KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Chris Myers
SERIES: 11th meeting. Denver leads 7-3. More important, the Falcons are 1-4 in Denver, winning only in 1982. When these teams last met, in 2000 in Denver, the Broncos jumped to a 35-7 halftime lead and won 42-14 in a walkover. There are just a few players left on this Atlanta team who were in that one.
2004 RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 25th (3rd rush, 31st pass); defense 15th (9th rush, 23rd pass). Broncos: offense 7th (2nd rush, 15th pass); defense 2nd (4th rush, 2nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Both defenses are coming off poor performances. Atlanta was torched for an NFL-record eight rushing touchdowns last Sunday, but is counting on the return of MLB Chris Draft and hopefully FS Cory Hall to improve the run defense. The Falcons must stop RB Reuben Droughns to prevent the Broncos from setting up their trademark play-action passing attack in which QB Jake Plummer is so effective because of his mobility.
The Broncos' defense had similar struggles in maintaining their gap responsibilities on Monday night, and CB Champ Bailey had an uncharacteristic poor game. He will likely shadow Falcons No. 1 WR Peerless Price, making it that much more difficult for Atlanta's struggling passing game to produce much. For the Falcons to move the ball, the running game will have to produce against a defense likely to crowd the line of scrimmage.
FAST FACTS: Falcons: Team's receivers have combined for one touchdown reception. ... WR Peerless Price has a reception in 78 consecutive games. Broncos: Lead the regular-season series 7-3 and defeated Atlanta in Super Bowl XXXIII - John Elway's final game and the last playoff game Denver won. ... K Jason Elam has a point in 179 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in league history.
PREDICTION: Broncos 31-17
-- TE Eric Beverly will miss his third straight game after dislocating his right shoulder Oct. 10 against the Lions. The Falcons have missed Beverly in the run game, in particular.
-- DT Rod Coleman will miss his third straight game Sunday when the Falcons play at Denver. He was injured in a one-car accident near his home on Oct. 16. He underwent surgery Oct. 19 to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, and also sustained some damage to his medial and posterior collateral ligaments and a bruised shoulder. His most likely return date might be Nov. 14, against the Bucs, the week after the Falcons' bye.
-- CB Aaron Beasley, who strained or tore a muscle near the arch of his right foot near the big toe, is doubtful for Atlanta's game Sunday at Denver. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
-- MLB Chris Draft will return to the starting lineup for the Falcons after missing two games with a sprained big left toe.
-- Michael Jenkins, the second of Atlanta's two first-round draft picks, figures to play a good bit more at Denver Sunday than he has to date. "It is maybe more of a decision on our part to put him in there, find spots, and ... force feed him in a little bit, kind of like we've done with DeAngelo Hall," coach Jim Mora said. "We're working him more and more in our offense. And you'll see him play more this week, as a matter of fact. "He's done such a good job on special team that that gives you confidence to throw him out there on offense."
-- FS Cory Hall continues to be fairly seriously hampered by a sprained right ankle. He's questionable, and may be replaced for the second straight game by special teams standout Kevin McCadam.
-- DT Chad Lavalais, who has started the past two games at NT for the Falcons, is still battling a broken left hand. He'll probably play at Denver Sunday, although his durability is an issue. His backup is Antwan Lake.
--RB Cecil Sapp will probably go from the practice squad last week to being Denver's third tailback this Sunday with Tatum Bell likely to miss the game. Sapp's long-term contribution this season will be providing depth at fullback.
--CB Champ Bailey took the blame for Chad Johnson's seven receptions last Monday night on his shoulders, but there were some plays weren't all Bailey's fault, because either the defensive play the Broncos had called didn't offer any safety help or the safety help was late to arrive. Bailey should bounce back this week.
--TE Dwayne Carswell returned to practice this week after serving a NFL-mandated one-game suspension. The Broncos' run game should get a boost from having the 290-pound Carswell back as a sixth offensive lineman.
--WR Triandos Luke could be tabbed to replace Quentin Griffin as Denver's kickoff returner. Luke, a rookie, has found a niche as the punt returner, and returned kickoffs at the University of Alabama. Luke finished Monday night's game as kickoff returner after Griffin suffered a season-ending knee injury.
--QB Bradlee Van Pelt is on Denver's practice squad, and he has a unique job this week. Van Pelt, an athletic rookie from Colorado State, is simulating Michael Vick in practice to help get the Broncos prepared to face Atlanta's quarterback on Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Falcons have had a lot of things go right so far this season, hence their 5-2 start. But some of those things haven't been happening as much lately, as their running game has slipped a little, they're not taking the ball away as much, they're turning over more and the run defense went on vacation last Sunday at Kansas City.
Rather than counting on these things just magically showing up again, they're working hard at improving a long deficient area to help cover for other deficiencies.
Atlanta needs to be better on third downs, where their 22.7 conversion rate is the league's worst. Sunday's opponent, Denver (5-2), is No. 4 in the NFL in defending third downs.
"Thank goodness we're having success on first and second down because if we hadn't we'd be in real trouble," said coach Jim Mora. "But obviously, we've got to get better on third down."
Quarterback Michael Vick is ranked No. 5 in the NFC, and No. 9 in the NFL in fourth quarter passing, completing 22 of 33 attempts (66.7 percent) for a whopping 10.2 yards per attempt - a 97.5 passer rating.
He has also completed 71.2 percent of his passes on first down (42 of 59 attempts), and Atlanta is averaging nearly 11 yards per attempt. He's hitting on 52.9 percent on second downs (27 of 51), averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.
But on third downs, Vick has completed just 14 of 36 (38.9 percent) for an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. His third down-passer rating of 56.7 is 11th-best in the NFC and 25th best in the NFL. He's also 1 of 4 for 10 yards on fourth down attempts.
Vick hasn't had much help on third downs, where protection breakdowns, dropped passes and the like have worked against him. He has struggled at times to make reads on third downs, too, as nickel and dime secondaries give him multiple looks.
So the Falcons, for sake of all their offensive players, are simplifying matters.
"We said, 'Here are certain concepts we need to zero in on, and try to get better at these,'" said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "We got more specific, and we're not going to have as much variety. We said, 'How can we get better?' And it's by minimizing the package."
Foster's cut block on Williams, which broke Williams' ankle and ended his season, has been the subject of debate all week. Foster was not fined because the NFL deemed the block to be legal.
"I understand them being angry about it," Foster said. "But as far as I'm concerned, personally, I'm not a malicious guy. Never have been."
Foster has been criticized for the cut block because it looked unnecessary. Williams was pursuing Jake Plummer on a bootleg pass and didn't appear to see Foster coming when Foster hit him low.
Foster said he felt bad for Williams, and after Williams was put on the cart Foster went up to him and let him know he wasn't trying to hurt him.
"I just want to put it out there that I'm not that type of guy," Foster said. "I would never do anything like that on purpose."
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan defended Foster and Denver's blocking schemes this week, bringing the media into a team meeting room to watch film of other teams cut blocking, making the point that every team in the league does it.
"If it wasn't part of the game, then we wouldn't do it," Foster said. "It was within the rules. We wouldn't do it if it wasn't legal."
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