Broncos Update Insider - Thursday, Dec.23

The Broncos need a good start in their game against the Tennesse Titans, for confidence reasons more than anything. They played a terrible game at Kansas City last week and are slipping out of the playoff race.<br>

Cornerback Champ Bailey was supposed to make a big impact for the Denver Broncos. But that hasn't happened.

The Broncos finished last season ranked fourth in total defense in the NFL, and this season Denver is seventh.

Bailey has been an improvement at cornerback for the Broncos, but he hasn't dominated like most Broncos fans expected when the team sent Clinton Portis to Washington for Bailey, who received a $63 million contract.

Bailey gave up two touchdowns against Kansas City's Eddie Kennison last week in Denver's worst game of the season, a 45-17 loss to the Chiefs.

Bailey said he isn't content with the way his season has gone.

"It's definitely not what I wanted it to be," Bailey said. "My expectations and goals were set so high, I don't think I could ever reach them, but neither did Peyton Manning, you didn't think he could reach his and he did. I'll just keep working and get ready for this game and worry about what I did this season after this season. Can't look back now."

Bailey started the season very well, but had his first tough game in Week 7 against Cincinnati. Chad Johnson beat him for a few big plays.

Since then Bailey has given up big plays to Oakland's Jerry Porter, the Chargers picked on him for a long pass to Eric Parker which set up a touchdown to start their game on Dec. 5, and Kennison got the best of him on Sunday.

Bailey was at a loss to explain what has happened in the past two months.

"You can't really pinpoint it," Bailey said. "I really have to look back at it after the season. I can look at a lot of different situations, a lot of different things. It's just spots here and there I wish I could clean up."

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has strongly defended Bailey whenever Bailey has had a bad game this season. He did so again this week, saying that Bailey gets blamed for giving up catches when the Broncos are actually in zone coverage, and he gets blamed when the safety assigned to offer deep help hasn't arrived on time.

"I'm not saying Champ has played perfect, but to talk about how a guy's playing, especially at the cornerback position, you really have to study the coverages to say if a guy had a good game or a bad game," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said he thought Bailey has played well enough this season to deserve a Pro Bowl spot. Bailey was named to the AFC team on Wednesday.

"Of course I do," Shanahan said. "He's one of the best corners in the league, if not the best."

SERIES HISTORY -- 33rd meeting. The Broncos lead the series, 20-11-1, and have won two of the three playoff games. Denver hasn't played the Tennessee franchise since it was the Houston Oilers. The last meeting between the teams was in 1995.

NOTES, QUOTES
--Mike Shanahan is friends with Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Fisher and Shanahan were on the same coaching staff with the 49ers in 1992-93.
Shanahan and Heimerdinger were college roommates at Eastern Illinois their freshman and sophomore years. Heimerdinger was on Denver's staff under Shanahan from 1995-99.
"It's always nice to go against a team with some friends that you know," Shanahan said. "I think there's a little incentive there on both sides that makes you want to play well."
--The Broncos courted Titans quarterback Billy Volek in March before Volek re-signed with Tennessee. Volek has had back-to-back 400-yard passing games while the Broncos have watched quarterback Jake Plummer struggle in December.

"(Volek) has been pretty consistent since he's been with Tennessee," Shanahan said. "When he's been asked to perform, he's performed well. They really like him because of the way he's performed when he's been called upon. The last two games were very indicative of the type of talent he has."
--S John Lynch joined cornerback Champ Bailey as Denver's two representatives on the AFC Pro Bowl team. Lynch, who had neck surgery in January and was later released by Tampa Bay, admitted he didn't know before this season if he would ever return to playing at a Pro Bowl level.
"To be completely honest, on my free agent visits they'd ask me that question and I'd say 'No, not at all,' but sure, there's a little bit in the back of your mind," Lynch said. "You have all kinds of injuries but when it's your neck it's a different thing."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6.2 -- Rookie running back Tatum Bell has averaged 6.2 yards per carry in his past three games. He has 204 yards in 33 carries.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I don't think we should be playing. But if I was home and not playing football, I'd want to see a game. I guess we're the ones doing the entertaining this year." -- CB Champ Bailey, when asked about playing on Christmas.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos released defensive tackle Darius Holland this week. Holland, who was a starter, had fallen so far for the Broncos that he wasn't even active despite injuries to Luther Elliss. The Broncos signed defensive tackle Demetrin Veal last week after Elliss went on injured reserve. Guard Tyson Clabo was activated from the practice squad to take Holland's spot on the roster. Defensive tackle D.J. Renteria was signed to take Clabo's spot on the practice squad. The Broncos signed guard Tim Stuber this week and signed receiver Grant Mattos to the practice squad after Denver lost end Bryant McNeal when Tampa Bay signed him off of the Broncos' practice squad.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES:
--T P.J. Alexander has worked at guard this week. Starter Cooper Carlisle sat out practice on Tuesday with a sprained ankle. Alexander is a tackle who can also play inside.
--FB Kyle Johnson is doubtful to play on Sunday because of a sprained ankle. Johnson is the latest special-teams contributor to go down with an injury. The Broncos' special teams have been a liability this season.
--P Jason Baker must have a decent day kicking off against Tennessee. His kickoffs have hurt the Broncos in the past two weeks. However, after a line drive kickoff was returned 97 yards for a touchdown at Kansas City, his kickoffs were pretty good.
--WR Triandos Luke returned kickoffs for the Broncos last Sunday. The Broncos tried CB Roc Alexander returning kicks but he had little success. Reuben Droughns was used there one week, but when Tatum Bell hurt his shoulder the Broncos couldn't risk Droughns in that role.
--RB Cecil Sapp could help the Broncos out this week as a fullback. With Kyle Johnson likely out, Sapp could slide to fullback, where he was practicing during training camp.

GAME PLAN:
The Broncos need a good start, for confidence reasons more than anything. They played a terrible game at Kansas City last week and are slipping out of the playoff race.

The Broncos have no excuse not to move the ball and score a lot against a depleted Titans defense. The same could have been said last week when the Broncos played the Chiefs but scored only 17 points, including one touchdown in garbage time. The Broncos can't fall behind early and get away from their running game.

Defensively, the Broncos need to pressure Billy Volek and not let the Titans beat them passing the ball. The Broncos are better off letting Antowain Smith try to beat them.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Broncos CB Champ Bailey vs. Titans WR Drew Bennett: If Bailey is locked up against Bennett and not Derrick Mason, it will be an interesting battle. Bailey has been beaten for big plays this season. Bennett is the hottest receiver in football with 25 catches and almost 400 yards his past two games. Bailey will have to hold up against the physical Bennett. That matchup could open things up for Mason, who will be facing Kelly Herndon.

--Broncos WR Ashley Lelie vs. Titans CB Michael Waddell: The Raiders picked on Waddell last week, and the Broncos will take some chances against him too if Samari Rolle can't play because of a knee injury. Lelie has had some big games for the Broncos. If he can get going early, it could help the Broncos in the running game by forcing Tennessee to play its safeties back.

INJURY IMPACT:
--DE Trevor Pryce has practiced all week and has a chance to play against Tennessee. Pryce has missed all but one game this season.
--G Dan Neil sat out practice on Thursday. Neil has an abdominal injury and hasn't played near the level he has been at for years.
--G Cooper Carlisle, who took Neil's spot in the starting lineup two weeks ago, sat out of practice Tuesday with a sprained ankle but returned to practice on Wednesday.

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