Broncos Update Insider - Thursday, Jan. 6

The Broncos held the ball for almost 45 minutes in their late season win against Indianapolis last year, which was a team record. Denver will use Reuben Droughns (in photo) and Tatum Bell to control the clock on Sunday. The Broncos also need to be almost perfect in two areas offensively they haven't always been this season: turnovers and red-zone efficiency. Denver can't settle for field goals when it gets close to the end zone.

A few days before the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts faced each other in a wild-card playoff game, Broncos safety John Lynch called an impromptu press conference to clear his name.

Lynch was fined $75,000 by the NFL for leading with his helmet on a hit against Colts tight end Dallas Clark. Clark suffered a mild concussion on the play.

Colts president Bill Polian fanned the flames of the controversy by saying on his weekly radio show that he didn't see the point of the fine and the NFL was "starting to put a price on hunting licenses." Polian said he thought Lynch should have been ejected.

Lynch was emotional when he spoke to the media Wednesday as he tried to defend his reputation.

"Throughout my career I was taught to play hard and I think I have throughout my career," Lynch said. "I think my reputation has preceded me in terms of playing hard and playing physically, but also I've taken great pride in playing within the rules."

Lynch has been fined four times for improper use of his helmet since the start of the 2001 season, which led to the large fine for his latest hit. Lynch was fined $7,500 for a hit on Kansas City's Dante Hall in the season opener.

"Of course you value your reputation and I think I have a good one in this league," Lynch said. "I've had a lot of calls and support throughout. Guys that I didn't even know knew me, in the last couple days calling me and saying, 'Hey, keep playing the way you're playing. You play hard but you're a clean player.'"

Lynch's hit cost him some money but it might be a psychological edge in this week's game.

Both Kenoy Kennedy -- who drew a $30,000 fine for a hit on Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne last year -- and Lynch are known as big-time hitters in the secondary. That might make the Colts' prolific receivers think twice when they go over the middle.

The Broncos were beat repeatedly by Colts receivers in a 41-10 playoff loss last season, and Lynch's presence in the secondary this season might help them in the playoff rematch.

"I think if you play this game, it's a physical game and that's the nature of the business that we're in," Lynch said. "To play it well, I think you have to be physical. Last week it wasn't any different and this week it isn't any different."

SERIES HISTORY -- 17th meeting including playoffs. Denver leads the regular-season series 11-4 but the Colts won the only playoff meeting. That Colts' playoff win was last season, a 41-10 victory at Indianapolis.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Broncos cornerback Kelly Herndon had to play last season's playoff game with a cast on his broken left hand. The club-like cast didn't allow Herndon to use that hand, and he struggled to jam receivers at the line. Herndon, who has had a solid season as a starter, is excited to go back to Indianapolis now that he's healthy.

"Oh, definitely," Herndon said. "It's a chance to redeem myself. I'll get to play without a cast and hopefully things will work out well."

Herndon will probably be matched up with Colts slot receiver Brandon Stokley when Indianapolis uses its three-receiver sets.

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan wasn't worried about the crowd noise at the RCA Dome this weekend. During the Friday practice before every road game the team practices with crowd noise pumped in, so Shanahan thought his team should be used to it.

"We've been pretty good with the crowd noise through the years because we've worked on it in preseason and we've worked on it every away game regardless of the stadium," Shanahan said. "So we feel pretty good about going into that situation."

--Shanahan said he sees some similarities between this year's team and the 1997 team that got into the playoffs as a wild-card entrant and won the Super Bowl.

"Yes, I do," Shanahan said. "I see a lot of character on this team. A lot of guys that have a sense of urgency about them and some resolve. It's very important to them. (They are) very business-like and are looking for an opportunity to go on."

BY THE NUMBERS
0 -- Playoff games the Broncos have won since Super Bowl XXXIII. The Broncos are 0-2 since the end of the 1998 season and haven't held the lead in a playoff game in that time.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"I don't think anybody wants to play Peyton Manning, to be honest with you. Anybody that does is not very smart." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos don't discuss lineup changes during the week, but it is very possible they will have two new return men on Sunday at Indianapolis.

The Broncos removed Reuben Droughns as their kickoff returner when Droughns became their starting tailback early in the season, and never found a replacement. They gave Cecil Sapp a shot at it after Triandos Luke left last week's game with a mild concussion, and Sapp ran hard on a 34-yard return. That might not sound like much, but it was Denver's longest kickoff return since Week 3.

Charlie Adams was pressed into punt return duty because Luke was out and Denver didn't want to use Rod Smith to return punts late in the game. Adams showed some shifty moves on a 39-yard punt return, which was Denver's longest of the season.

Adams nor Sapp had returned a punt or kickoff in a regular-season game before last week so Denver might not take a risk and use them as returners in a playoff game, but they could be a much-needed spark to Denver's special teams.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

-- S John Lynch will be an important part of Denver's defensive effort this week. In last season's playoff loss the Broncos safeties didn't play well when they were supposed to provide deep help, which led to a big day for Peyton Manning. Lynch can be counted on to not be out of position.

-- RT George Foster has a tough matchup in passing situations this week. End Robert Mathis, who had 10.5 sacks this season, will try to use his speed to beat the massive Foster. Foster won't get much help, because the Broncos have to give extra attention to Dwight Freeney on the other side.

-- LB D.J. Williams will be on the spot Sunday. The Broncos will probably play a lot of nickel defense and Williams is a part of that package. Williams is a rookie and hasn't faced an offense as fast as Indianapolis' is on the artificial turf, but Williams hasn't made many mental errors all year and there's no reason to think he'll be a liability against the Colts.

-- TE Patrick Hape once again showed he is a dangerous threat in the red zone when he scored on a short touchdown reception last week. Teams usually forget about Hape, which allowed him to score four touchdowns on eight catches this season.

-- P Jason Baker, who took over kickoff duties in early December when Micah Knorr was released, started slow but he has been consistent in his last two games. The Broncos need Baker to have deep kickoffs to make it tougher on Colts returner Dominic Rhodes.

GAME PLAN

The Broncos will need to look at the film of last season's victory at Indianapolis and replicate everything they did well in that game. When the Broncos beat the Colts 31-17 in the second-to-last game of last season, they ran the ball effectively, hit for some big plays in the passing game, limited their turnovers and got pressure on Peyton Manning.

The Broncos held the ball for almost 45 minutes in their win against Indianapolis, which was a team record. Denver will use Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell to control the clock on Sunday. The Broncos also need to be almost perfect in two areas offensively they haven't always been this season: turnovers and red-zone efficiency. Denver can't settle for field goals when it gets close to the end zone, and quarterback Jake Plummer has to make solid decisions for the entire game.

Defensively, the Broncos need to get pressure on Manning without blitzing. Manning is great against the blitz and the Broncos will have trouble if they are in single coverage across the field because they needed to send a linebacker or safety to rush the quarterback.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Broncos CB Champ Bailey vs. Colts WR Marvin Harrison. One of the reasons the Broncos got Bailey in the offseason was because their secondary was torched at the RCA Dome in the playoffs last year. Bailey has struggled on occasion this year, but his most important matchup comes this week. Harrison beat Bailey for a short touchdown last week.

--Broncos CB Roc Alexander vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne. The Broncos will probably stick Kelly Herndon on slot receiver Brandon Stokley when the Colts use three receivers, which leaves Alexander on Wayne. Alexander is an undrafted rookie who is playing nickel cornerback because of injuries, and he was beat for a long touchdown by Wayne last week. The Broncos will probably have to give Alexander plenty of help, so that could open things up elsewhere for the Colts.

--Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and LB Al Wilson vs. Colts QB Peyton Manning. Coyer will come up with the scheme to slow down Manning and Wilson, who calls all the signals on defense, will implement it on the field. Manning is a master at adjusting at the line of scrimmage, so the cat-and-mouse game should be interesting to watch. Last season, the Colts threw the Broncos off by not calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, which didn't allow the Broncos to shift after Manning had changed the play like they planned.

INJURY IMPACT

--FB Kyle Johnson's sprained ankle is about 95 percent healthy, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said, and Johnson should be able to play this week. Johnson has missed two games with the injury.

--DE Trevor Pryce made it through a full practice on Wednesday and should be ready to play this week. Pryce was pulled from last week's game when his back flared up.

--S John Lynch has a large cast on his broken left thumb, but he'll be able to play with it. Lynch's other four fingers are free, but he will have difficulty catching the ball if he gets the opportunity.

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