Denver Broncos (5-5) at Chicago Bears (4-6)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 13th meeting. Broncos and Bears are tied, 6-6, in the series.
The last meeting was 2003, when Kordell Stewart led Chicago to a 19-10
victory at Denver.
PREDICTION: Bears 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos' offensive confidence has increased along
with the maturation of QB Jay Cutler, who is managing the game well on
the field and emerging as a leader off it. Cutler is completing 71.8
percent of his passes with six TDs on third down, which is going to be
critical with the team unsure of who will be able to line up in the
backfield. And Cutler's arsenal will only grow if WR Javon Walker is able
to suit up Sunday. ... RB Cedric Benson is coming off his best game of
the year, and the Bears would be in great shape if he can exploit the
league's No. 30-ranked run defense to open up the passing lanes like he
did against Seattle. But Benson has been far less than dependable this
season, and most likely QB Rex Grossman is going to have to work against
CBs Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly for Chicago's offense to have consistent
KEY INJURIES: Broncos: Walker (knee) is practicing in hopes of playing
for the first time since Week 3; RBs Travis Henry and Selvin Young are
day-to-day with knee injuries. Bears: QB Brian Griese (shoulder) should
be healthy enough to be Grossman's backup; CB Nathan Vasher (groin) is
expected to miss his eighth straight game; DT Tommie Harris (knee)
continues to play at less than 100 percent.
FAST FACTS: Broncos coach Mike Shanahan is 31-19 (.620) against the
NFC. ... Bears WR Bernard Berrian is averaging 36.7 yards per touchdown
--FB Kyle Johnson, who was Denver's normal starter at fullback from
2004-06, was re-signed by the team. Denver has many injuries at
tailback and fullback, including to fullback Paul Smith, and Johnson knows the
offense so he can step right in and contribute.
--RB Travis Henry was out of practice again Thursday with a knee
injury. Henry hasn't bounced back quickly from the knee injury and could
miss his third straight game.
--RB Selvin Young didn't practice Thursday. He has a knee injury.
The Broncos hope he can play, but he would probably have to practice
Friday to have a realistic shot to handle a full workload.
--OL Isaac Snell was released to make room for Kyle Johnson. Snell
provided depth, and hadn't played in a game for the Broncos.
--FB Mike Bell could move back to tailback to provide depth against
Chicago. Bell was a tailback last year, but was moved to fullback late
in the preseason and has been there since. Cecil Sapp could also move
from fullback to tailback and see carries.
--CB Nate Vasher (groin) will miss his eighth straight game. He did
not practice Thursday for the second straight day.
--CB Charles Tillman, who tied for the team lead last season with
five interceptions, doesn't have any picks this year.
--CB Ricky Manning Jr., who missed Wednesday's practice with an
illness, returned to full capacity on Thursday. Manning tied for the team
lead with five interceptions last season but doesn't have any this year.
--RB Cedric Benson upped his average per carry to 3.3 yards with
last week's 89-yard effort on just 11 carries, but he still has the lowest
average of the top 25 rushers in the NFL.
--TE Desmond Clark has just four catches for 42 yards combined in
the past three games. In the three previous games he caught 11 passes for
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
If punter Todd Sauerbrun is to be believed, the Broncos will kick to
Devin Hester on Sunday.
Chicago's Hester is perhaps the best returner in the NFL. But the
Broncos are improving on special teams, and Sauerbrun said they're ready
for the challenge.
Aside from perhaps giving the Bears good field position by kicking
away from Hester out of bounds or kicking it short, Sauerbrun said he
didn't think it would set a good tone.
"It doesn't look good, it really doesn't," Sauerbrun said. "Yeah,
and I know it doesn't look good if he brings it back for 80 yards, but we
want to make plays. We're here to make plays and help the team win,
not help the team not lose."
Sauerbrun admitted Hester is probably the best returner he has ever
seen, but hoped the Broncos would show confidence in him and their
"We're not worried at all," Sauerbrun said. "We respect the hell out
of him, don't get us wrong. Absolutely. But we're not going to go out
there tiptoeing around."
Sauerbrun said that special teams coach Scott O'Brien, who he worked
with in Carolina as well, usually doesn't kick away from anyone.
"We're not going to do it," Sauerbrun said. "That's not Scott's M.O.
and that's not my M.O."
Sauerbrun, who also handles kickoffs, is averaging 48.5 yards per
When it comes to running the football, nobody does it better than
the Denver Broncos -- at least since 1995, when Mike Shanahan took over
as head coach in the Mile High City.
The amazing thing about the team that can accurately say it gets off
the bus running is that it doesn't seem to matter who runs it. In the
past four years, the Broncos have had a different 1,000-yard runner
each season -- Tatum Bell last year, Mike Anderson in 2005, Reuben Droughns in '04 and Clinton Portis in '03 -- the only time that has happened
in NFL history.
This year's leading rusher, Travis Henry, gained 580 yards in the
first seven weeks before a knee injury sidelined him. So undrafted rookie
Selvin Young, who followed the Bears' Cedric Benson at Texas, rushed
for 109 yards against the Chiefs on Nov. 11, becoming the 12th different
100-yard rusher under Shanahan. Only the Carolina Panthers have had as
many different 100-yard rushers over the same time.
But Young also suffered a knee injury last week, so Andre Hall, an
undrafted first-year player from South Florida, stepped up and scored on
a 62-yard run against the Titans Monday Night. Henry and Young both
missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and might not play Sunday. That
might not matter.
"You have to say it has a lot to do with the scheme," Bears coach
Lovie Smith said. "They've had some good tailbacks play in the system,
Terrell Davis (the franchise's all-time rushing leader) being one of
them. But the same thing has continued to happen (with) them being able to
run the football.
"Even this year (with) Travis Henry going down, Andre Hall steps up,
(and) of course Selvin Young. We know we'll have our hands full. They
run the football, but I think you would say that they won the game
(Monday) night based on what they were able to do throwing the football.
(Jay) Cutler is having a heck of a year. (Brandon) Marshall is playing as
good as any receiver right now. He's got great size, speed. He does a
great job after he catches the football, so it'll be a big challenge
for our defense."
The Bears' defense hasn't played well against either the run or the
pass this season, ranking 26th in rushing yards and 22nd in passing
yards allowed. The Bears are also 29th in average gain allowed per rush,
31st in interception percentage.
In just his second NFL season, Cutler is fourth in the AFC with an
88.9 passer rating, but stopping the run will be Job One. Every team in
the NFL knows the Broncos are famed for their ability to run the ball
no matter who carries it, but they still can't shut down their ground
"They've been doing it for 15 years," Bears defensive end Alex Brown
said. "I'm not just going to figure it out after a week of watching
film. We have to stay in our gaps and tackle. We can't miss tackles.
We've got to cut down on the big plays, the big runs that they have."
Part of what has made the Denver running game so good for so long is
their offensive linemen's sometimes-questionable technique of
cut-blocking. Defensive linemen hate getting blocked at the knees, which is the
reason it's so successful.
"I'm not really worried about any of their blocking," Brown said.
"But yeah, they cut, so you have to acknowledge it. You can't just run up
the field and (think) they're not going to cut you. But it's not
really a concern. You play the game. It's in the game, so play the game."
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