Broncos Update Insider - Tues., Dec. 28

Denver safety John Lynch played for Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, and Lynch said he expects that Dungy won't rest his starters on Sunday. The Colts are locked into the third seed in the AFC playoffs, but Dungy has said he won't sit his starters. <br><br>

INSIDE SLANT
The Broncos can get into the playoffs with a win on Sunday against Indianapolis, and defensive end Trevor Pryce says he'll make his return for that game. Pryce, who had back surgery on Sept. 22 and hasn't played since Denver's first game this season, said he thinks he'll be in for about 15 plays on Sunday.

Pryce is Denver's best defensive lineman and would give the Broncos pass rush a big boost if he can return.

"I want to play," Pryce said. "I need to play." Pryce said he's about 75 percent healthy, but can still help the team.

"I'm getting a lot better," Pryce said. "I just don't have the strength to fight. I have the speed, though."

Coach Mike Shanahan said he'll wait to see how Pryce looks in practice before he'll put him out on the field.

"We'll get a chance to look at him this week and see how much he improved from last week," Shanahan said. "Last week, watching him, I would not have played him against Tennessee because he didn't practice at the level that he needed to practice at to be functional in a game."

NOTES, QUOTES
Denver safety John Lynch played for Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, and Lynch said he expects that Dungy won't rest his starters on Sunday. The Colts are locked into the third seed in the AFC playoffs, but Dungy has said he won't sit his starters.

At the end of the 2001 season Dungy sat some of his starters in a meaningless regular-season finale against Philadelphia, then the Buccaneers lost to the Eagles in their playoff opener the following week.

"I know he won't (sit the starters)," Lynch said. "He'll probably play them a little bit because I think he probably regrets having done it (with Tampa Bay).

"We really felt as a team we lost momentum and I think he probably learned a lesson from it."

--The Broncos will place running back Garrison Hearst on injured reserve with a broken hand. Hearst's recovery time would have been 4-6 weeks. Hearst joins tailbacks Quentin Griffin and Mike Anderson on injured reserve.

"We've had three (running) backs go down and guys have stepped up," coach Mike Shanahan said.

--RB Cecil Sapp's role with the Broncos continues to increase with each injury. Sapp played extensively at fullback against Tennessee because of injuries to Kyle Johnson and Patrick Hape. Sapp will likely be Denver's third tailback as well, with Garrison Hearst out for the season.

--TE Jeb Putzier had a four-catch, 60-yard game against Tennessee. Putzier needs to emerge as a weapon inside the red zone, because the Broncos have had trouble scoring inside the 20-yard line all season.

--RB Tatum Bell is at his best in the open field. Twice in the last two games they have thrown a screen pass to Bell, and he has used his speed to get a big gain. Expect to see the Broncos use that play more often when Bell is in the game.

--DT Ellis Johnson has three sacks. He and DE Anton Palepoi were both added after the regular season started, and Johnson and Palepoi trail only Reggie Hayward in sacks among Broncos defensive linemen.

--DE Reggie Hayward has 9.5 sacks to lead the Broncos, which takes some heat off of the team for allowing Bertrand Berry to leave in free agency. Berry made the Pro Bowl with Arizona this season, but Hayward has had a good season as an every-down end.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. TITANS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Jake Plummer made a couple of mistakes and had a pass picked off, but for most of the game he played as well as he has in more than a month. Plummer used all of his receivers and made smart decisions most of the game. The Broncos are a much better team when Plummer doesn't turn the ball over.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Reuben Droughns broke out of a personal slump. He hit the hole hard, as he did earlier in the season before he got a little bit worn down. Tatum Bell had a decent game backing up Droughns and adds a big-play element that has been lacking for most of the season.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Broncos pressured Billy Volek and held up well against Tennessee's receivers on the outside. Volek completed only eight passes before he was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. When the Broncos defensive line can create pressure on the quarterback like it did against Tennessee, the defense plays at a very high level.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Antowain Smith had a few decent runs, but the Broncos played well. It helped that the Titans had to pass the ball to get back in the game. Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry but only had 14 attempts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Triandos Luke muffed a punt that led to a field goal. Luke did have a decent game returning kicks, probably the best game the Broncos have had from a kickoff returner since early in the season. Elam hit three field goals, but he also missed one.

COACHING: A -- The Broncos could have gone in the tank after losing 45-17 at Kansas City two weeks ago. Credit the coaching staff for keeping the players focused, even though they didn't control their playoff future after the loss to the Chiefs. After Denver beat Tennessee and Jacksonville and Baltimore lost on Sunday, the Broncos once again can make the playoffs simply by winning.

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