Denver Broncos Hot Topics - Wednesday, Dec. 7

The Denver Broncos were one of the best teams in the NFL through their first 11 games but don't have much breathing room with four games to go. The Broncos, however, are insistent that because they still control their destiny, there is no need to worry. Read about what lies ahead for the rest of the season and all the latest personnel updates in today's edition of "Hot Topics."

DENVER BRONCOS

HOT TOPIC

There was no panic from the Denver Broncos after a loss at Kansas City tightened up the AFC West race.

The Broncos lost 31-27 at Kansas City on Sunday. Denver fell to 9-3 and Kansas City improved to 8-4. The Chargers also won on Sunday to improve to 8-4. The Broncos were one of the best teams in the NFL through their first 11 games but don't have much breathing room with four games to go.

The Broncos, however, were insistent that because they still control their destiny, there was no need to worry.

"We gave them a game back into it as far as the division race is concerned, but we don't really care about that," safety Nick Ferguson said. "We still have a game to play on Sunday and three more after that so it still rests on us and what we do."

The Broncos have an easier remaining schedule than Kansas City or San Diego. Denver plays Baltimore, at Buffalo and against Oakland before finishing the season at San Diego. The Broncos hope that the final game of the year won't be for the division title.

The Broncos would like to get a first-round bye in the playoffs, too. Indianapolis will clinch the first seed soon, but Denver and Cincinnati are tied at 9-3 for the second-best record in the AFC. The Broncos have a bit of an edge right now in the tiebreaker against Cincinnati because they have only two AFC losses. Cincinnati has three.

The Broncos need to keep winning games, and they weren't worried that the Chiefs loss would linger long.

"We know what type of team we got and we can rebound from it," cornerback Darrent Williams said. "We still got a good team. A loss like this is not going to get us down."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jake Plummer made some bad decisions against Kansas City. The Broncos have been careful to put Plummer in positions in which he won't make mistakes, but he has three interceptions in two games.
--QB Bradlee Van Pelt showed off his athleticism against the Chiefs. Van Pelt got his first snap in his NFL career on a trick play where he lined up at quarterback and Jake Plummer lined up at receiver. Van Pelt took a quarterback draw seven yards for a touchdown. Van Pelt was impressive running the ball in the preseason.
--RB Mike Anderson didn't get many carries against the Chiefs. He ended up with 13 carries and didn't average three yards per attempt. The Broncos used a third back, Ron Dayne, in their rotation and that meant fewer carries for Anderson and Tatum Bell. It might have been tough for Anderson to get in a rhythm because he was shuttled in and out of the game.
--RB Ron Dayne had a couple of nice runs against Kansas City. He has fresh legs late in the season and he'll likely continue to get playing time. Dayne is a downhill runner who fits Denver's offense well.
--WR Rod Smith caught six passes against Kansas City. Smith has caught at least five passes in five straight games. He is by far Jake Plummer's most reliable receiver.
--WR Ashley Lelie had one long catch against Kansas City and not much else. Lelie hasn't had a 100-yard game this season and has only one touchdown. He has caught at least one 25-yard pass in six of his last seven games but he hasn't been a regular target for Jake Plummer on intermediate routes.
--WR Charlie Adams has caught only three passes in the past four weeks. The Broncos aren't using many three-receiver sets. They often prefer to use bring in Jeb Putzier as a second tight end on passing plays.
--TE Stephen Alexander hasn't had a big season catching the ball. He has 15 catches for 115 yards. But he has been a big part of the Broncos' success running the ball. He is a better blocker than Jeb Putzier, which is why he starts for Denver.
--K Jason Elam hit both of his field goal attempts against Kansas City. Elam hasn't missed since October, and he often plays well late in the season in cold weather. Three of Denver's final four games could be affected by the weather.
--CB Champ Bailey wasn't at fault on a long touchdown catch by Chiefs receiver Dante Hall. Bailey stopped his coverage on Hall because the Broncos were in a two-deep zone and he expected safety help.
--S Sam Brandon played a lot in Denver's big nickel package against Kansas City because he is a good matchup against tight ends like Tony Gonzalez. Denver plays Baltimore's Todd Heap this week and Antonio Gates to finish the season, so Brandon should have many more opportunities to play.
--DT Gerard Warren was limping a bit during Sunday's game. He said he wasn't hurt that bad. The Broncos can't afford to have Warren at less than 100 percent because he has been a key part of their defense this season.

AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher announced he will stick with Willie Parker as his starting halfback as the Steelers try to get their ground game back in gear.

Pittsburgh, the NFL's No. 2 running team last season, has not rushed for 100 yards in the past three games, all losses. The Steelers are 0-5 this season when they do not run for 100 yards. They are 22-0 the past two seasons when they run for 100 yards.

Parker led the NFL in rushing with 272 yards after two games but he has only had one 100-yard game since. He leads the Steelers with 788 yards rushing and has a 4.5-yard average per carry but he's not the kind of back that can pound defenses into submission, the way Jerome Bettis has in the past.

There have been calls for Cowher to return to Duce Staley as his starter. Staley was signed as a free agent last year and had 707 yards rushing in the first seven games before he injured a hamstring. He hasn't done much since. He has 148 yards this season on 38 attempts. They used him on third downs the past two weeks but he has carried only six times for eight yards in the past two games and was inactive in the previous one.

Bettis too has done little. He has 16 carries for 22 yards in the past three games and has 186 on 67 carries this season.

Cowher yanked Parker from the game early in the fourth quarter after he fumbled for the second time in two series.

"He knows, if he puts the ball on the ground, he and I will be talking like we're talking here, he'll be standing next to me," Cowher said.

The Steelers would love to run against the Bears on Sunday. But can they?

"I thought we ran the ball a little bit more efficiently than we have in the past," Cowher said of their effort against the Bengals last Sunday, when they ran 28 times for 95 yards. "I still think we can run the ball better."

If so, they'll have to do it again without Pro Bowl left tackle Marvel Smith, who will miss his third game in four weeks with a sprained ankle. Rookie Trai Essex again will replace him.

"We want to be able to run the football," Cowher said. "I'd like to think we can do that. We're not where we need to be right now, that's the unfortunate part of it, but that's the reality of where we are and we have to keep working to get there."

The Steelers rank 10th in the NFL in yards per game but only 19th in yards per rushing attempt (3.9).



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