Broncos Update Insider - Thursday, Nov. 18

The Broncos have every reason to feel good coming off a bye and even more reasons to be nervous for Sunday's game against New Orleans. The Broncos are 6-3 and tied for first place in the AFC West with the San Diego Chargers. But unlike the NFC, a 6-3 team in the AFC has little margin for error. There are eight teams in the AFC that are at least at 6-3 right now.The tricky part is not worrying about that.

"We've just got to make sure we don't look too far ahead and try to worry about if were 'this and this' or 'this and this,'" Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said. "All we have to worry about is getting a win and getting to 7-3. That's it."

The Broncos don't have an easy matchup to get up for, coming off a bye week. The Saints are 4-5 and ranked last in the NFL in defense, but the Broncos have let down in similar games, most recently on a Monday night against Cincinnati a few weeks ago. The Broncos also lost against Atlanta at home when they were favored.

"I think we're past our overconfidence, with the Atlanta game and the Cincinnati game," running back Reuben Droughns said. "We're taking it team-by-team and staying focused."

The Broncos are also in a tough spot having to play an early game, at noon Central time. The Broncos traditionally don't fare well playing in the early Sunday games. Denver has lost its last four games when they've had an early start, including a Week 2 loss at Jacksonville this season.

To help fix that problem, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he'll hold Friday's practice earlier than normal to get the team prepared, something he has done in the past to mixed results.

"That's what you want to do, is get your body used to something a little different," Shanahan said. "I've done it in the past, where we are in games and it feels like you don't wake up until the second half."

One of Shanahan's top priorities this week will be making sure his team doesn't overlook the Saints, with divisional games against Oakland and San Diego to follow. The Saints are not out of the NFC race and are capable of beating good teams, as they showed last week in a win over Kansas City.

"That is the sign of a good football team or a team that is believing in themselves," Shanahan said. "They had their backs against the wall and had to come away with a win and they did."

SERIES HISTORY -- 8th meeting. The Broncos have won five of the first seven meetings in the series. The two teams haven't met since 2000, when the Broncos won 38-23.


The last time Denver played at New Orleans, Mike Anderson had a record-setting day. Anderson rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints in 2000, Anderson's rookie season. That still ranks as the sixth best rushing effort in NFL history and it is an NFL rookie record.

Anderson finished that season with 1,487 rushing yards and was named NFL offensive rookie of the year. Anderson is still with the Broncos but is on injured reserve with a groin injury.

--Denver won the first four games in the series, dating from 1970-1985. When New Orleans finally beat the Broncos they did so convincingly, with a 42-0 win at the Louisiana Superdome in 1988.

--Both teams have harvested the University of Georgia for talent. Broncos offensive tackle George Foster and Saints defensive end Charles Grant, offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan were college teammates at Georgia. The Broncos also have notable former Bulldogs Champ Bailey and Garrison Hearst on their roster.

--With the Broncos on the bye week, quarterback Jake Plummer went to Arizona State University to attend the Sun Devils' game last Saturday. ASU retired Pat Tillman's No. 42 at halftime of the game. Tillman and Plummer were college and pro teammates.

"It was a very classy, well-done tribute and ASU went out and won, which was nice," Plummer said. "They played with a lot of heart, which is what Pat did all the time. So, it was very well done."

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan relaxed over his bye week, leaving football behind for a few days. He said he spent a couple days out of town with his wife before coming back to the Broncos facilities on Sunday night to catch up before the team returned on Monday.

"I feel a lot more refreshed this time of year after a bye week," Shanahan said. I don't have to play, so physically it doesn't matter. Mentally, maybe a little bit."

.714 -- The Broncos have a 10-4 record (.714 winning percentage) in games following their bye week. Denver had a bye last week.

"I never really care where a defense ranks when we go to play them. That all goes out the door. They could come out and be really motivated and shut us down and look like a top-10 defense in the league." -- Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer on New Orleans' defense, which is ranked 32nd in the NFL.

The Broncos will be without defensive tackle Luther Elliss for at least one week and maybe more. Elliss pulled a calf muscle jogging on Monday and was on crutches a couple days afterward.

Elliss' absence puts more pressure on the rest of the defensive line. Elliss teamed with Ellis Johnson as the interior pass rushers in the nickel and dime defensive packages. With Elliss out, the Broncos might have to use a starter such as Monsanto Pope or Mario Fatafehi in passing situations.

Elliss was starting to come on after an early-season pectoral injury set him back. He had a sack in Denver's last game against Houston.


--S Nick Ferguson will have to start for a second straight game if John Lynch is unable to play due to a stress fracture near his tailbone. Ferguson is a solid tackler -- he was fourth on the Broncos last year with 74 tackles even though he only started 10 games.

--DT Darius Holland could find himself active on game day with Luther Elliss out of the lineup this week with an injured calf. Holland, a starter last year, has been inactive since Week 3.

--CB Champ Bailey leads all AFC cornerbacks in the Pro Bowl fan balloting. Bailey has had a big impact on the Broncos defense this season, taking the opponent's best receiver and usually playing him well. Bailey will be matched up against Joe Horn this week.

--CB Lenny Walls, who has twice dislocated his shoulder this year, said he will need surgery after the season. Walls opted against having the surgery right away so he could play through the injury this season, but he has had his playing time cut because he's not 100 percent yet.

--OL Tyson Clabo, an undrafted free agent who was with the Broncos in training camp, was signed to the practice squad this week. The Broncos waived running back Kris Briggs to make room for Clabo.

Reuben Droughns is rested and ready to go. Droughns will get plenty of carries against the Saints' bottom-ranked rushing defense. And the Broncos will be more than happy to give the ball to Droughns to keep the Saints' capable offense off the field.

The Saints can beat the Broncos if they outscore them or if the defense forces some turnovers, like they did last week in a win against Kansas City. It will be important that Jake Plummer is smart with the ball. He doesn't need to force passes because against the Saints porous defense, he should have other opportunities to get some big plays in the passing game.


--Saints front seven vs. Denver's offensive line and FB/TE Dwayne Carswell. The Saints, who gave up more than 180 rushing yards to Kansas City's Derrick Blaylock last week, have to slow down Denver's running game. A key to Denver's rushing attack is Carswell, whose versatility as a blocker gives defenses different looks to deal with. It's probably not a coincidence that the only time Reuben Droughns didn't gain 100 yards since he took over as Denver's starting tailback was against Cincinnati, a game Carswell missed because of a suspension.

--Denver LB Al Wilson vs. New Orleans RB Deuce McAllister. McAllister has been limited since he returned from an ankle injury but has been effective when he gets the ball. Wilson, Denver's leading tackler, will be the Broncos defender most responsible for keeping the physical McAllister from getting into Denver's secondary.

--Saints DE's Charles Grant, Will Smith and Darren Howard vs. Denver's bootleg plays. When teams are able to effectively get their ends upfield to take away the Broncos play-action bootleg play, as Cincinnati was in a Monday night win last month, the Broncos offense isn't the same. The problem is if the Saints' ends guess it's a rollout pass but it's a run, it opens up a huge cutback lane for Broncos RB Reuben Droughns.


--S John Lynch was limited in practice on Wednesday. He said he's still hopeful to play on Sunday. Lynch said the fact that the Broncos play on artificial turf at the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday won't make a difference in the decision whether he plays or not.

--DT Luther Elliss could miss a few games with a calf injury. Shanahan said Elliss strained his calf jogging on Monday, and although the muscle is not torn, Elliss was on crutches in the middle of the week and the Broncos will probably bring him back slowly. Elliss has a recent history of injury problems that has forced him to miss time.

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