, 2000. Since then they have dropped seven straight, eight if one counts the 21-3 wild-card loss in Baltimore on Dec. 31, 2000. Which doesn't bode well this year since they finish the season at Indianapolis and Green Bay.

"You've got to want to play now. It's all in the mind," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said.

"Some (players) are looking to get their cars packed. Other teams want to play. This team looks to me like it wants to play. We had to fight for a game Sunday (an overtime win against Cleveland), and they fought. They want to play."

Still, Coyer was amazed to hear about Denver's recent road streak in December. Ditto for the road record in the Mike Shanahan era -- 3-15 -- once the calendar flips to December.

"Well, it's time (we change that). We better get started," Coyer said.

Saying it is one thing, doing it another. The Colts boast the league's top passing offense, the No.2-ranked scoring offense and the NFL's No. 3 -ranked pass defense -- the toughest combination Denver has faced so far this year. That Denver may be without running back Clinton Portis isn't reassuring.

Portis accounted for 39 percent of the team's offense, and Jake Plummer isn't nearly effective in the passing game without him. There's no question the pressure will be on Plummer, who directed his first fourth-quarter comeback as a Bronco last week.

Though he'll still occasionally try to squeeze in a throw and can put receivers in awkward positions, Plummer brings other qualities that have his teammates excited about this stretch run. His quick feet and leadership are a marked departure from the skills of predecessor Brian Griese.

"I knew he was good, but I didn't know he was that good," coach Mike Shanahan said of Plummer. "He can do some things that a lot of quarterbacks can't do. But the thing I love about him is that he is a competitor. He loves to play. He loves game day. He loves pressure situations..."

They don't get much bigger than this. Plummer led Arizona to three wins down the stretch to get the Cardinals into the playoffs in 1998, then directed a road upset of rival Dallas in the wild-card round.

"In games that Jake's been in, we always feel we're going to win that ball game," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "I'm glad Jake's on my side."

SERIES HISTORY: 14th meeting. Broncos hold a 9-4 edge, and Denver has won 7 of last 10 meetings. Mike Shanahan is 2-0 against Colts.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--RB Clinton Portis was walking by Tuesday without crutches and without a limp, but he probably won't even try to practice until Friday. And even then it probably will be a game-time decision. With the game on turf, the odds are against him. But Portis isn't about to rule himself out because of a high ankle sprain.

"Right now we're in a push for the playoffs," said Portis, who ranks No. 2 in the AFC in rushing with 1,591 yards. "And I'm trying to get there."

--Shannon Sharpe didn't reach for a Sharpie or hide a cell phone but he has pulled a stunt or two during games. He picked up a phone behind the bench, pretending to call the President and ask him to send in the National Guard to help the Patriots. And after a record-setting day in Kansas City, he pulled tape off his shoes to reveal the words "Big Play Shay." Asked about Joe Horn's cell-phone stunt last week, Sharpe said he didn't have a problem with it and thought the $30,000 fine was excessive.

"Obviously it was thought out, and that's what the NFL really doesn't like," he said. "They want something spontaneous. If he had gone and grabbed somebody's phone in the stands, that's one thing, but to hide it, and then you score a touchdown..."

He said the NFL is trying to send a message.

"They don't want these acts, and you have to live with it. I know I just couldn't afford to take a hit like that. So I don't foresee me doing, or my teammates doing anything like that because the NFL might fine you 30 but Mike (Shanahan) might fine you 50. so it's not worth it."

BY THE NUMBERS: 39 -- Percent of Denver's offense that Clinton Portis accounts for. He has rushed for 1,591 yards, including 692 in the last four games, and has caught 38 passes for 314 yards.

19-11 -- the combined record of Denver's final two opponents (Indianapolis and Green Bay) -- the toughest remaining schedule for any AFC playoff contender.

251 -- The yards rushing for Mike Anderson the last time he started at tailback in a domed stadium. It occurred Dec. 3, 2000 -- against New Orleans in the Louisiana Superdome.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We haven't talked about that word 'lose' in a long time, so we're looking to win against Indianapolis, then it's in our hands. Anything that has to do with negative stuff like lose we're not really talking about around here." -- QB Jake Plummer on the possibility of losing their final two games but still qualifying for the playoffs.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES:

--RB Clinton Portis likely will be a game-time decision but don't expect him to play on turf with the high ankle sprain. That means Mike Anderson or Quentin Griffin, or both carrying the ball.

--RG Dan Neil probably won't try practicing til Friday but as a linemen look for him to play. If not, Cooper Carlisle would get the start at guard.

--FB Reuben Droughns is much improved over a week ago, and he could see more than a few plays this week. He may not be ready however, to return kickoffs again.

--LT Ephraim Salaam is probable and hobbled but he still practiced and will play Sunday. He'll need to be sharp, however, going against Dwight Freeney.

GAME PLAN: The Colts did a great job of keeping Michael Vick in the pocket and that no doubt will be their goal Sunday night against Jake Plummer. Plummer is best throwing on the run. If Clinton Portis can't play because of a high-ankle sprain, Plummer won't be able to sell the play-action as much. That means he'll have to be more accurate with his throws and hang tough in the pocket. Defensively the Broncos will have to put a lot more pressure on Peyton Manning than they did Tim Couch last week, disrupting his timing. Otherwise Denver's corners will be in for a long day.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Colts WR Marvin Harrison vs. Broncos CB Lenny Walls. Walls was burned deep last week, and also committed two costly pass-interference penalties that led to 10 points. Harrison gives up 4 inches to Walls, but he has the speed and moves to cause damage. If the Broncos double Harrison, it should open things up for Reggie Wayne.

--Colts DE Dwight Freeney vs. Broncos LT Ephraim Salaam. Salaam has been playing well but this will be a big test for him especially with him banged up.

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