AFC West: Denver Broncos

Broncos benefit from finding undrafted gems

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about finding undrafted players, like C.J. Anderson and Chris Harris, Jr., and what it has meant to team’s success.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Emmanuel Sanders has been such a good find for the Denver Broncos that even when things don't quite work out, there is a silver lining in tow.

On Sunday, quarterback Peyton Manning tried and tried and tried to hit Sanders for the game-changer up the right sideline on the drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. They never connected, but the Broncos eventually carved out a touchdown on the drive. Demaryius Thomas is the Broncos' Alpha receiver, but it's clear from that sequence that Sanders has been every bit the 1-A the Broncos had hoped he could be.

"I'm so glad we scored on that one drive I overthrew him three times in a row," Manning said. "He's a hard guy to overthrow so I take a little bit of pride in that. That means my arm must be hanging in there because it's late in the season. ... He's a great route runner. ... He has that deep threat, which is going to allow some of the shorter stuff and the crossing routes to be open."

[+] EnlargeDenver Broncos
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) is the Broncos' 1A option to Demaryius Thomas (88).
Sanders already, with five regular-season games remaining, has single-season career-bests in catches (76), yards receiving (1,079) and touchdowns (seven). His dives, deep down the field with a cornerback often trying to close the gap, have become a signature, as have his jaunts into the high-traffic areas in the middle of the field. And as teams continue to rotate coverage to Demaryius Thomas and put cornerbacks on tight end Julius Thomas, Sanders has become the choice that consistently makes them pay.

Broncos head coach John Fox often says "they can't double everybody," and that often leaves Sanders running past single coverage to reel in another Manning pass. His 105 targets are only behind Demaryius Thomas' 124.

Not bad for a guy who had interest from several teams in free agency because many believed he could do more than he had done in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense during his first four seasons in the league. Still, Eric Decker, Golden Tate, DeSean Jackson, Julian Edelman and Andre Roberts all signed larger contracts than the three-year, $15 million deal Sanders signed with the Broncos.

Sanders was the Broncos' top target because of his ability to line up and contribute in the formation, outside or in the slot. The Chiefs, the Broncos' opponent this week, were public in their belief they had a verbal agreement from Sanders to sign. Sanders has consistently maintained the Broncos were his top choice because of Manning's presence in the huddle and the playbook the Broncos use.

Asked if his best career season may have opened some eyes around the league, Sanders deferred.

"I don't look at it like that," Sanders said. "I just enjoy this game, I try to be passionate about it. I wanted to come here, in this offense, everybody knows what this offense can do, what they did before I was here and what it can do on a weekly basis. The best thing is any day can be your day because Peyton can put the ball so many places."

And while Demaryius Thomas' presence means Sanders will have a difficult time leading his own team in any of the major receiving categories. But only Thomas, the Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Colts' T.Y. Hilton have had more receiving yards than Sanders this season and only Thomas and Hilton have more catches.

"(Sanders) makes it hard on defenses," Demaryius Thomas said. "They can't really get right up on him because he's so quick, but if they give him room he can run by them. … He fits in this offense like he's been here more than just this season."

Manning will always credit time and effort as the keys to success and Sanders has certainly put that in. Sanders regularly worked with Manning after practices in offseason workouts and in training camp. And on the rare occasion Sanders felt the on-field sting of a heat-of-the-moment dressing down from Manning, Sanders just kept grinding.

"You don't need any more proof for what Peyton can do for wide receivers," Sanders said. "If you're in the right spot, where he expects you to be, he will find you. Sometimes just put your hands up and the ball is there. As a wide a receiver that's a dream situation, you can't ask for more than that so you don't leave anything undone."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For much of the last two seasons, the Denver Broncos have lived the hot-hand life in the run game.

Running backs coach Eric Studesville, with a collection of backs he ranks every week for playing time but close enough in abilities to split the carries in some fashion, would roll them all through the huddle.

Anderson
As he puts it: “It’s a gut feel, you look at the guys, look at where were are on offense, see how they’re running and you go from there."

Besides, when a team throws the ball as often as the Broncos have since Manning’s arrival in 2012, there aren’t always that many carries to go around.

Still, C.J. Anderson is now poised to have a stretch of games like the Broncos haven’t had since Manning’s inaugural season.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I just look at it like I need to get myself ready to handle whatever they ask me to do," Anderson said. “[Studesville] tells me to go in and I go in. He tells me to run it, I run it. If you need to block, you block, if you need to catch the ball, you catch the ball. And if you need to wait a bit to do it, you wait and stay ready."

With injuries to Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot), the sturdy Anderson might get a workload that resembles a primary-back approach like he did in Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins. Anderson had 27 carries for 167 yards -- both season-highs for a Broncos running back and easily career-bests for Anderson.

In Manning’s first season with the Broncos in 2012, the Broncos had five games in which a running back had at least 22 carries -- three of those by Willis McGahee and two by Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos had two such games in 2013. Moreno had both in back-to-back games with 27 carries for 79 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs followed by 37 carries for 224 yards against the Patriots the following week.

This season, with Ball, Hillman and Anderson having been at the top of the depth chart, the Broncos have had three games where a running back has had at least 22 carries. Two of the three have resulted in 100-yard games, with Anderson’s against the Dolphins to go with Hillman’s 24-carry, 100-yard day against the New York Jets.

“C.J.’s a baller," guard Orlando Franklin said. “He’s hungry out there ... I look forward to watching him as the weeks progress."

“Whatever’s working, keep it going," Anderson said. “... I think you just stick to your roles, keep your same routine, never get too big about it all and just continue to play hard."

QB snapshot: Peyton Manning

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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A quick observation about quarterback Peyton Manning and how he played in the Denver Broncos' 39-36 win in Week 12:

Manning
In the win over the Dolphins, Manning had his 13th game in his past 27 starts with at least four touchdown passes, a staggering number that this time was a direct result of the team’s ability to dial back Miami’s pass rush, as well as the Broncos' ability to run the ball out of their favored formation.

Manning was 28-of-35 passing -- 10-of-11 in the fourth quarter -- for 257 yards and the four touchdowns. But the win was another example of how much more efficient he is out of the team’s three-wide-receiver set when the Broncos have a commitment to run the ball and some success doing it.

When the Broncos are in three-wide they usually have Manning in the shotgun or pistol -- Manning not under center, but in front of the running back -- so that’s how the running plays come.

In the nine games the team has used the three-wide set the most this season (in their first two games of the year they were in two-tight-end more than three-wide during Wes Welker’s suspension), their three losses have come when they ran the ball just six (St. Louis), 11 (New England) and 12 (Seattle) times out of the shotgun or pistol -- three of their four lowest totals of the season.

For the most part, Manning’s highest efficiency and the Broncos' highest point totals have come when they’ve run the ball 21 times with Manning in the shotgun or pistol against Arizona (41 points), 19 times against Oakland (41 points) and 18 times Sunday against the Dolphins (39 points).
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DENVER – Don't say you weren't warned.

Last Monday, coach John Fox said the Broncos had to run the ball more. Last Wednesday, quarterback Peyton Manning said they had to run more efficiently and might be an “old-school run team" against the Miami Dolphins.

Last Thursday, C.J. Anderson said he’d be ready to carry the ball as many times as the Broncos wanted to hand it to him, and the Broncos' offensive linemen, who had worn the biggest target for the what’s-wrong-with-the-Broncos arrows, promised they were ready.

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AP Photo/Jack DempseyC.J. Anderson rushed for 167 yards as the Broncos leaned on the running game against Miami.
Sunday the Broncos turned all of those words into deeds as they sported offensive equilibrium -- 35 rushing attempts, 35 pass attempts -- in pounding out 201 rushing yards in a 39-36 victory over the Dolphins in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“It was important for us just to come out here and hold up for our teammates," Broncos guard Orlando Franklin said. “… We knew we had to come out here and do our job. That’s all it is, do your job and your team is going to be good."

Anderson had 27 carries for 167 yards, the most carries and rushing yards for a Broncos running back since Knowshon Moreno had 37 for 224 in an overtime loss last Nov. 24 at New England. Sunday, Anderson ran with vision, with power and perhaps most importantly, with decisiveness.

He also put the action back in play-action after a bit of a sluggish start for Manning, who was at his ruthless best with 28-of-35 passing for 257 yards and four touchdowns. The Dolphins were unable to consistently keep the pressure on Manning and the Broncos were able to muscle their way back into a game they trailed 14-3 early in the second quarter and 21-10 just before halftime.

“I think it’s better to be mad," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “All of us, we talk about playing with a pissed-off attitude and it came out; we did that. I think if we can keep doing that, we’ll have a better chance each week."

“That was certainly part of the game plan," Manning said. “ … We kind of felt the plan was working; we just needed to get the ball more and stay on the field."

In the piles of touchdowns the Broncos have put up since Manning signed in 2012, one overriding criticism has been not only if they could consistently win a slug-it-out game on offense when December turns to January and January turns toward the Super Bowl, but that they weren’t always that committed to trying to slug it out.

An offense with a quarterback who has now thrown 126 touchdown passes in his 43 regular-season starts with the team -- and 13 games with at least four touchdowns in his past 27 regular-season starts -- is going to throw the ball. But the Broncos know that 10 rushes will not cut it, which is what they did in the loss to the Rams. The Broncos' offense needs balance to win a championship.

“When you’re able to have that balance, it helps everybody’s efforts … we got in a chuck-and-duck game a week ago," Fox said. “We needed to reel that back in."

Reel it in they did, but nobody should expect the Broncos to be 50-50 run-pass all the time. Because the postal-service games are coming, in the wind, rain, sleet, snow and perhaps all of the above in New England.

For one day, the Broncos' offensive line offered an alternative for the Broncos to get done what they want to get done, and all involved want, need and expect that they’ll need to do it again.

“Tonight was their night," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, about the offensive line. “They wanted to show we can run block, we can pass block, we can get the job done. We go as far as they take us. We understand that and they understand that."
DENVER -- When the Denver Broncos rolled into the offseason off their Super Bowl loss, they made a major investment -- in both free-agency dollars and draft capital -- to remake the defense.

That portion of the depth chart has already been tested some this season and will be tested even more in the coming weeks after another round of injuries in Sunday’s 39-36 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall suffered a concussion during safety T.J. Ward’s interception return in the fourth quarter and is now under the NFL’s concussion protocol. Marshall will be evaluated by both the Broncos' medical staff and an independent physician.

Marshall suffered the injury when he collided with Dolphins tight end Dion Sims during Ward’s return and was immediately taken to the Broncos' locker room following the play. At linebacker Nate Irving is already on injured reserve for the Broncos while Danny Trevathan is eligible to return to practice this week, but will not be eligible to play coming off injured reserve until the Broncos Dec. 14 game in San Diego.

That will put rookie Lamin Barrow, who played as the second linebacker alongside Marshall in the nickel, for much of Sunday’s game in line for more playing time. Rookie Corey Nelson could be worked into some of the specialty packages as well.

“Everybody has to get in there and be ready to play,’’ said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “We get all the troops in there.’’

The Broncos could also have some juggling to do in the secondary as cornerback Aqib Talib, who has never played in 16 games in any season of his career, left the game with a hamstring injury in the first quarter. He tried to return for a handful of plays, but did not play in the second half.

The player the Broncos put into some of the nickel and dimes looks after Talib suffered his injury, cornerback Kayvon Webster, suffered a right shoulder injury as well. Both Talib and Webster are expected to get MRI exams Monday, but Webster was wearing a sling on his right shoulder following the game.

“On this defense we play everybody even when everybody’s healthy,’’ defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “Guys get ready to play because they know we need everybody.’’
DENVER -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Denver Broncos' 39-36 win over the Miami Dolphins in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
    Talib
    Talib
  • Already hurting on defense with linebacker Nate Irving on injured reserve and Danny Trevathan out with a fractured leg, the Broncos had two starters and backup leave the game. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, the team's leading tackler, left in the fourth quarter with a concussion. Marshall is under the guidelines of the league's concussion protocol. Cornerback Aqib Talib left with a hamstring injury in the first half but returned for a handful of snaps before halftime. Talib did not play in the second half. He jogged into the locker room following the game but was receiving treatment later and will be evaluated further Monday. Cornerback Kayvon Webster was wearing a sling on his right shoulder following the game and will be evaluated, as well.
  • The Broncos rushed for a season-best 201 yards -- 139 had been the season-high before Sunday -- behind an offensive line that had spent the week answering its growing list of critics. So the group felt some satisfaction following the game. "But it's short-lived, we know that," guard Orlando Franklin said. "All you have to do is look at who we're playing, starting next week with the Chiefs, and they might have the best [defensive] front in the league."
  • On Broncos running back C.J. Anderson's 20-yard run to convert a fourth-and-2 on the last play of the third quarter, Anderson said quarterback Peyton Manning had audibled to a run, and that led to the Broncos scoring three plays later to close to within 28-25 with 14:09 left. But following the game, Manning said because the Broncos got to the line of scrimmage so quickly before the snap, the coach-to-quarterback communication system was still operating, and offensive coordinator Adam Gase had changed the play. "I might not have told C.J. that," Manning said.
  • Anderson's 167 yards were the best effort by a Broncos back since Knowshon Moreno had 224 yards Nov. 24, 2013, against the New England Patriots and the most by an undrafted player in team history. But Anderson had the chance to tack on a few more on his last carry Sunday when he broke free for 26 yards with plenty of real estate in front of him. But as the Dolphins defenders approached, Anderson fell down in bounds at the Miami 16-yard line to keep the clock moving. Manning took a knee on the next two plays to end the game. "In my head, I'm going, 'Go, go, go,' but in the back of my head I hear Coach E, my running backs coach, Coach [Eric] Studesville, saying, 'Fall down, get the win,' which is more important," Anderson said. "So I just fell down and we took a knee."
DENVER – After not practicing this week, Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas was one of the team’s game-day inactives Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Thomas
While Thomas, who did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, was dressed for practice Friday as he went through stretching with the team, the Broncos held him out of the workout. At the time, Broncos head coach John Fox said: “We could have said limited, but it was probably closer to did not participate."

Tight end Virgil Green, who had been limited in practice this past week with a calf injury, will be active for the Broncos.

Thomas suffered his injury in the first quarter of the Broncos’ 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The current injury is not to the ankle Thomas had surgically repaired before the 2012 season.

Thomas, after suffering an injury to his right ankle on his first NFL catch in his rookie season in 2011, had surgery on that ankle before the 2012 season when the ankle continued to give him problems.

Defensive tackle Marvin Austin Jr., who has been in uniform for the Broncos' previous 10 games, was inactive as Mitch Unrein was in the lineup, and tackle Chris Clark, who was moved out of the starting lineup Oct. 19 against the San Francisco 49ers, is also inactive for the first time this season.

The rest of the Broncos inactives were running back Montee Ball, cornerback Tony Carter, running back Ronnie Hillman and tackle Michael Schofield.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When they trimmed the roster to 53 players as the preseason drew to a close, the Denver Broncos understood there could very well be days like these because of it.

When the Broncos face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the three available running backs figure to be three undrafted players who have been in uniform for 24 games combined in their careers.

“I guess I didn’t really think about it until now," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase with a smile when asked about the prospect earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIn his second season, C.J. Anderson is suddenly the veteran running back on the Broncos roster.
Running back was already the youngest position group on the roster when the regular season began, as 23-year-old Ronnie Hillman was the most experienced running back, entering his third season. But with Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) now injured, the Broncos have second-year running back C.J. Anderson as their primary back, with rookie Juwan Thompson and third-year back Jeremy Stewart behind him on the depth chart.

Anderson and Thompson were undrafted rookies. Stewart was with the Raiders in the preseason and signed to Broncos' practice squad on Oct. 8.

“I think, during the course of preparation, when you have injuries, you have a pretty good idea some guys aren’t going to play," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You’re able to practice and prepare guys much better than, for instance, in a game when you have a tight end or a receiver go out, those guys are now playing with a whole lot of reps in preparation for that opponent. So those guys have practiced all week, got reps -- we have our test on Sunday."

The Broncos, from Fox to quarterback Peyton Manning to Gase, have all openly discussed the importance of running the ball with more consistency against the Dolphins on Sunday. The Broncos had just 10 rushing attempts, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, in the 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

Anderson had 163 total yards in the Broncos’ victory over the Oakland Raiders, a total that included a 51-yard catch-and-run reception when he made a one-handed catch and then broke several tackles for a game-changing score. Thompson has had 30 carries this season to go with three touchdowns.

Sunday figures to be the first game for Bibbs to be in uniform. He has been a gameday inactive for four games since being signed off the team’s practice squad on Oct. 20, but the Broncos like what he's done and Bibbs spent some time after Friday's practice talking to Manning.

“You feel good with C.J.," Gase said. “He’s shown the last couple of weeks what he can do and just him getting in the rotation has been eye-opening. We might have something good and you just don’t know because he hadn’t had an opportunity. He’s taken most of the opportunity he’s had and the rest of these guys it’s just going to be, ‘make sure I know who’s in the game and help them as much as possible,’ whether it be in the protection game or in the run game."

“All of the guys in the running back room are ready to play," Anderson said. “[Running backs coach Eric Studesville] gets us ready to play; he expects us to be ready."

For the most part, it isn’t carrying the ball in the Broncos offense that is the adjustment. It’s everything the backs have to do to earn the ability to carry the ball. It’s handling all of the audibles at the line of scrimmage in what is primarily a no-huddle offense and it’s getting it right in pass protection.

As Studesville has consistently said: “If you can’t do the right thing in pass protection, you can’t play … you don’t get to run the ball."

The Dolphins have an active defensive front – Miami is tied for fourth in the league with 30 sacks – and they blitz plenty to unsettle opposing quarterbacks.

“I would say the protections are a challenge, but at the end of the day, when they run the ball, it’s just natural instinct," Gase said. “So they just know once you give them the ball, they are just going to find the open hole and hit it. The good ones seem to develop quickly."

“Our job is to do the right thing when we’re in there," Anderson said. “We’re prepared to do that."

Dolphins vs. Broncos preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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video When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos (7-3) were poised to enter a stretch of three consecutive road games with their sights set squarely on the AFC’s No. 1 seed. After that road trip ended with a 1-2 record, including a surprising loss in St. Louis this past Sunday, the Broncos are now in a scrap just to win their division.

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) come to Denver having won four of their last five games. They have surrendered 56 points in those five games combined. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday’s game.

Legwold: James, Ryan Tannehill was a player the Broncos took a long look at leading up to the 2012 draft as they looked for a quarterback prospect to pair on the roster with Peyton Manning. What’s been the key for his improvement this year and how he’s handled things?

Walker: Tannehill is on pace for a career year. I’ve watched all 42 career starts, and this is the most decisive I’ve seen him with the football. His play speed is better and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a good job of accentuating what Tannehill does well and avoiding where he struggles. He’s posted four games with a triple-digit passer rating, including the most recent win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the Dolphins’ offense is getting away with a lot of short and intermediate passes, and I’m surprised defenses haven’t worked harder to take that away. The biggest issues with Tannehill are inconsistency and lack of a deep ball. These are areas that have haunted Tannehill for three seasons, and it doesn’t appear it will change anytime soon. Yet teams haven’t challenged Tannehill to consistently throw deep. I’m curious to see how Denver plays Tannehill.

The Broncos have lost two of three and both losses have come by a wide margin. What is the mood of the team heading into Sunday’s game?

Legwold: The mood from the Broncos players and coaches is, essentially, they got what they deserved in losses to the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 and to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday. They've owned up to it and unveiled the usual vows to repair the mistakes. But perhaps most troubling, for a team that has designs on a Super Bowl trip, is they didn’t have a response after some early trouble in either of those losses. They simply didn’t show the kind of bounce-back capability on the road that any team is going to need if they want to go deep into the postseason. The Patriots had a 24-point second quarter filled with Broncos mistakes and the Rams went up 10-0 in the first quarter. In both cases, the Broncos were wobbly and stayed wobbly. They know they didn’t execute on offense. They let pressure get to Manning, and defensively the Broncos had moments, but never really slammed the door to get the team back in the game. And now with the Kansas City Chiefs at 7-3 as well –- the Broncos have a Week 2 win in hand, but go to Kansas City Nov. 30 –- the Broncos know every week matters as they pursue their fourth consecutive division title.

Keeping with one of the Broncos’ trouble spots of late, defenses have tried to rattle Manning in the middle of the formation. How aggressively do you think the Dolphins will rush Manning, and what’s that mean for Cameron Wake?

Walker: The Dolphins are definitely bringing the pressure. They’ve done that against every quarterback they’ve faced, whether it’s an elite talent such as Aaron Rodgers or a developmental rookie such as Blake Bortles. Manning’s constant audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage could provide reason for Miami’s defense not to dial up as many blitzes. But the team knows the best way to win is to get hits, sacks and pressures on Manning. Several players I spoke to were impressed with the way the Rams defended the Broncos’ offense last week. St. Louis provided a nice blueprint, especially with its defensive line. This will be a big game for Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and others on the defensive line to win those one-on-one matchups.

Miami’s pass protection has been an issue lately. What are your thoughts on the Dolphins’ offensive line pass protecting against the Broncos’ front seven?

Legwold: The Broncos are at their best in the pass rush when they move into a six-defensive back look -- a dime package that really plays more like the average five defensive back (nickel) package when safety T.J. Ward moves down and plays at a linebacker spot. They have speed all over the formation, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware moving around some. As a result, Miller is tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Ware is tied for eighth with nine sacks. They use plenty of pre-snap movement, moving players toward and away from the line of scrimmage, to give the quarterback some indecisiveness, and it’s been a productive personnel grouping. However, some teams have found ways to convert some long third downs; the Chiefs converted seven third downs on third-and-8 or more, while the 49ers and Chargers each converted three times at third-and-6 or more and the Rams converted two third-and-10 situations this past Sunday. Tannehill can extend plays and that will be an issue for the Broncos to consider. But at home they play fast on defense as Ware and Miller have repeatedly caved in the edges of the pocket.

Overall, the Dolphins have had plenty of drama over the last year –- the Broncos had Richie Incognito in for a workout last week -– how has coach Joe Philbin done in the swirl?

Walker: This was a major storyline in the offseason and throughout training camp. But at this point in late November, more than a year since Jonathan Martin left the team and Incognito’s subsequent suspension, the Dolphins have moved on from the fiasco. Miami made the right call to remove both players from its locker room in the offseason. The team didn’t re-sign Incognito and traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers. That set the tone for a better locker room culture to develop. This year’s team is together, and I think winning six of 10 games has helped. In some ways, earning a playoff spot would validate the thought that they learned from the situation and became better for it.

Denver suffered a lot of injuries last week against the Rams. What’s the latest update on tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tailback Montee Ball?

Legwold: That’s been the dark cloud hanging over this team this past week. Sanders, who has been one of the best free-agent signings in the league, is the team’s second-leading receiver with 67 catches to go with 954 yards. He’s now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so the Broncos have to simply wait until he is cleared to return. Ball re-injured his right groin as he played just four snaps against the Rams, an injury that kept him out of the previous five games. He is expected to miss, at minimum, two to three weeks. And Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the Rams. While Thomas’ injury wasn't nearly as serious as the team initially feared at the stadium Sunday, he has had ankle troubles before in his career and will be watched closely. His impact in the offense is no small matter. Thomas played just 13 snaps against the Rams and he still leads the league in touchdown receptions with 12, or at least two more than any other player.

The Broncos don’t have a fullback on the roster, so they can’t simply go to a two-back look to cover for some injuries. Tight end Virgil Green and running back Ronnie Hillman were out last week and Hillman is expected to miss additional time. That means young players such as C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson have to be ready to be the guys at running back and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer should get some snaps in the offense as well.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Used to digging in and standing up to what’s in front of them, the Denver Broncos' beleaguered offensive line has now dug in to fend off a wave of critiques that has gotten bigger with each passing week.

While the group admits there’s work to be done, they aren’t necessarily putting a lot of stock in what’s being said outside the walls of the team’s complex.

“Definitely, it’s a work in progress," guard Manny Ramirez said. “I understand a lot of people are talking outside of here, but we can’t allow ourselves to worry about that type of stuff. We’ve just got to make sure we stick together and continue to put our heads down and continue to grind and be able to with whatever we’re given."

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Joe Amon/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has been under pressure the last three weeks, and the flow of the Denver offense has been disrupted.
In their recent three-game stretch, the Broncos have gone 1-2 and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown two interceptions in each of the last three games. And while Manning has been able to avoid sacks much of the time, the Patriots, Raiders and Rams were able to get pressure on Manning and affect his ability to step up in the pocket and into his throws.

The Broncos’ sack total is still the lowest in the league for quarterbacks who have started every game, but the increased pressure, especially in the middle of the formation, has resulted in batted passes, interceptions and some choppiness in the offense. The Broncos have also had 37 rushing attempts this season for either no gain or negative yardage.

“If we go, the team goes, we definitely need to improve," left tackle Ryan Clady said. “We had a bad week (against the Rams). I think we’ll get better and we’ll get it back on track."

The Broncos have made four changes in the offensive line in recent weeks, with Paul Cornick replacing Chris Clark at right tackle before being replaced two games ago. Louis Vasquez was then moved to right tackle, Ramirez to right guard, and Will Montgomery was put into the lineup at center.

Those three have played those spots for the last two games. Vasquez has also dealt with some back/neck issues while Clady has been slowed by a groin injury, impacting his ability to move in recent weeks. Clady said his surgically repaired foot -- he spent most of the 2013 season on injured reserve -- felt better this week than it has all season.

In search of a successful organization, the Broncos worked out Richie Incognito, a key figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal.

“We’ve just got to continue working hard at it," guard Orlando Franklin said. “Continue trying to create chemistry, because here’s the thing, you don’t just chemistry in two weeks in the offensive line. It’s not going to be like that ... we understand we do need to get better, we understand our team is relying on us, for us to get better and we will get better."

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Denver guard, blasted the Broncos' line play on a radio appearance in Denver this week, using words such as “horrendous" and “horrible" to describe what he had seen thus far.

Schlereth said “an F would be kind."

The Broncos linemen, who have seen Schlereth at the team’s complex from time to time, said they were trying to tune it all out.

“I care what my teammates think, each and every one of my teammates think," Franklin said. “...We’re going to care what our coaches think, what everybody in this organization thinks, but outside noise, we’re not going to be listening to that. If the Broncos were 16-0 there would still be issues, people are still going to critique our performance ... It’s the NFL, it’s the life that were living, it’s the business that we’re in."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Will they? Or won’t they?

When it comes to running the ball out of what has been the league’s most prolific passing offense over the past three seasons -- 122 touchdown passes for Peyton Manning in the past 42 regular-season games -- the Denver Broncos have often been, at least some of the time, about semantics.

Instead of raw data, yards per carry, rushing attempts per game, words like "efficiency" and "positive gains" have been sprinkled in and around the descriptions of what is hoped for when Manning hands the ball to a running back. But that was before the 22-9 loss in St. Louis when the Broncos ran the ball just 10 times and one of those "attempts" was a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDenver coach John Fox says the sight of Peyton Manning handing the ball to a running back needs to happen more often in coming weeks.
The fact it happened not only in a loss, but in a game the Broncos trailed by just nine points when the fourth quarter began, caused Broncos head coach John Fox to re-assess this week and say; "There’s no doubt to be the kind of team we want to be, we have to run the ball more. There’s a mindset, mentality, whether you’re on defense trying to stop the run and whether you’re on offense running the football ... Right now it’s something we have to do more, we have to execute better."

And that is the rub, because not only is running the ball more a commitment in play-calling, it is Manning who has the last word on any play before the snap. Manning, because of who he is, can check into, and out of, any play he wishes.

Sunday, in a game the Broncos trailed by six at halftime, and by nine at the end of the third quarter, the Broncos’ last 28 plays from scrimmage were called pass plays. C.J. Anderson had the last rushing attempt in the game for the Broncos, a 3-yard gain with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

"In my opinion we lost that game because I didn’t play well enough in the passing game," Manning said. "Did we throw it a lot? Yes, we did. There were plays to be made and I didn’t make them."

On what the proper balance between run and pass is in an offense built to be the best at throwing it around in unprecedented pass-happy times, Manning said it isn’t about percentages, but rather purpose.

"No matter how many times you run it or throw it, you have to produce when you do it," Manning said. "So, that’s what I’m disappointed about -- I didn’t execute the plays that were called, the way they were supposed to (be)."

But Manning also tossed out; "We might be an old-school running game this week, be alert for that."

Defenses have dropped plenty of players into coverage, with lighter personnel groupings on the field to chase around the Broncos receivers. That combination would seem to allow the Broncos to pound away if they chose.

But the Broncos have also had difficulty consistently winning the line of scrimmage. The Broncos, who are one of just seven teams in the league with fewer than 245 carries entering this week’s games, have had 37 runs go for no gain or negative yardage.

That is 15 percent of their rushing attempts that haven’t made it past the line of scrimmage.

The Dolphins are eighth in the league against the run -- 94.5 rushing yards allowed per game -- and seventh-best in the league, allowing just 3.83 yards per rushing attempt. Miami is also tied for third in sacks, and has seen the past three Broncos’ opponents affect Manning’s ability to deliver the ball when he wants. Opponents have been folding in the edges of the Broncos’ pass protection and pushing the middle to keep Manning from striding into his throws.

"I just know when they hand it to us as running backs, call our number, we want to make a play that helps us," said Anderson. "Any time they ask us to go, we need to go. I’m just concentrating on being ready to do my job as many times as they need me to do it."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders were on the practice field for the team Wednesday, but only as spectators.

Sanders
Thomas
Thomas, who suffered a sprained left ankle in Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams, and Sanders, who suffered a concussion, were among the Broncos players who did not take part in Wednesday’s practice. Thomas went through stretching with the team but did not take part in drills.

Thomas' current injury is not to the ankle that was surgically repaired in 2012 -- he had right ankle surgery in the months leading up to the 2012 season.

Sanders, dressed in sweats, came onto the field after practice had begun. Sanders is currently under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol and must clear certain benchmarks to return to practice. He has not yet cleared those benchmarks.

Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) also did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Ball and Hillman are not expected to practice this week or play in Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Hillman could miss several additional weeks and Ball is expected to miss at least two to three weeks in his recovery. That makes C.J. Anderson the primary back at this point, with Juwan Thompson working in the rotation as well.

Tight end Virgil Green, who has missed the last three games with a calf injury, did practice Wednesday on a limited basis, while left tackle Ryan Clady (groin) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were also limited.

Broncos need to run the ball

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:00
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ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold says the team must run and use play action to succeed on offense.

The Film Don't Lie: Broncos

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Denver Broncos must fix:

As is always the case, “defending" Peyton Manning is a relative thing. Manning finished Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams with 389 yards passing, his third-highest output of the season, but the Rams still felt good about their plan. They sacked Manning twice and knocked down 12 passes -- 22 percent of Manning’s attempts.

The Broncos worked out of a three-wide receiver look much of the time, as they often do and as the Rams expected. “Well, we knew for the most part, they were going to be in just the one personnel grouping," is how Rams coach Jeff Fisher put it. The Rams positioned themselves on defense to force the Broncos receivers to the outside as often as possible.

Others will try to follow suit in the coming weeks. The Broncos work plenty of option routes -- “two-way gos" as Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas often calls them -- in which, depending on the coverage, they see the receivers pick a break to the inside or outside.

The Rams tried as often as they could to give the Broncos receivers a coverage look that would make them cut to the outside. Those are throws defensive coaches believe Manning, in his post-surgical career with Broncos, doesn’t make with the accuracy he shows on throws in the middle of the field.

Combine that with the Rams' ability to create pressure in the middle of the formation and keep Manning from fully stepping up to drive the ball to the outside, and the Rams got the Broncos off track.

The Rams' strategy doesn’t work when defensive backs don’t play with discipline and doesn’t work if Manning has room to fully stride into the throw. The Rams played with discipline and didn't give Manning room, and the result was the Broncos' lowest point total since Manning signed with the team.

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