In week three Denver is tasked with traveling to New England and playing the perenial powerhouse Patriots in a night game at Gillette Stadium. Coach Mike Shanahan has done his best to set aside speculation that rookie Jay Cutler should replace Jake Plummer at quarterback and has given his public support to Plummer. As one reader of an earlier article wisely pointed out this is likely a move aimed at avoiding locker room disharmony ala Bubby Brister and Brian Griese in 1999.
While Cutler might be a better functional fit for the Broncos offense, would the veteran players accept his ascension to starting quarterback over locker room favoite Plummer? It's a viewpoint I had not considered until now and it makes me believe, win or lose, the Broncos' wagon is hitched to Plummer for the season. This weeks Keys/Predictions are therefore given from that perspective.
1. Comfort Zone - It is apparent to anyone who watches Broncos football that Jake Plummer's play this season has been less than stellar. As I pointed out earlier, win or lose he's the guy. That leaves Shanahan with the chore of finding a new and improved comfort zone for Plummer, one that every defense in the league has not pinpointed. Late in last weeks game we saw the Broncos utilize Plummer effectively in the shotgun. It allows him to better see the field and make quicker decisions but also limits play action and makes the offense somewhat one dimensional when it lines up in that formation. Don't be suprised to see Shanahan utilize the shotgun on obvious passing downs this week.
Prediction: Between the Mikes (Shanahan and Heimerdinger), you have two impressive football minds. I can't believe they won't come up with a way to make Plummer more effective this week. Jake's Line - 13 for 23, 221 yards 1 touchdown 1 interception.
2. Superman - I have a theory that if you were to remove Tom Brady's shoulder pads, and rip off the under-armour shirt that all NFL players wear (of course they do, don't you watch TV?) you would find a great big yellow "S" tattoed on his chest. Every year the Patriots lose key components on offense. Last year it was Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weiss, this year it's David Givens and Deon Branch. Regardless, year after year the Patriots reload and contend while relying on the strong right arm of the aforementioned man of steel. Is Brady perfect? In a word, No....but he's close. This week the Broncos defense will have to continue their hard nosed play and create some turnovers in order to facilitate a win.
Prediction: The streak is over. I don't see the Broncos' defense pitching an end zone shutout this week.
3. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall! With Rod Smith looking doubtful for this week due to a concussion, somebody is going to have to step up at wide reciever. David Kircus filled in well last week after Smith was injured but look for rookie Brandon Marshall to start alongside Javon Walker in this week's contest. Marshall poses a matchup problem from the word go. Too big for a corner to cover, and too fast for a safety or linebacker, Marshall should get his chances at some big plays.
Prediction: Look for Marshall to settle in after the first quarter jitters fade away. The kid is a big target, lord knows Jake needs that. Marshall's line - 5 catches 110 yards 1 touchdown.
4. Defending Champ - In last years playoff game, Champ Bailey turned what appeared to be a Patriots go ahead score into a near touchdown. In order to win this week the Broncos will again need Bailey and company to create a turnover or two. Teams have really shied away from Bailey this year, with obvious reason. You can bet Tom Brady remembers that throw with absolute clarity. It therefore rests on Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer to come up with a game plan that can create turnovers.
Prediction: No way New England goes after Bailey on Sunday. Darrent Williams will need to be ready because he's going to see the ball come his way early and often. Look for the Broncos to create a couple turnovers on pass defense.
5. Two headed Monster - It's Deja Vu all over again when you look at the Patriots running game. Like a lot of NFL teams, including our own Broncos, the Patriots are utilizing two running backs this season. We all remember what Corey Dillon was like in his prime, thankfully he has slowed down a bit. To make up for that the Pats drafted Minnesota running back Lawrence Maroney this year. Maroney was a favorite of the Broncos coaching staff coming into the draft and had the Rams not been willing to trade out of the eleven spot he likely would be wearing orange and blue right now. Dillon doesn't scare me like he used too, but Maroney is another deal altogether. The kid is big, powerful and has a burst to the hole. The Broncos must swarm to the ball and tackle as a team if they hope to limit the Patriots running game.
Prediction: While not allowing a touchdown this year the Broncos' defense has not been tackling especially well. Last week Larry Johnson gained well over a hundred yards. Look for the Patriots' backs to stack up 150-200 yards rushing this weekend.
6. Arch Nemesis - Can an evil genius really be intimidating while wearing a cutoff sweat shirt? If his last name is Belichick then the answer is yes. What does a team that has struggled on offense for two consecutive weeks not need? How about facing a team coached by arguably the best defensive mind in the game today. No matter how I look at this, I just can't see this turning out well for our boys this week. Belichick always has his defense ready to play, couple that with the relative ineptitude of the Broncos offense this season and you have a recipe for disaster.
Prediction: Bubble wrap the TV before the game, I'm guessing we will all be throwing stuff by halftime.
7. Seven....(author cries).....OH GOD HOW I MISS SEVEN!! In years past the Broncos were not a "win one way" kind of team. With our beloved #7 at the helm they won shootouts, they won defensive stuggles, they even won ugly games they had no business winning. Today's Broncos are a different animal. We now rely on one formula to win. Run the ball well, hope teams overplay that run, bootleg to pass and get the defense a early lead to defend. It's a script the Broncos have used well for two years. It's also a script the entire NFL has read and figured out. I'm not counting Shanahan out, but I don't see how our boys pull this one off.
Prediction: for the first time in two years I'm going to do it.....I'm picking the good guys to lose. Patriots 28 Broncos 21.
Toby Thorp is long time contributor to BroncosUpdate.com. He has experience as a football player and commentator as well as being enough of a Denver Broncos fan that he tried to name his first son "Seven." Unfortunately the child's mother did not cooperate. You can e-mail Thorp at Bighungry71@yahoo.com with your arguments or critiques or post a message for Bighungry71 on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board