Williams was selected in the second round of this year's draft, and the Broncos hoped he would bolster their return game and compete for the team's nickel cornerback spot. He far exceeded those expectations. He has started at cornerback most of the season and been an explosive punt and kickoff returner.
Williams will likely miss the rest of the regular season with the groin injury, which he suffered in Sunday's game against Baltimore. The Broncos hope that with an aggressive rehabilitation program, he will only miss four weeks. That would mean Williams would be ready to go by the second weekend of the playoffs.
However, the possibility remains that Williams could be out until the Super Bowl, if the Broncos get that far.
In each of the past two seasons, the Broncos have lost defensive backs late in the season, then gone to Indianapolis for a playoff game and been blown out. The Broncos are confident they're better equipped to handle Williams' injury.
"That's what we did not have a year ago, we did not have enough ammo to cover the gaps," Coyer said. "I think we'll be OK."
The Broncos have faith in rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who will step into the starting lineup. Foxworth has started some games this season and has been the team's nickel cornerback most of the season, so he has played a lot.
"It's not a big change for me personally," Foxworth said.
The problem for the Broncos in the playoffs the past couple of years has been depth, and that will be tested again. Denver's new nickel cornerback will likely be Curome Cox, who started this season on the practice squad and hasn't played much on defense. But the Broncos like his makeup and ability and think he will not be a liability.
The Broncos also have to replace Williams on special teams. Charlie Adams will be the punt returner. Adams doesn't have Williams' top speed or great quickness, but he can get the ball upfield. Adams could be the kickoff returner as well, but the team could use Roc Alexander in that role.
The Broncos are 10-3, are on the verge of clinching an AFC West title and are hopeful to make a long run in the playoffs. They also remember how injuries in the secondary affected them in back-to-back playoff blowouts at Indianapolis.
"In the past two years, playing a Colts team and we were outmanned," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "The whole thing, I was just wondering, how would we compare to a team like that and some other elite teams, if we had all full health with all our corners and safeties? Hopefully I don't have to second guess that again."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd meeting. The Buffalo Bills lead the series against the Denver Broncos 17-13-1. The Bills also won the only playoff meeting. Buffalo beat Denver 10-7 in the AFC championship game at the end of the 1991 season. Denver has won the last three meetings, including a 28-23 win in 2002.
--Fullback Kyle Johnson has worked hard to become one of Denver's most reliable receivers. Johnson stays after practice almost every day to catch extra passes and it has paid off. He is tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions.
Last Sunday against Baltimore, Johnson made a nice catch in the end zone. He pulled down a high pass from Jake Plummer and kept his feet in bounds for Denver's only touchdown of the game. Johnson was drafted by Carolina in 2002 but cut before the season started, and he didn't stick on a NFL roster until last year. He knew if he improved his receiving skills it would help him stay in the league.
"It's something I had to work on," Johnson said. "Initially when I was in Carolina I was having problems catching the ball. It was new to me with the frequency and the repetitions we were getting."
--Cornerback Champ Bailey has set a career high with eight interceptions. In previous years teams avoided throwing his way, but the Broncos aren't using him in press coverage as much this season and he is inviting quarterbacks to throw his way.
"We have been playing a little more off coverage than we have in the past and that enables him to come up with a few more big plays," Shanahan said. "When you're playing bump coverage all the time, even though you can maybe take a guy out of the game, it's a lot harder to come up with those interceptions."
--The Broncos aren't concerned about the weather in Buffalo for Saturday's game. They have played in poor weather home games before, so they are prepared for the elements in Buffalo this weekend.
"It is not a destination that you put high on your rankings, but we know we have to go into a tough place and play," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "We know what to expect. We expect it to be cold, snow and nasty. If we get a nice day, we caught a break, but you have to expect the worst."
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 - The Broncos' 11 preferred starters on defense only had four games missed due to injury through the team's first 13 games. Courtney Brown and Darrent Williams missed one game each, and Champ Bailey missed two.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. But the year we won the Super Bowl (with Tampa Bay in 2002), we had a bye. We won one game at home against San Francisco and we're in the NFC championship game and it was like 'That's all you've got to do?' It makes it easier." - Broncos S John Lynch on the importance of getting a first-round playoff bye.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos insist they won't change their defensive scheme much just because starting cornerback Darrent Williams is out with a groin injury. Denver likes to blitz a lot, but it will leave some of their inexperienced cornerbacks without much of a safety net.
The Broncos will likely use Curome Cox as their nickel cornerback when Williams is out. However, they could also use safety Sam Brandon. Brandon has played in Denver's "big nickel" package because he can match up well against tight ends.
The Broncos hope that Williams recovers quickly from his groin injury and returns to action in four weeks.
--TE Wesley Duke has done everything he can this season to improve his game, including extra work after practice. He is a rookie who played basketball in college. The Broncos liked his athletic ability enough to give him an active roster spot, and he has been active for some games this season although he hasn't played on offense yet. The Broncos will take a long look at Duke next season.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban played a little more last week because Courtney Brown was banged up with a knee injury. Ekuban has had a solid season and is a valuable pass rusher off the bench.
--DT Demetrin Veal doesn't get much recognition but he has had a good season. Veal is quick and he can get penetration against the run or to rush the passer. Veal made the team as a long shot out of training camp and has been in the defensive line rotation almost all season.
--CB Karl Paymah was drafted by the Broncos ahead of fellow third-rounder Domonique Foxworth, but he hasn't progressed as quickly as Foxworth or Darrent Williams. The Broncos are using Curome Cox ahead of Paymah in the nickel defense while Williams is out.
--G Ben Hamilton could get some consideration for the Pro Bowl. Hamilton has had a solid season. He was one of the Broncos' top priorities this past off-season when he was an unrestricted free agent, and his re-signing was one of Denver's best moves.
GAME PLAN: If the Broncos can't run the ball against Buffalo, there will be plenty of concern in Denver. The Bills defense hasn't been very good against the run all season. Denver hasn't been able to control a game with its running attack for a few weeks, and the Broncos would like to get back to that formula.
Defensively, the Broncos have a different challenge against Kelly Holcomb than they would have against mobile J.P. Losman, who won't start because of a shoulder injury. Kelly Holcomb is more of a pocket passer and he isn't as prone to mistakes as Losman. The Broncos will still blitz Holcomb to force him into quick decisions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Broncos linebackers against Buffalo RB Willis McGahee. McGahee hasn't been dominant lately and had only three yards against New England. The Broncos get to the ball quickly with their fast linebacking trio. McGahee probably won't have many open lanes.
Broncos CB Champ Bailey vs. Buffalo WR Lee Evans. Bailey could also find himself on Eric Moulds at times. But Evans is the Bills' big-play threat. Bailey has been very good since coming back from a hamstring injury he suffered earlier this season. Teams have been throwing Bailey's way this season, so they won't ignore Evans if he's matched up against Bailey.
INJURY IMPACT: CB Darrent Williams is out this week with a groin injury. The Broncos hope he'll be back in four weeks but he could miss up to six.
--DE Courtney Brown practiced on Wednesday and Thursday with no problems after missing practice Tuesday with a sore knee. Brown is expected to play against Buffalo.
--T Cornell Green is listed as questionable with a separated shoulder, but he practiced all week. He should be available for this week's game.
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