Preview: Denver's run D a concern

Remember him: Champ Bailey. Of course you do. Bailey has clearly moved on and is playing well, despite some high-profile completions allowed last season. Still, his athleticism makes him one of the NFL's top corners.

And it's why he can cover smaller receivers such as Santana Moss. But here's the thing: Bailey is hurting and that could give the shifty Moss enough of an opening.

 

Debate: Who has gotten the better of the trade? So far Denver because the Broncos received a second-round pick and turned that into Tatum Bell, who has shown some flashes of being productive. Clinton Portis does many things well and is darned tough, but, for whatever reason, he hasn't produced in the red zone. Many factors are involved, but the fact is he went from 29 TDs in two seasons with Denver to five in 18 games with Washington. However, Portis has matured in D.C., his good-natured silliness in interviews (which we love) notwithstanding. Portis is no longer considered among the top backs in the NFL; Bailey remains in the group of elite corners. Very few corners play as much man as Bailey. That said, Portis can easily return to elite status and we're surprised it hasn't happened yet. We expected a big year from him and think it will still happen. Then the trade will look a bit different.

 

Still effective: Receiver Rod Smith. He has 26 receptions and though he only averages around 11 yards a catch, he's a smart experienced wideout with good size. He'll be a good test for rookie Carlos Rogers when they're on the same side.

 

No go: K John Hall and CB Walt Harris are out because of injuries (see injury report). The Broncos don't have many dangerous wideouts so losing Harris shouldn't hurt them too badly. Ashley Leile can be a weapon, but hasn't yet done it consistently.

 

Tough D: Forget the Broncos' ground game, which is good. Focus, instead on their run defense which is equally good. Denver has faced three of the NFL's top runners and has not allowed more than 62 yards to any of them. In consecutive weeks they've shut down LaDainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes and Fred Taylor. They're strong up front; left end Courtney Brown adds needed muscle and tackle Gerard Warren is finally playing with motivation. Plus their linebackers are very fast, particularly in the middle with Al Wilson. The linebackers are able to move freely to the ball, making those stretch runs difficult once again.

 

Offensive key: The Redskins must hit some intermediate passes to soften the Broncos' run defense. It will be hard to run, so the way to move the ball initially might be through the air.

 

Dangerous: Returner Darrent Williams, both on kickoffs and punts. That means not only will the coverage be tested, but punter Derrick Frost needs a good game with directional kicks and Nick Novak's kickoffs must be good. Perhaps they'll try more pooch kickoffs.

 

Defensive key: Stop the run. If they don't, the Broncos will test them with their bootlegs, which hurt many teams. Washington is good at stopping bootlegs because of the discipline of its front seven (knowing that, it could be a surprise if LaVar Arrington sees much action at linebacker; maybe at rush end. If the coaches haven't trusted him yet, it's hard to believe they'd start with this game).

 

Stat of the Week: In 34 games since their new stadium opened in 2001, Denver has allowed only two players to rush for more than 100 yards--Kansas City's Priest Holmes (twice) and Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick.

 

Prediction: I don't think the Redskins are the ‘‘worst 3-0 team in history.'' That's a ludicrous statement. They're capable of winning this game, especially if they can force Jake Plummer into mistakes. But they must keep him in the pocket to do so. It can happen. But I'm more concerned about what the Redskins' offense will do, especially on the ground. That's why Denver wins; 20-16.


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