Rival Report: Denver's ‘D' Confident

The Broncos know they have a tall order in containing Randy Moss, but their defensive players are pretty confident with the scheme.

With Jake Plummer out with a broken foot, the pressure will be on the Broncos No. 2-ranked defense to keep Sunday's showdown from being an offensive shootout.

But there's no question Minnesota presents the biggest challenge — literally.

And 6-4 cornerback Lenny Walls knows he and Kelly Herndon won't get much sympathy from talented wide receiver Randy Moss, who likely will view them as two players learning the ropes in their first seasons as NFL starters.

"This is a game where I make a name for myself," Walls said. "He's a great player but this is why I'm here, for a guy that's sort of freakish like myself, being that he's 6-5 and runs that well. This is what I'm here to do. It's a big game for me."

And a big game for the Broncos, 5-1, after a hard-fought, last-second win over Pittsburgh.

The Vikings are undefeated, and seeing that they're coming off a bye, are healthy.

Denver knows it can't afford to get into an offensive shootout with the league's No.1-ranked offense, not with starting quarterback Jake Plummer out with a broken foot.

While the Vikings have made marked improvement on defense, so have the Broncos under new coordinator Larry Coyer.

Consider the following improvement in several categories from this point last year: points allowed (120 in 2002, 87 in 2003); total yards allowed per game (280.3/259.0); passing yards allowed per game (218.3/163.5); completion percentage allowed (67.6/51.9) and touchdowns allowed (14/9).

The most striking improvement has come in third-down efficiency and in the red zone.

In 2002 after six games, Denver was allowing a 42.3 percent conversion rate on third downs. That number has dropped to 27.2 percent.

And opponents this year have scored TDs on only two of 11 possessions inside the 20, compared with 11 TDs in 16 possessions last season at the same juncture.

Coach Mike Shanahan tips his hat to Coyer.

"He's very well organized. He's got a great plan. He understands offensive schemes. He puts players in the best position," Shanahan said. "And that's what coaches try to do."

Players have responded to him.

"The thing that Larry does the best is that he kind of plays to our strength," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "Our team, we keep drafting the same kind of guys that we think will fit into our scheme and I think Larry finally figured out what that scheme is. I think it's man-to- man and get after the quarterback.

"He looked at our personnel and said, ‘They can do this.' And he's simplified it and now we have an identity."

Walls, however, knows being in single coverage all day against Moss would be a mistake.

"I definitely can't ‘man' him up every play by myself. There's no way that's going to happen. He's too good for that," Walls said.

  • This time, no one was blaming the dog.

    But Jake Plummer admitted his latest injury is pretty freaky.

    "I'm still shocked," Plummer said Wednesday, his broken left foot in a protective boot.

    "It's weird. You know how the body works."

    Just when Plummer's right shoulder was improved enough to allow him to practice and play in Sunday's showdown with unbeaten Minnesota, he felt a pop in his foot while getting up off the couch Monday night.

    "I thought it was just a strain because I still had some bruising in there, and it was tender still," Plummer said of an injury suffered against Kansas City 11 days ago.

    When treatment didn't ease the pain, and it got worse Wednesday morning, trainer Steve Antonopulos ordered a second X-ray.

    It clearly showed a break in the third metatarsal bone — an injury that will sideline him 4-5 weeks.

    Antonopulos said an initial X-ray after the Kansas City game showed no fracture, and he was back running with the team this Monday. But he said Plummer might have suffered a stress reaction in the same area after twisting his leg on a first-quarter scramble against the Chiefs. Then, when he got up off the couch, the already stressed bone broke.

    Thirteen months ago, Brian Griese told a wild story about being tripped down the stairs by his golden retriever.

    He suffered a sprained ankle but did not miss a game.

  • Steve Beuerlein admitted he thought teammates were joking when they broke the news about Plummer's broken foot.

    "I said, ‘Get out of here. That's a cruel joke for a guy who might have a heart condition.'"

    Now Beuerlein, who endured a shaky start last week in place of injured Plummer, will have to carry the load for the next three games, perhaps longer.

  • The Broncos already were reeling over the loss of linebacker Ian Gold, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

    Gold's teammates said he was surprisingly upbeat despite the season-ending injury.

    "I'm proud of him in that sense," Broncos defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "He's reacted much better than anybody else I've seen with torn ACLs. I've seen a lot of knees and he's by far the one that has kept his focus the most."

    BY THE NUMBERS: 14.2 — Points per game allowed by Denver's defense.

    67 — consecutive games with a catch by Rod Smith, who is on pace for his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season.

    5 — Touchdowns in the past two games by Minnesota's Randy Moss. The Broncos have allowed just six passing TDs all year.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's Randy Moss, man. A great player. I can't wait. I'm ready to get it on and see what happens." - CB Lenny Walls.

    The Broncos placed linebacker Ian Gold on injured reserve because of his torn ACL. Instead of signing another linebacker, the Broncos added cornerback Scott Turner to the active roster.

    Denver still is deep at linebacker, with Donnie Spragan expected to step in for Gold. That leaves Keith Burns and rookie Terry Pierce as backups.

    Pierce has yet to be activated but this may be his chance.

    At cornerback, look for the Broncos to keep Kelly Herndon at right corner, in place of Deltha O'Neal, who hasn't been as consistent.

  • SS Nick Ferguson had an MRI on his knee but it was negative. Unless he has a setback, don't be surprised to see him in the starting lineup ahead of Kenoy Kennedy, who has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle.

  • LT Ephraim Salaam remains probable with soreness in his right knee but he will practice and play.

  • C Tom Nalen was held out of practice Wednesday because of his sprained ankle but he'll go Thursday and play Sunday.

  • DT Daryl Gardener said he expects to get more playing time this week, especially after getting a taste of what it's like to play with the cast on his right wrist.

    GAME PLAN: The Broncos will bring the pressure on Daunte Culpepper and attempt to disrupt his rhythm. If they don't, Randy Moss could have a big day. Though 6-4 cornerback Lenny Walls played a lot of man-to-man on Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress, don't expect that Sunday. Moss is simply too much to handle, and he'll need help from the safeties.

    Offensively, with Jake Plummer out, the pressure will be Denver's offensive line to protect immobile Steve Beuerlein and open some holes for running back Clinton Portis to take the pressure off Beuerlein.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos CB Lenny Walls vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss. Walls, 6-4, did a good job of Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress but the 6-5 Moss is in another league. Last week Walls shadowed Burress everywhere, but he'll need help this week from the safeties.

  • Broncos LDE Trevor Pryce vs. Vikings RT Mike Rosenthal. Rosenthal has been good but still might be considered the weak link on a solid offensive line. The Broncos know they'll need to get pressure on QB Daunte Culpepper and disrupt his timing, but don't expect seven sacks like the Broncos had against Pittsburgh.

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