But four games into the season, the Broncos' offense is struggling, a rarity in the Mike Shanahan era. The Broncos, whose offense usually finishes near the top of the NFL, are 18th in total offense. They have played two home games, one of which went to overtime, and have only one touchdown in those games. Denver is averaging 12.2 points per game, tied for 28th in the NFL.
Denver hopes that things will start to turn around against the Oakland Raiders this week.
"Our defense is playing great, but we know offensively the time will come when we need to make those plays and step up whatever week that's going to be," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "If it's this week, we're hoping so because we want to put points on the board. That's what we take pride in."
The performance against Baltimore last week was ugly at times. Denver turned the ball over twice in the first quarter. The Broncos had six passing yards in the first half.
"Obviously we have some work to do on that side of the ball," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
A surprise has been Denver's problems in the first quarter. Denver, which scripts its first 15 plays, has usually been effective at the start of games. This season the Broncos are scoreless in four first quarters.
One bright spot in the offense has been running back Tatum Bell. Bell was given the chance to get all the carries, not just be part of a rotation, and he turned in very strong games against New England and Baltimore.
Bell showed his maturity after a first quarter mistake. On his second touch of the game, Bell fumbled and Baltimore recovered. The Broncos stuck with him and he ran hard after that.
"The fumble kind of ruined my day at first," Bell said. "I had to bounce back mentally, and I was able to do that."
Bell ran hard, gaining 92 yards on 19 carries against the top ranked rushing defense in the NFL.
"He's proven he's ready to take the load," Plummer said.
His highlight play came late in the game. He was given the ball on a third and 10 and was met by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis after five yards. Bell kept churning and ran through Lewis for seven more yards.
"I knew who it was," Bell said. "I mean, I was excited after the play about it, but during the play I was just trying to get the first down."
SERIES HISTORY: 92nd meeting. The Oakland Raiders lead the series 53-36-2, but the Denver Broncos have dominated lately. The Broncos are 17-5 against the Raiders since 1995, Mike Shanahan's first year as head coach, and 9-2 in home games against Oakland. The teams have also met twice in the playoffs, and split the meetings.
--Broncos defensive end Courtney Brown was put on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Brown had arthroscopic surgery on his knee early in training camp and never made it back. He will have microfracture surgery this week.
"He did everything he could possibly do to get it ready," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "He was just in too much pain."
"I just need to become more comfortable being the guy," Ernster said. "I was a replacement and a substitute but now I'm the guy and I need to be more comfortable and accept that I'm going to be here for the whole season."
--Broncos safety John Lynch had a scare in Monday night's game when he suffered a pinched nerve in his neck. Lynch's last season in Tampa Bay, he had numerous stingers and had surgery after the season.
Lynch said he felt fine, and after spending a few moments down on the field, he wanted to get back in the game.
"I went to grab my helmet and come out of the field, but (Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos) wasn't having it," Lynch said. "I think that was smart."
--Cornerback Champ Bailey is one of the most physically talented players in the league, but he also has become an avid film watcher during the week. His work paid off against the Ravens.
Baltimore put 6-foot-6 Clarence Moore in the game at receiver, and Bailey had seen on film that every time Moore went in the game he'd run a fade route in the end zone. Bailey anticipated the play perfectly, and made a key interception when Steve McNair tested him.
"Obviously that's saying 'Oh, he didn't do his homework,'" Bailey said. "But I did. And they paid for it."
BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Jason Elam leads Denver with 25 points this season. He has hit seven of eight field goal attempts. The rest of the team has 24 points combined.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm waiting for Courtney to get his break, the day that the light shines on Courtney and he gets his break, I pray it's soon and he's on the field and he has that star-studded season we know he's capable of doing." -- Broncos DT Gerard Warren on teammate Courtney Brown, who was placed on injured reserve.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
By releasing punter Todd Sauerbrun, the Broncos showed a lot of faith in second-year player Paul Ernster. Sauerbrun has more experience and is a three-time Pro Bowler, but the concern about Sauerbrun getting a year suspension with another positive test for a banned substance was a deciding factor.
Ernster still had to earn the job. He was coming off a major knee injury he suffered his rookie year and his only experience was a few kickoffs in the 2005 season opener. But Ernster played well. He averaged 44.2 yards while Sauerbrun served a four-game suspension, which was good enough to earn a job. Ernster is also nine years younger than Sauerbrun and his base salary is $1.12 million less than Sauerbrun was scheduled to make.
PLAYER NOTES --DE Elvis Dumervil was active for the first time this season against Baltimore. He had one nice pass rush, flushing Steve McNair out of the pocket. Dumervil has natural pass rush skills and could be a contributor for Denver this season.
--CB Champ Bailey hardly gets the ball thrown his way. That's what makes his tackle numbers even more impressive. Bailey is third on the team with 26 tackles. He doesn't mind being physical and is very good at getting low and making open-field tackles.
--DT Michael Myers is having a very good season. He has 23 tackles already, which is a lot for an interior linemen. He and Gerard Warren have 45 combined tackles, one of the reasons Denver has allowed only one touchdown this season.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah is having a very good season. He has only one-and-a-half sacks, but plays in only passing situations and has been very hard to block. He is a converted linebacker and his speed is tough for offensive tackles to match up with.
--TE Tony Scheffler caught a pass against Baltimore. The Broncos
show their faith in his receiving skills by often splitting him out wide,
to create matchup problems. Once he gets in a groove with Jake Plummer
he could have some big games.
Voice your opinion on our Broncos Hardcore Message Board