Broncos Update Inside Slant - December 26, 2003

The Broncos showed last week that it doesn't matter who they line up in the backfield they are determined to run the ball. Sunday will be no different with rookie Quentin Griffin and converted fullback Mike Anderson to share the workload. 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.

Mike Shanahan found himself in a quandary as the Broncos prepared for the regular-season finale against Green Bay. To play or not to play -- starters, that is.

The Broncos have locked up a wild-card spot, and if both Indy and Tennessee win earlier games Sunday, the Broncos have nothing to play for -- except momentum -- in their late game. The Packers, on the other hand, are still fighting to make the playoffs.

By Wednesday, Shanahan tipped his hand as to how little Sunday's game matters to him. He not only announced that neither Clinton Portis nor right guard Dan Neil would play, he acknowledged that veteran Jimmy Spencer would start for Kelly Herndon at cornerback

"I think both guys would be capable of playing, but there would be that question mark how long could they last,' Shanahan said of Portis and Neil, both nursing high ankle sprains.

"I think with this week of practice, with this week of getting back in football shape after being out all week, they should be in good shape for the following week."

The Broncos have rested starters before, most notably when they had home-field advantage wrapped up in 1996 and 1998. That brought different results.

In 1996, they lost a heartbreaker at home to Jacksonville after resting starters in the final three games. In 1998, the Broncos rested some starters but rolled through the playoffs en route to their second Super Bowl title.

Herndon, who broke two bones in his left hand, will have to play throughout the playoffs with a cast. By resting him, Denver's playoff opponent won't have an indication of how he's dealing with that hindrance.

There is some merit to maintaining momentum into the playoffs, by playing one's starters. The Broncos have won four straight, and are playing their best of the season.

"The key thing is timing and rhythm and it's going pretty good for us right now, so we need to stay on key," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "By the same token, you don't want to do anything crazy and leave guys in there too long, especially when you know you have a playoff spot and you don't know if you're going to play Saturday or Sunday, so if you play Saturday that's one less day of rest you have."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Broncos lead series 5-3-1. But Denver has never won in Green Bay (0-3-1) unless counts two preseason games. Denver won only postseason meeting 31-24 in 1997 to claim franchise first of back-to-back super Bowls

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--The Broncos have never won at Lambeau Field during the regular season. They are 0-3-1.

--No one should have been surprised to see rookie Quentin Griffin roll up 136 yards on the ground in his first significant action of the year.

Take a look at history. Griffin is the eighth different running back in the Shanahan era to crack the 100-yard mark. The Broncos have produced 67 individual 100-yard rushing games (75 if one counts postseason) -- an average of 7.4 per season. That is the most by any team in the NFL since 1995, with Pittsburgh closest with 54.

By comparison, Denver players had produced just 70 100-yard rushing performances in the franchise's first 35 years (1960-1994). Five different rookies have combined for 22 100-yard games, six more than Indianapolis (with 16).

--With Nick Ferguson on IR, Chris Young will back up Kenoy Kennedy at strong safety and cornerback Ryan McNeil will back up Sam Brandon at free safety position.

"Ryan has played a little bit there this year when he was with San Diego. He's a guy whose got the corner ability, plus he's got some safety experience, so that gives us a little depth there," Shanahan said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17.6 -- Average per catch for Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie. Lelie has three more catches this year but he is finishing strong, just like a year ago.

12 -- Number of sacks by defensive end Bertrand Berry -- nearly double his career-high of 6.5 set last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's playing with that same kind of aura, that same kind of ability that his team believes in him and they know when he's on the field that they have a chance to win any ballgame that he's out there." -- TE Shannon Sharpe, on how well Jake Plummer has played in his first season in Denver.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos placed safety Nick Ferguson on injured reserve Wednesday after surgery to repair a broken left forearm. In his spot they signed linebacker Patrick Chukwurah to add depth to the position. They also waived linebacker Louis Green from the practice squad and brought back fullback Kyle Johnson.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--RB Clinton Portis still isn't 100 percent so he will sit out Sunday's game. That likely means more of Quentin Griffin, and Mike Anderson. Griffin fared well on the RCA Dome turf, but since this is played at Lambeau Field, Anderson may get some more carries.

--FS Nick Ferguson was placed on injured reserve with a broken left forearm, Sam Brandon steps into his starting role, a role he lost earlier in the year.

--CB Kelly Herndon must wear a cast on his left hand and though he is practicing this week to get a feel for the cast, he won't play Sunday. Veteran Jimmy Spencer a player/coach, will start in his place.

--DT Darius Holland practiced Wednesday as X-rays showed no broken ribs. He is just sore, and don't be surprised if he plays little Sunday.

GAME PLAN: The Broncos showed last week that it doesn't matter who they line up in the backfield they are determined to run the ball. Sunday will be no different with rookie Quentin Griffin and converted fullback Mike Anderson to share the workload.

Since the Broncos should know before kickoff if they have any chance to play for the fifth seed, look for coaches to game-plan accordingly. The Broncos likely will sit at least three starters, possibly more. Clinton Portis and right guard Dan Neil are both hobbled by ankle injuries and could use an extra week to get ready for the playoffs.

The Packers will have to regroup after an emotional Monday night wink which saw Brett Favre have a career day despite dealing with h is father's sudden death. Favre is capable of airing it out, and he'll have plenty riding on this game, with the Packers still fighting to get in the playoffs.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers RB Ahman Green vs. Denver's No. 3-ranked run defense. Green rushed for 127 yards on 24 carries Monday night vs. Oakland to bring his total to 1,665 yards on the season. The Broncos are allowing just 89.5 yards per game.

--Packers WR Jevon Walker vs. Denver CB Jimmy Spencer. Walker has a whopping 17.8-yard per catch average and a team-leading nine touchdowns. Spencer likely will get his first start of the year in place of Kelly Herndon, who has two broken fingers and has been fitted with a cast.

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