Denver's defense has been poor most of the season. The Broncos showed improvement for a few weeks, but the numbers look ugly after a step back in Oakland.
Going into Sunday's game against Kansas City, Denver ranks 27th in total defense and 31st in points allowed. Bates is starting to feel some heat, but the players said the problems aren't his fault.
"Coaches can't go out there and play," cornerback Dre Bly said. "I don't see it being the coaches' fault."
Cornerback Champ Bailey defended Bates' scheme as well.
"It's not like it doesn't work," Bailey said.
Bates has had a lot of success before, first in Miami and then during a one-year stint in Green Bay. He hasn't been able to duplicate that in Denver.
The Broncos have said all along that the problems are a combination of the scheme and the personnel.
"You talk about as soon as there's a little adversity, it's going to go back to the coach," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "We're all disappointed we're not keeping them out of the end zone as much as we are. We're disappointed we're not scoring as many points.
"It's my job to get the job done, and if we don't get it done, it comes back to me. Don't worry about Jim Bates or the coaches."
The problems adjusting to the scheme started in preseason. The Broncos couldn't stop the run, and the struggles continued into the regular season. Slowly, they showed signs of improvement. A tweak in the scheme, which consistently put an eighth player in the box, helped.
Then came the loss against the Raiders. Justin Fargas had 146 yards, including many big runs. A 5-yard touchdown run by Fargas in the fourth quarter put the game away.
Defense hasn't been the only problem for the Broncos, however. The offense had four turnovers against Oakland, and the special teams didn't have any big plays.
The Broncos haven't found any consistency in any phase of the game. They've followed up terrible losses with good wins, then when it looks as if they might make a run, they stumble. Even the players are frustrated by the swings.
"Sometimes I don't know what to expect when we go out there because of what we've put on film throughout the year," Bailey said.
The Broncos have kept hoping to sustain a winning streak, and even after dropping two in a row, they hope they're not out of the race. Catching San Diego seems very unlikely at this point, although a weak schedule remains and they have a chance to beat the Chargers on Dec. 24.
--The Broncos were thrilled that RB Travis Henry won his appeal over a one-year suspension for a failed drug test and won't be suspended. Henry was informed of his positive test on Sept. 4, but a court battle and a long appeal drew out the final ruling.
"We are pleased with this outcome and happy that Travis has been absolved of any wrongdoing with respect to this matter," the Broncos said in a statement.
Henry admitted this season has been tough on him. Not only has he dealt with a potential suspension, he has missed four games because of injuries. He hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 4, with the suspension hanging over his head and injuries taking a toll.
He said his injured knee is at about 80 percent, but he wants to finish strong.
"It's been tough, man," Henry said. "Expectations were high for me. I made them high for myself, as well. It's been tough, but you can't do nothing. The suspension is over with, so now I just have to get healthy and finish strong."
--Even if the Broncos go 4-0, they'll still need a lot of help to win the division because they are behind in tiebreakers. The Broncos lost their second AFC West game against Oakland on Sunday, and the Chargers have only one AFC West loss. That's the second tiebreaker. The third tiebreaker is common opponents. The Broncos are 1-5 and the Chargers are 3-3 against common opponents.
So if the Broncos go 4-0, even with a win at San Diego on Dec. 24, they need San Diego to either lose to Oakland in the season finale to win the divisional-record tiebreaker, or they would need the Chargers to lose to Detroit and Tennessee to tie the common opponents tiebreaker. In that latter scenario, they would win the fourth tiebreaker, which is record in conference games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Losing seasons for Mike Shanahan since he took over as Broncos head coach in 1995. The Broncos are 5-7.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They know us, we know them. It's always a very physical battle as it was in Kansas City. We know that game really doesn't mean a whole lot right now." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, referring to the first meeting this season, a Broncos win.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos continued their purge on defense by dumping defensive tackle Sam Adams, a starter for the team the entire season. Adams was signed in June to shore up the run defense, but the Broncos have struggled against the run all season. Also, with the team barely in the playoff race, it gives them a chance to look at some younger players.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--CB Jeff Shoate was released. He was a fifth-round pick in 2004. He had a solid camp but hadn't played in four games.
--S Marviel Underwood, who was signed Wednesday, will get a shot to make an impression over the final four games. He played a lot as a rookie with the Packers but fell out of their plans. The Broncos are looking for young safeties.
--DT Steven Harris was promoted from the practice squad. He isn't a classic fit for Jim Bates' scheme, which usually prefers big tackles, but the Broncos don't have many big tackles left after getting rid of Sam Adams.
--DT Michael Bozeman was signed to the Broncos' practice squad. Bozeman was cut by Atlanta earlier this year.
--WR Glenn Martinez could get back in the rotation at wide receiver
if Brandon Stokley can't play because of a knee injury. The Broncos
don't think Javon Walker is ready for a full load, because he is still
recovering from a knee injury.
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