Broncos Update Insider: Cutler gets high mark

The Denver Broncos play Cincinnati this Sunday in a must-win game, and they have a lot of confidence in their rookie quarterback, Jay Cutler. Cutler's every move has been scrutinized, but there was nothing but praise after his latest effort in his third career start. Cutler completed 21 of 31 passes for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 37-20 win over Arizona.

The Denver Broncos' playoff hopes go hand-in-hand with rookie quarterback Jay Cutler's play, and sometimes it's tough to tell which is the bigger story among Broncos fans.

Cutler's every move has been scrutinized, but there was nothing but praise after his latest effort in his third career start. Cutler completed 21 of 31 passes for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 37-20 win over Arizona. The Broncos play Cincinnati this Sunday in a must-win game, and they have a lot of confidence in their rookie quarterback.

"You're never sure what a guy can do when the pressure's on," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "You can watch him in practice. You can watch him in preseason. But when the games are live, how does he handle himself?

"You're never sure how a quarterback's going to handle that situation until you see him in the heat of battle. He's handled that real well."

The best sign for the Broncos' offense might be that Cutler spread the ball around like a veteran against the Cardinals. Many young quarterbacks get caught up in feeding the ball to a top receiver, but Cutler got many receivers involved.

Receivers Javon Walker and Rod Smith each caught a touchdown pass. Walker's 54-yard touchdown was his first catch from Cutler longer than 17 yards. Rookie receiver Brandon Marshall caught a career-high five passes and tight end Tony Scheffler had three catches for 58 yards.

Not coincidentally, the Broncos' offense played one of its best games of the season. Its 37 points was a season high.

"Everybody stepped up," Smith said. "As a receiving corps, I was so happy for our group because it's the best we've played."

Cutler, who has been praised for his maturity by Shanahan, said he was more comfortable than in his first two starts. As a result, the Broncos opened up the offense a little more, and Cutler was masterful at seeing the whole field.

"We got a lot of go-to guys out there," Cutler said. "All those guys know that at any point, any one is going to get the ball."

The Broncos' receivers helped Cutler. They got open consistently, and many times made something happen after the catch. On a few third downs, Cutler hit Marshall and Marshall turned upfield for more yardage.

After Cutler struggled for most of his first two starts, his supporting cast played a solid game around him.

"I think the guys around him stepped up and supported him really well," Smith said.

Denver will make the playoffs if it wins its final two games, against the Bengals and the season finale against San Francisco. Cutler will get most of the attention, but the entire offense needs to continue to play well to win out.

"It is just not the quarterback, it is the supporting cast," Shanahan said. "You have to play well as an offense. It is just not one guy playing well. The offensive line has to play well, obviously the receivers, the running backs. So it is a process and it's not only the quarterback."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Denver was hit with a blizzard on Wednesday. The Broncos had to cancel a morning walkthrough and move practice to an indoor practice bubble down the street from their facilities. Most of the city shut down because of the snow, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said meetings would start on time Thursday morning.

"You might have to leave a couple of hours earlier, but it is just the nature of the job," Shanahan said.

The storm should pass by Sunday's game against Cincinnati. The forecast is for temperatures in the 40s with little chance at precipitation.

--The last time Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey faced Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, Johnson got seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Bailey said he doesn't remember much about that 2004 game, and it doesn't matter much now.

"I'm a different type of player," Bailey said. "You got to think, that was my first year in the system. After being in the system for a while, of course I'm a little more comfortable, aware of my teammates. It makes a lot of difference."

--Broncos receiver Javon Walker separated his shoulder against Arizona, but that shouldn't affect him. It's a first-degree separation, which is mild, and Walker said he will be able to play.

"It's just sore, but it's nothing that will keep me out of a game," Walker said.

Walker didn't practice on Wednesday but the Broncos weren't that worried about him. Shanahan said trainer Steve Antonopulos said Walker will be ready for Sunday's game. He is probable on the injury report.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Quarterbacks who have multiple touchdown passes in each of their first three career starts in NFL history. Broncos rookie Jay Cutler joined that group last Sunday.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "To keep that swagger, you have to keep on winning. Our players know that this is a week-by-week proposition." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos switched things up in the secondary for last week's game against Arizona. They moved Domonique Foxworth from safety, where he had started twice, back to his regular position at cornerback because starting corner Darrent Williams was hurt. Curome Cox started at safety.

Denver will probably revert to its normal lineup because Williams is healthy. The Broncos like Foxworth at safety because of his smarts and athletic ability. He moves to a nickel cornerback spot on passing downs and Cox comes in to play safety.

PLAYER NOTES

--OT George Foster could be replaced in the starting lineup again. If Adam Meadows is ready to return from a hamstring injury, he could be inserted back at right tackle for Sunday's game.

--WR Brandon Marshall would start if Javon Walker can't play Sunday. The chances of Walker not playing are remote -- he is probable with a shoulder injury -- but the extra practice time will help Marshall.

--RB Tatum Bell is still chasing a 1,000-yard season after a bad week at Arizona. Bell needs 73 yards to get 1,000 for the first time in his career.

--WR David Kircus' playing time has decreased with Brandon Marshall's emergence. Kircus is still a good deep play threat and gets some playing time on offense.

--LB Al Wilson made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his career. Wilson has more than 100 tackles already, and is the Broncos' most consistent player in the front seven.



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