Broncos Update Insider - 12/24

Late in the season, the Denver Broncos' offense has gone haywire. First billed as a system that spreads the ball without favoritism, with the ball going to whoever the coverage dictates it should go to, Josh McDaniels' system now revolves around receiver Brandon Marshall.

As the Broncos prepare to play at Philadelphia this week, the Eagles know that to stop Denver, they need to stop Marshall. Marshall has 60 catches the past seven weeks -- nearly as many as his teammates have combined (75) in that stretch.

"You always try to get the ball to guys who can make plays, and we've got a lot of them," McDaniels said. "It just so happened the last five or six weeks here we've really kind of been able to get him the ball a bunch. He's getting open."

The most shocking reliance on Marshall came at Indianapolis when he caught 21 passes and was targeted on 28 of 41 throws. None of Denver's other receivers have distinguished themselves as Marshall has taken over the offense.

Over the last seven weeks, Marshall has six receiving touchdowns; nobody else on the Broncos has more than one. Eddie Royal's 17 catches are the second-most in that stretch, an incredible 43 fewer than Marshall.

McDaniels insists that the ball is still going where the coverage dictates. In the Colts game, McDaniels said Kyle Orton didn't force the ball to Marshall more than a couple of times. The rest of the time he got single coverage and Denver took advantage of it.

McDaniels said as long as coverage dictates Marshall gets the ball, he will.

"The most important thing for us is that we're moving the ball and having positive plays," McDaniels said. "Whether that be to 10 different receivers or five or three tight ends, backs or receivers, it doesn't make any difference."

A more predictable offense hasn't been a better one. While Marshall will likely have 100 catches again and is a good bet to return to the Pro Bowl, the Broncos have slipped since a 6-0 start. Denver is 2-6 after that hot start, although it can still rally to make the playoffs.

The Marshall-centric offensive plan might not be so concerning if the Broncos were getting more out of the running game. But that has stalled lately. Rookie Knowshon Moreno, who has played most of the last two games because of Correll Buckhalter's ankle injury, averaged 2.7 yards against the Colts and 2.2 against the lowly Raiders.

Although Moreno is in his first year, the Broncos' coaches do not believe he has hit the infamous "rookie wall."

"No, he's done a nice job," offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. "You talk to all of the players about all that stuff -- it's a long season for those guys and they're all in the same boat -- but he'll be fine."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Broncos safety Brian Dawkins is one of the most popular players in Eagles history, yet he isn't sure what to expect from Philadelphia fans on Sunday. Dawkins, who played with the Eagles for 13 seasons before signing with Denver this offseason, makes his return on Sunday.

"I don't know, I don't know," Dawkins said. "I know Philadelphia, as fans, they're diehard for their team. If you're on the opposing team, you're no longer on their team, so I don't expect 100 percent cheers."

--Broncos coach Josh McDaniels has taken some heat for his play calling, and defended his calls on running downs against the Raiders in a loss on Sunday.

"If you have a bad play in the game I don't think you can just cancel the running game the rest of the day," McDaniels said. "We have to block better, you've got to run better, you've can call better plays. There are a lot of things that go into football to make it work. I'll be the first one to stand in line to say we have to do a better job."

--McDaniels has done a good job keeping ties with Broncos from the past. Receiver Rod Smith, who holds all of the team's career receiving records, sat down with McDaniels before the season to discuss his philosophies, and said he respects Denver's new coach.

"Every time I go over there he shows me nothing but love," Smith said. "He says 'You look like you can still play.' I tell him, 'Josh, trust me, you don't want me running routes for you. It's all downhill from there.'"

--Broncos rookie cornerback Alphonso Smith has fallen down the depth chart, now behind undrafted rookie Tony Carter. The Broncos traded a 2010 first-round pick to take Smith in the second round, but he hasn't produced much as a rookie.

"He's a rookie and he's developing," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We've got several other rookies that are trying to find their niche. That's common for a rookie. There's a unique few that play early and play a lot. In their cases they have more to learn before they get on the field consistently."

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Yards that Broncos running back Correll Buckhalter, a longtime Eagle, needs to set a career high for a season. He set that mark as a rookie for Philadelphia in 1999.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not dead. We're going to keep playing, and we've got to get better at some of these things, certainly." -- Broncos coach Josh McDaniels on his 8-6 team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The addition of Ty Law in midseason was curious, given Law was 35 years old and hadn't even been in a training camp, but he has helped immensely at the nickel cornerback position. His injury last week showed his worth. Law missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. The Broncos used undrafted rookie Tony Carter, signed straight off the practice squad, at the nickel cornerback position. He played pretty well but was tested often. When he went out with cramps, rookie Alphonso Smith came in. He was in coverage on Oakland's game-winning touchdown. Law hasn't been picked on all season, and the Broncos need him back for the stretch run.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaMont Jordan had a good day against Oakland, rushing for 27 yards on five carries. His playing time will probably evaporate if Correll Buckhalter returns, but if he's active he could be a late-game option because he has fresh legs late in the season.

--CB Tony Carter played a lot on special teams against the Raiders, allowing the Broncos to take Champ Bailey off the kickoff team. If the Broncos feel Carter is better on special teams than Alphonso Smith and Ty Law is healthy, Smith could be in jeopardy of being inactive.

--LB Robert Ayers, a first-round pick, still doesn't have a sack this season. He often sets the edge to allow Elvis Dumervil to rush the quarterback, but he will have to be more of a big-play presence starting next season to justify his draft status.

--CB Ty Law could see some coverage against Brent Celek in Sunday's game. Law is a big cornerback and was often asked to cover Dallas Clark against the Colts a couple weeks ago.

--TE Richard Quinn hasn't caught a pass as a rookie, and the second-round pick's playing time has been limited. Quinn will need to make strides this offseason to become a bigger part of Denver's offense.



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