Friday, October 26, 2007

Week 8 prediction

Is Green Bay a better team than Denver? Sometimes that doesn’t matter as much as how teams match up.

Monday night’s matchup appears to favor the Broncos. Their biggest weakness, stopping the run, isn’t much of a factor. Unless Green Bay rookie DeShawn Wynn, who has 202 yards this season, has a breakout game, the Packers will still have to gain most of their yards through the air. One thing the Broncos have done pretty well this season is shut down quarterbacks. Denver hasn’t been as effective over the past six quarters against San Diego and Pittsburgh, but cornerback Champ Bailey was out of the lineup with a thigh injury. If Bailey returns – that’s not a given – the Broncos should be able to hold up well against Brett Favre and perhaps create a couple of turnovers.

If Bailey plays, the offense should be able to scratch out enough points against a tough Packers defense to win.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Packers 14

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Injury update

The Broncos are still waiting to see if running back Travis Henry will play this week. Henry didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday with injured ribs. After practice Thursday, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he hoped Henry could practice Friday, then play on Monday against Green Bay.

“Hopefully he’ll be ready to go,” Shanahan said.

The Broncos also are waiting on cornerback Champ Bailey, who was a limited participant in practice for the second straight day Thursday. Bailey, who missed last week’s game, has a thigh injury.

Receiver Rod Smith practiced for the second straight day, and Shanahan said he has looked good in practice. Smith, who had hip surgery in February, practiced for the first time all year Wednesday. Still, Smith will need some time before he is ready to play.

“That’s going to take some time,” Shanahan said. “You just don’t come back from that injury without practicing or trying to get in football shape in a couple days. But if he keeps on pressing like he’s doing, hopefully in three weeks he’ll be ready to go.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Scouting the Packers

After the fact, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson can say he saw it coming.

Not many others thought Green Bay would have one of the best records in the NFL after six games. But the Packers took the momentum from a four-game winning streak to finish last season and have started 5-1.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Woodson said. “I knew we had it in us.”

The Packers have defeated some good teams, including San Diego and the New York Giants on the road. Offensively, Green Bay has turned to its 38-year-old quarterback Brett Favre to carry the load, mostly because the running game has been ineffective. Favre has thrown 247 passes, and the Packers have 121 rushing attempts.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers haven’t been good fundamentally in the running game, and injuries to running backs and the offensive line have hurt continuity.

“It’s something we’re spending extra time at and we look for it to improve as we move on through the season,” McCarthy said.

Green Bay’s defense is the main reason the team is in first place in the NFC North. The Packers have two top-notch cornerbacks in Woodson and Al Harris, two former first-round picks at linebacker in A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, and a collection of defensive linemen who can rush the quarterback.

“Their defensive line is exceptional,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Week 7 prediction

Even if the Broncos were at full strength, they would have a tough matchup this week against Pittsburgh. And Denver isn’t full strength.

Center Tom Nalen and receiver Javon Walker are definitely out. Cornerback Champ Bailey practiced only once in the past two weeks with a thigh injury. Meanwhile, the Steelers must be excited to run the ball against Denver’s 32nd-ranked rush defense. Willie Parker is averaging more than 100 yards a game and should get enough carries to get 100 this week.

Offensively, the Steelers don’t have a glaring weakness. Their passing defense is better than the past few years and the run defense is strong, as usual. If the Broncos can’t run the ball that will make things especially tough for quarterback Jay Cutler, who won’t have Walker to throw to.

If the Broncos win, they could start to turn around their season. But against a Pittsburgh team that has few weaknesses and matches up well against Denver, it’s tough to envision that happening.

Pittsburgh 28, Denver 20

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Scouting the Steelers

Some things in Pittsburgh have changed. They spread the field more on offense, the defense moves around before the snap on some plays. But the Steelers, under new coach Mike Tomlin, are still winning with the same basic tenets.

They run the ball very well. They are tough and physical on defense. And, after last year’s post Super Bowl hangover, they’re back among the top teams in the NFL at 4-1.

“We don’t care who gets the credit, we’re just trying to win,” Tomlin said.

Willie Parker has been very good at running back for Pittsburgh this season, with more than 100 yards per game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s improvement is a big key for the Steelers. His first two years he was mostly a caretaker for the offense. Last year, when he was battling injuries and the Steelers were struggling, he threw a lot more and had 23 interceptions. This year he’s still throwing a lot and has nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He overcame adversity, that’s one thing he’s done,” Parker said. “He’s playing at a high level.”

Defensively, the Steelers play the same 3-4 defense they’ve used for many years, with three linemen and four linebackers. They rank in the top five in rush defense and pass defense and are first in the NFL in total defense by more than 20 yards per game.

“They’re playing hard and playing fast and playing together,” Tomlin said of his defense.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nalen's injury hurts

Since Mike Shanahan took over as Denver Broncos coach in 1995, either Tom Nalen or Ben Hamilton have started 196 of 197 regular-season games. Nalen and Hamilton, who started nine games at center in 2002 when Nalen was hurt, are both done for the rest of the season, which will affect the entire Broncos offense. Nalen has a torn biceps muscle, and Hamilton is on injured reserve with post-concussion symptoms.

The center position is one of the most important on offense. The center calls out the signals for the rest of the line, something Nalen could do easily after 194 career games. Of the three linemen in the organization who have some experience at center, none of them have played a down at the position in the NFL. Chris Myers is the likely replacement, and the last time he played center was in college. Even then, he split time between center, guard and tackle. Greg Eslinger and Mark Fenton were good college centers, but it’s asking a lot to promote them from the practice squad to the starting lineup. Denver could sign someone, but the available crop is thin five games into the season. And a veteran without knowledge of the Broncos’ zone blocking scheme would need some time to learn.

The change will affect everyone. Shanahan said whoever replaces Nalen will have to spend extra time with quarterback Jay Cutler. Last year, Cutler and Nalen hadn’t worked much together before Jake Plummer was benched, and there were numerous quarterback-center exchange problems in Cutler’s first few games. That could be an issue in the Broncos’ next few games as Cutler gets used to a new center.

And the Broncos’ running game will be affected. Nalen coordinated the calls and executed them well, and Shanahan called him the greatest center to play the game. Nalen doesn’t talk much to the media and hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because he’s a lineman, but his absence will have a huge impact on the rest of the Broncos’ season.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Week 5 prediction

If the Denver Broncos win this week, it would be a pretty satisfying victory, one that could catapult them into the last two-and-a-half months of the season. Key players are hurting, the team has been getting ripped after two straight losses, and star running back Travis Henry is reportedly in a court battle that could end in him being suspended for a year over a positive drug test.

Will the Broncos pull it together to win? Stopping LaDainian Tomlinson this week seems to be tough to imagine unless there are major improvements in the run defense, which hasn’t been good all season. San Diego is a talented team, capable of breaking out despite a 1-3 record. The Chargers have the same sense of urgency this week as the Broncos, maybe more.

Denver has to get in the end zone a few times, maybe create some turnovers and at least slow down Tomlinson for a chance to win. But this seems like a week that the Chargers finally get back on track.

Prediction: Chargers 28, Broncos 24