The Broncos are struggling to find the solution. They have a new scheme and many new players, but nobody expected Denver to be ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing defense after four games. The Broncos face San Diego this week, hoping to find a cure.
"We're just going to keep working on it," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We've been pretty inconsistent, all the way through preseason."
In the preseason, the scheme was the common excuse. Denver fired coordinator Larry Coyer after last season and replaced him with Jim Bates. The players were learning a new scheme and the coaches didn't show much in the preseason, so it seemed to make sense that the run defense wasn't up to speed.
But then in the regular-season opener against Buffalo, the Broncos had a tough time tackling Buffalo rookie Marshawn Lynch. Oakland's LaMont Jordan then had a big game against Denver, with 159 yards even though the Raiders had no semblance of a passing game that day.
The Broncos were 2-0, so it didn't cost them. Then Jacksonville controlled the ball for almost 40 minutes and had 186 rushing yards in a win at Denver. Indianapolis rushed for 226 yards against the Broncos last week.
Those failures left Denver's players shaking their heads.
"Bottom line is, we have to tighten this up," linebacker Nate Webster said. "I'm still searching, I'm still looking for the answers."
Shanahan admitted the transition to the new scheme was still a factor, as were the many lineup changes before the season.
"It's a little bit of new system and a little bit of personnel," Shanahan said.
There might be some more changes in the personnel, but the Broncos already made some major ones in the front seven. Three defensive starters from the first three games -- end John Engelberger and tackles Sam Adams and Amon Gordon -- didn't start against Indianapolis. Adams and Gordon were inactive. Shanahan said Adams wasn't a good matchup against the Colts, but he said Gordon's demotion was because he wasn't playing or practicing as well as tackles Marcus Thomas or Antwon Burton.
Shanahan said the coaching staff could see on film which players were making the mistakes that led to the big runs, but he wouldn't name anyone.
Shanahan wasn't in the mood after the Broncos' second straight loss to get into specifics about the problems against the run.
"It's something you've got to work on, and we'll work on it and hopefully get better," he said about the tackling.
Shanahan repeated some version of that statement to many different questions about the run defense.
Tomlinson is struggling as well, but he has had some big games against Denver. He has 15 career touchdowns against the Broncos, more than he has against any other NFL team.
"I'm sure he's probably watching film and will be licking his chops," middle linebacker D.J. Williams said. "Likewise, we're trying to get things fixed up front."
NOTES, QUOTES --Against Indianapolis, the Broncos used rookie DE Jarvis Moss in an unusual position, standing up just off the line. He would bounce around before the snap, trying to confuse the offense.
"I liked it a lot, and I'm sure we're going to use it a lot more the better we get at it," Moss said. "It allowed me a lot of freedom to go and be an athlete."
--The Broncos have a week to look at DL Kenny Peterson, who was reinstated after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on banned substances. Peterson has some value because he can play end or tackle.
"We'll see what type of shape he's in compared to the other players and make a decision," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
--S John Lynch practiced Wednesday and said he would play this week against San Diego. Lynch was inactive last week against Indianapolis because of a groin injury.
"I came out here and practiced a complete practice and felt good," Lynch said. "So I'm excited."
--The Broncos will search for a new returner after cutting WR Domenik Hixon this week. Andre Hall and Brian Clark are the top candidates to return kickoffs, and Jeff Shoate, Dre Bly and Brandon Marshall are candidates to return punts.
"We'll give somebody else an opportunity to return," Shanahan said. "We have a few options right now."
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Number of touchdowns San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson scored in two games against Denver last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I had to use a word to describe them not playing the way they played last year and us not playing the way we played last year, it's consistency." -- Safety Nick Ferguson on the struggles of Denver's run defense and San Diego's run offense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Denver's special teams have been poor, and receiver Domenik Hixon was released after struggling to start the year. Hixon was Denver's punt and kickoff returner but hadn't made many big plays. Hixon, whom the Broncos were thrilled about this offseason, was cut, and Brian Clark was picked up. Clark and running back Andre Hall could replace Hixon on kickoff returns.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DT Antwon Burton has impressed the coaches with his work in practice. That's why Burton was active against Indianapolis and Amon Gordon was deactivated. The Broncos will probably determine which tackles will play on a week-to-week basis.
--S Curome Cox could play a bit this week if the Broncos decide to use him in a "big nickel" package to match up with San Diego TE Antonio Gates. The Broncos also have CB Domonique Foxworth, who filled in at safety last week when John Lynch was hurt.
--OT Ryan Harris returned to practice after missing a few weeks to recover from minor back surgery. Harris, a rookie, was improving during training camp and could become a key backup if he continues that progress.
--FB Cecil Sapp could get some time at tailback this week if Travis Henry misses the game or is limited with a leg injury. Andre Hall would be the top candidate to back up Selvin Young if Henry can't play.
--WR Brian Clark played well at receiver in the preseason. His immediate role could be as a kickoff returner, but he eventually could help the Broncos on offense as well. Clark was released last week, but he re-signed Tuesday.
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