The Broncos have an unusual week of preparation for their Thanksgiving matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. They had three fewer days of preparation than a typical week, which meant some concessions needed to be made.
First was dumping the normal Monday film review -- Shanahan said he'd get to the Jets film after Thanksgiving. Also, Shanahan said he won't be able to go into the Dallas game with his normal large arsenal of plays.
"You don't have the time to probably have a normal game plan," Shanahan said. "You still put in a few wrinkles."
Shanahan had a chance to back out of the game. He was asked by the NFL if the Broncos wanted to play on Thanksgiving -- the Cowboys needed an AFC opponent to accommodate the television broadcast, the only options were Denver and Kansas City -- and Shanahan said he could have passed because the Broncos played on Thanksgiving only four years ago.
But Shanahan wanted the challenge once again.
"You have to play them at home sometime so why not do it now?" Shanahan said.
The Broncos will get a few more days to prepare for a big AFC West showdown at Kansas City on Dec. 4, which might be the biggest benefit from playing in the game.
The tradeoff is a hectic week of preparation. Shanahan said it started for the coaches before they even played the Jets. Instead of going home after Friday's practice and Saturday morning's team meeting, the coaches stayed at the team's facilities and broke down film of the Cowboys.
"It's a little bit different preparing for the upcoming opponent when you haven't finished the game against the Jets," Shanahan said.
On Monday the team concentrated on special teams. Tuesday was spent installing the offensive and defensive game plans, as the Broncos crammed two days worth of practice and meetings into one day. The Broncos needed to review goal-line and short-yardage plays and install the red-zone package during a short practice Wednesday before hurrying to the airport.
The Broncos also have the physical challenge of playing two games in five days, which might be more difficult than the mental aspect of the preparation.
"Your body definitely isn't healed by Thursday, but that's the game," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "That's what the league calls for us to do so we have to do it."
The reason Shanahan wasn't worried about playing on Thanksgiving is he thought his team, which is full of strong veteran leadership, would respond well to the rigors of a condensed week of preparation.
"We've got a veteran team that understands the demands that a short week has," Shanahan said. "Both teams are in the same predicament. The one who handles the elements the best usually wins."
SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The Broncos and Cowboys have split their first eight regular-season meetings. Denver has won the last two, including a 26-24 win at Dallas on Thanksgiving in 2001. The Cowboys beat the Broncos in Denver's first trip to the Super Bowl at the end of the 1977 season.
--Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer looks at the Cowboys using running back Julius Jones as the quick back in a tailback committee with the power of Marion Barber III and he is reminded of Denver's running game.
"They're very good at running the ball," Coyer said. "They have a very good offensive line and their backs are downhill guys. And then you've got the threat when they run the ball of big-time plays. In other words, they're very similar to us."
--Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban left Dallas for Cleveland as a free agent after the 2003 season, Bill Parcells' first as the Cowboys' head coach. Ekuban said in his season playing for Parcells he didn't always see eye-to-eye with the coach so he left for the Browns.
"I didn't foresee myself having a successful career there," Ekuban said.
Ekuban said he didn't really like Parcells' approach, which often tests the mental toughness of his players.
"That works with some players, but I think intelligent players can see right through that," Ekuban said.
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has beat Cowboys coach Bill Parcells three of the four times the two have been matched against each other as head coaches. That includes a 23-10 win by Shanahan's Broncos against Parcells' Jets in the 1998 AFC Championship Game. Shanahan also owns two blowout wins when Parcells was with the Patriots, a 37-3 win in 1995 and a 34-8 win in 1996.
Parcells won the most recent matchup, when the Jets beat Denver 21-13 in a 1999 game.
"I know him pretty good," Shanahan said. "I mean, we're not drinking buddies. But through the years we've had time to talk."
BY THE NUMBERS: 2-6 -- The Broncos have a 2-6 record on Thanksgiving in their history. Their last Thanksgiving game was a 26-24 win at Dallas in 2001.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are not thinking about that yet because we want it to be enjoyable, those days off. That means though we have to go down and get a win." -- QB Jake Plummer on getting a few extra days off after Thursday's game against Dallas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Rookie cornerbacks Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth are each having a huge impact on the Broncos this season. Williams has a slight edge over Foxworth on the depth chart, but Foxworth is now getting some playing time with the starting defense.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he likes rotating Foxworth in with the base defense for a few series to keep Williams fresh. Williams is also Denver's kickoff returner.
But Foxworth has earned his bump in playing time. He has been a pleasant surprise as a third-round pick.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DE Marco Coleman was activated against the Jets because the Broncos needed some more depth at strongside end with Courtney Brown banged up. If Brown's knee is fully healthy by Thursday, Coleman could go back to being inactive.
--LB Al Wilson is having one of his best seasons. He leads the Broncos with 63 tackles and has been very effective as a blitzer. He also is the leader of Denver's defense.
--CB Lenny Walls is still on injured reserve, recovering from a groin injury. Once Walls recovers from the injury he will be placed on waivers and his Broncos career will come to an end.
--OT George Foster will probably continue to rotate with Cornell Green at right tackle. Green has played well enough in his spot duty of Foster to earn his playing time. Foster was bothered by a knee injury early in the season, which prompted Denver's coaches to start the rotation.
--LB Louis Green is second on the Broncos with nine special teams tackles. Green missed some time earlier this season with a hamstring injury, but is showing his value to the team covering kicks. Green and Keith Burns are Denver's top two tacklers on special teams.
GAME PLAN: The Broncos might not have running back Tatum Bell at full speed, so their running game might take on a more physical demeanor. The Broncos will try to pound the Cowboys' 3-4 defense with Mike Anderson and possibly Ron Dayne.
The Cowboys also have a two-headed running game now that Julius Jones and Marion Barber III are each getting carries. The Broncos are pretty stout against the run -- they have allowed only one 100-yard game, a 103-yard effort by Clinton Portis in Week 5.
The team that gets an early lead will be able to get comfortable in their game plan and let the running game take over.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Broncos defensive line vs. Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe: Bledsoe has done a decent job avoiding sacks this season. Denver's defensive line is playing well, getting pressure on the quarterback, and they'll want to get Bledsoe on the ground. If Bledsoe has time to throw he has receivers that can make plays downfield.
Cowboys SS Roy Williams vs. Broncos RB Mike Anderson: Williams will provide some extra run support. Anderson is running tough this season and the two should have plenty of collisions Sunday. What the Broncos will try to do is establish the running game, get Williams to creep up near the line of scrimmage and then start their play-action passing game.
Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Broncos SS Nick Ferguson: The Broncos have been pretty good against tight ends this season. Since allowing 80 yards to Antonio Gates in Week 2, the Broncos have allowed only one tight end more than 44 yards receiving. They've allowed 30 yards to tight ends in their last three games combined. Ferguson and outside linebackers D.J. Williams and Ian Gold will be covering Witten, one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
INJURY IMPACT: RB Tatum Bell insists he'll play despite a bruised chest. Bell had some painkillers and practiced on Tuesday but Mike Shanahan said he probably wouldn't know for sure if Bell would be able to play until pregame warm-ups.
K Jason Elam will kick on Thursday despite a strained left calf. He kicked through the injury against the Jets by using a compact approach.
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