TOUGH TEST FOR DEFENSE

After facing a New England offense that didn't feature much of a running game, the Dolphins know they will be going up against a much more balanced attack Sunday at Denver.

The Dolphins also know it's going to be a very different Denver offense than they one they saw at Pro Player Stadium late last season.

At that time, the Broncos were without stud wide receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, and tight end Shannon Sharpe was wearing a Baltimore Ravens uniform.

Now, those two are big parts of an offense that also features the likes of rookie RB Clinton Portis, QB Brian Griese, and one of the best offensive lines in the league.

"It is a whole lot different this year compared to last year when he didn't have as many weapons because they were all hurt," said Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. "(Griese) took all the blame last year because he didn't have the weapons. His first choice sometimes was the running back.

"This year with Sharpe and McCaffrey and all those guys it is a whole different game. He passes it around and I think it makes it a lot easier on him. That is why he is throwing well and he is in a groove. We have to try to play sound football and not give up the big plays."

Griese, who was in danger of being benched during the Broncos' season-opening victory over the Rams, has rebounded nicely and now has an impressive 91.4 QB rating and the confidence of his coach.

He's also got the respect of the Dolphins.

"This year he's focused," CB Sam Madison said when asked about the difference in Griese's play from last year to this year. "He's delivering the ball and sitting in the pocket. When it breaks down, he's able to scramble and pick up yards. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he's able to do what he needs to do and that is to get key first downs.

"He has all of his weapons. (Last season) Rod didn't play, McCaffrey was out and he didn't have Shannon Sharpe. We took advantage of that last year. But he has all of his weapons back this year. He has a couple of great running backs that can run the football. Our main focus will be to stop their run and to make them put the football up in the air. As a secondary, that is what we were hoping for. We'll just be prepared. They have three great targets that they can throw the football, too."

The bottom line is the Dolphins defense knows it will have to be ready for an offense that has scored at least 21 points every game this season.

"We have our hands full with this offense," said Thomas. "They have a great running and passing game. With Rod Smith and all the other guys we are going to have to go out there and play good football to be in the game."


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