Kansas City kick returner Dante Hall's highlight film prominently features some of the Denver Broncos' futile attempts to stop him.
The Broncos hope punter Todd Sauerbrun can keep the team from looking bad against Hall again when Denver plays Kansas City on Monday night.
The Broncos traded a seventh-round pick and punter Jason Baker to
Carolina this May to get Sauerbrun, a three-time Pro Bowler, knowing they
face Hall twice a year. In each of the past two seasons against the Broncos,
Hall has had a touchdown that turned the game in Kansas City's favor. Each time a mediocre kick led to the score.
Two years ago, punter Micah Knorr's punt from midfield didn't get to the end zone. Hall fielded it at his own 7-yard line, and he juked his way to a 93-yard touchdown that was the difference in a Chiefs win. Last season, in a December game at Arrowhead Stadium, Baker hit a line drive on the opening kickoff. Hall took it back 97 yards for a touchdown and the Chiefs won 45-17.
This time, the Broncos hope Sauerbrun helps them prevent Hall from making any game-changing plays.
"You'd like to kick it out every time if you could; if you're a punter kick it to the sideline," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Because every time he touches the ball he has a chance to go the distance. There's not many people like him. He'll go down as one of the all-time greats at returner."
Sauerbrun will also handle kickoffs because the team released kicker Paul Ernster this week. Three of Sauerbrun's five kickoffs reached the end zone last week against San Diego.
So far Sauerbrun hasn't blown anyone away with his performance punting the ball. Denver ranks 26th in the NFL in net punting average, at 34.6 yards
But the Broncos are pleased with what Sauerbrun has done. Sauerbrun is still an upgrade from what they had, and they see him booming the ball in practice. They just need him to be consistent during games.
"He's done a good job," Shanahan said. "He's a perfectionist and he's got the ability to kick the ball 80, 90 yards. I've seen it in practice. I've never seen a guy kick the ball 90 yards before. We know why he's done the things he's done. He'd like those kicks every time."
Sauerbrun hasn't spoken to the media in Denver since he was acquired in May. So it's hard to gauge how he thinks he has done or if he thinks he can help Denver contain Hall.
"Don't bother," Sauerbrun said when asked for an interview.
90th meeting. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the series 50-39, but the Denver Broncos did win the only playoff meeting between the two teams. That was on the way to Denver's first Super Bowl title at the end of the 1997 season. The teams split the series last season. Denver won in Week 1, Kansas City got revenge with a 45-17 blowout in December.
--Quarterback Jake Plummer heard the home crowd at Invesco Field at Mile
High booing during the first half of last week's game against San Diego. The
crowd was displeased with Denver's offense when the Broncos fell behind
Plummer said he knew at least some of the boos were directed at him, and
he hoped the fans would have patience.
"It's not the first time that I've been booed," Plummer said. "It really has no effect on me, but you'd really like to have your fans hang with us."
--Veteran defensive end Marco Coleman started 16 games for the Broncos
last year when Trevor Pryce went down with a back injury. But Coleman was inactive in Week 2 when Courtney Brown returned to the lineup, and he looks like the odd man out on the defensive line. Coleman said he wasn't surprised or upset he was inactive and expects to be inactive often this season.
"I figured I would be playing a lot lesser role than last year, with
Courtney and Ebenezer (Ekuban) and John (Engelberger) -- they're younger
guys," said Coleman, who is 35 years old. "I'm here in case somebody goes
down, they know they got a guy that can go in and there won't be a dropoff."
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan continued to express his displeasure about
the officials calling a penalty for too many men on the field during Darrent Williams' punt return for a touchdown against San Diego.
The Broncos had at least one player go on the field before the play was over in anticipation of the extra point, and Shanahan said he thought the call was unnecessary.
"It was a horrible call. Horrible call," Shanahan said. "We'll live with it, but you don't see a lot of calls like that in high school."
BY THE NUMBERS:
156 - Quentin Griffin rushed for 156 yards for the Broncos in their season-opening win against Kansas City at Invesco Field at Mile High last season. Griffin was released by Denver before the regular season started this year, but was re-signed this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We understand how big it is. We talked about it last week. It's no different this week." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on his team playing its second straight divisional game. Last week the Broncos beat San Diego; they play Kansas City on Monday night this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
Broncos running back Quentin Griffin worked out with Kansas City,
Indianapolis and Detroit, but he was happy to land back in Denver. The
Broncos signed Griffin, whom they cut before the season opener, because they have two tailbacks -- Mike Anderson (ribs) and Tatum Bell (ankle) nursing injuries and they don't want to be caught short at tailback. The Broncos also like Griffin and think he can be a productive player.
Griffin was Denver's starting tailback at the beginning of last season. He was eventually benched, suffered a major knee injury and never looked 100 percent in preseason before he was released before the regular season started.
"I'm glad to be back," Griffin said. "I'm back and I'm moving forward."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES:
--LB Ian Gold has been the playmaker the Broncos were hoping for when they signed him back this off-season, after Gold left for a year at Tampa
Bay. He had a sack and caused a fumble and had a very good game against the Chargers.
--G Dwayne Carswell was a tight end for his first 11 NFL seasons before this year, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he reported eligible and lined
up at tight end plenty of times against San Diego. He gives the Broncos a little more beef up front for their running game.
--CB Lenny Walls has gotten a lot of passes thrown his way with Champ Bailey playing well. If Bailey continues to play at a high level, expect Walls to keep getting tested. He missed most of last season with shoulder injuries.
--CB Karl Paymah was inactive, but the team activated CB Roc Alexander for depth last week. Paymah was one of the three cornerbacks drafted by
Denver in April, but he didn't come along as quickly as fellow rookies Darrent Williams or Domonique Foxworth. Denver still likes Paymah's
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban has started both of Denver's games but Courtney Brown, who was injured, is ready for full-time duty. Ekuban still could
start if the team decides the best way to keep Brown healthy is to limit his snaps.
The Broncos have always been confident they can run the ball against Kansas City, but that might not be the case this season. The
new-look Chiefs defense is allowing only 3 yards per carry and is ranked
fourth in the NFL in rush defense after two weeks. That's not good news for
the Broncos' struggling rushing offense.
The Broncos had an amazing defensive performance last week to save themselves from going 0-2. They allowed 41 yards in the second half to the Chargers. They'll be challenged against the Chiefs. Priest Holmes ran for
151 yards against Denver early last season and Larry Johnson rushed for 151 yards against the Broncos in a late-season game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Denver will see both backs on Monday night. The Broncos will probably stuff the box and hope their cornerbacks can hold up against Kansas City's receivers in man coverage.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chiefs WR Eddie Kennison vs. Broncos CB Champ Bailey. Kennison had a
couple of good games against the Broncos last year. He had 101 yards in each game against Denver. He beat Bailey for a pair of touchdowns in the second meeting between the teams. But Bailey is playing very well, even by his lofty standards, through two games this season. He hasn't allowed any long catches and has forced three turnovers in six quarters of action.
Broncos DE Trevor Pryce vs. Chiefs LT Willie Roaf or Jordan Black. Black
started in place of Roaf, who was injured, last week. Whether he is facing
Roaf or Black this week, Pryce has been waiting for a breakout game this
season. Pryce has only a pair of tackles and no sacks in two games.
RB Tatum Bell (ankle) practiced on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a sprained ankle. The Broncos are hopeful Bell will be ready to play by Monday, when they face Kansas City. The team doesn't think the injury is serious but signed Quentin Griffin just in case Bell is inactive against Kansas City on Monday.
TE Nate Jackson (hamstring) was back at practice for the first time in weeks. The hamstring injury has lingered and it might take Jackson a while to get back into playing shape.
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