AFC West: Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said he remembers every part of the hit that resulted in his concussion in last Sunday’s Broncos win over the Miami Dolphins.

And that means everything, even the parts that cause him to smile now.

Marshall
“I knew I was going to be OK after the game. I was able to drive," Marshall said after Friday’s practice “ … I didn’t have any headaches, everything was good. I just had to go through the protocol.’"

Marshall, who is the Broncos’ leading tackler, suffered a concussion on a fourth-quarter interception return by Denver safety T.J. Ward. After Ward grabbed the deflected pass, Marshall went to block Dolphins tight end Dion Sims, who is 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds.

“I tried to block No. 80; I hit him with the side of my helmet," Marshall said. “ … I remember everything, I was just dizzy. I couldn’t stand up, I tried to run and fell – twice. He’s like 270; I didn’t know he was that big. Damn, because it didn’t look like it fazed him at all. I tried to hit him and he just shrugged it off. I’m like, ‘Damn.’ I knew he was big, I didn’t know he was solid like that. It didn’t faze him, which was disappointing to me."

Marshall was cleared to begin light exercise before the team’s Thanksgiving practice and was then evaluated again following that workout by the independent physician – per the league’s concussion protocol – and cleared to return to full participation. As a result, Marshall took part fully in Friday’s workout and said following practice he expects to take his “normal" workload in Sunday night's game in Kansas City.

Marshall has played on 95.5 percent of the defense’s snaps this season since entering the lineup at weakside linebacker in training camp for the injured Danny Trevathan.

“We’ll take every healthy guy we can," said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “Brandon has stepped in for Danny and done a nice job for us. We’re preparing the other guys in case we have another pop up right in the middle of the game. So you continue to work your backup guys, but him getting cleared is a good sign for us."

Trevathan, who has suffered two separate fractures in his lower left leg this season, has been on injured reserve-designated to return. Trevathan began to practice this week and will be eligible to be moved back on to the active roster before the Dec. 14 game against the San Diego Chargers.

“It’s going to be great when we get Danny back," Marshall said. “It’s going to open some things up for us. Almost our whole corps of linebackers will be back … somebody going to have to split time, me or somebody else. I’m just happy because we have one goal this year."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With a rather substantial list of defensive backs dotting the team’s injury report the Denver Broncos may have to adjust some things in Sunday night’s AFC West showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Following Friday's practice Broncos head coach John Fox said cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) is out for the game while cornerback Aqib Talib (left hamstring) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) are questionable. Webster did not take part in Friday’s practice while Talib and Carter were both limited in the workout.

Talib did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. If Talib and Carter are limited or don’t play, the Broncos will look to Omar Bolden, who has played both safety and cornerback, as well as cornerback Tony Carter.

The question on Talib will be whether or not the Broncos feel like he can make it through the game if they put him in uniform Sunday night. In the win against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, Talib left the game in the first quarter. He tried to return later in the first half, but didn’t play in the second half and the Broncos had made Carter a game-day inactive.

“We’ll decide how exactly it’s going to play out,’’ said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “We’ll just let it unfold. We prepare all our guys.’’

Also Friday, tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part on a limited basis for the second consecutive day. Fox said following the practice that Thomas looked “much better’’ Friday than he did last Friday.

Thomas did not play last week. The Broncos hope Thomas will improve before it leaves for Kansas City.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ win over the Dolphins last Sunday, was cleared by an independent physician as well as the Broncos’ medical staff to return to practice Friday.

Marshall, who plays in all of the team’s personnel groupings on defense, said he expects to play Sunday night in Arrowhead Stadium and take his “normal’’ number of snaps.

“Big game, everybody wants to win this game, this is the biggest game of our season so far,’’ Marshall said. “I’m just glad the concussion wasn’t too bad. I’ve been studying all week even thought I haven’t been practicing, but I’ve been paying attention. I’m just glad to be back out there.’’

As expected, Fox formally ruled out running backs Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot) for Sunday’s game.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith (ankle) participated fully in Friday’s practice and is expected to play.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs would love to run, say, 29 more plays than the Denver Broncos in Sunday night’s game between the teams at Arrowhead Stadium. They would love to have the ball for more than 36 minutes, leaving less than 24 minutes for Peyton Manning and the high-scoring Denver offense.

They would be thrilled to convert on 69 percent of their third-down plays while holding Manning and the Broncos to a 38-percent conversion rate. They would be happy if they committed four fewer penalties than the Broncos do.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
AP Photo/Jack DempseyAlex Smith and the Chiefs offense controlled the first meeting against the Broncos, but Denver still prevailed.
They would think that if all of the above happens, the Chiefs would beat the Broncos for the first time since Denver's quarterback was Tim Tebow.

But the Chiefs had all of those advantages in their Sept. 14 game against the Broncos – and they still lost. They executed their game plan extremely well, except Denver still outscored them 24-17.

“We had a lot of things happen in that game that went really well,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “The offense kept the ball, did a great job. I thought we settled down after the one big play.’’

Manning threw a 48-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the game’s first play from scrimmage to set up the Broncos’ first touchdown. The Chiefs went on a 19-play drive that chewed 10 minutes off the clock to start the second half, but didn’t score when Cairo Santos missed a field-goal attempt.

Finally, the Chiefs, who have been a strong red-zone team most of the season, couldn’t score the touchdown that would have tied the game or given them an opportunity to win despite having four plays from inside the Denver 10 in the final moments.

The conventional wisdom about how to beat Manning and the Broncos no doubt helped the Chiefs stay in that game more than two months ago. But even if they manage that again, the Chiefs will need to make a play at the right time in order to win.

Chiefs vs. Broncos preview

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
8:00
AM ET
video When: 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City TV: NBC

The matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) and Denver Broncos (8-3) lost some of its shine last Thursday, when the Chiefs lost against the previously winless Oakland Raiders. Still, there's much riding on Sunday night's game for both teams.

With a victory, the Chiefs would pull back into a tie for first place in the AFC West with the Broncos and perhaps the San Diego Chargers, depending on the outcome of their game against the Baltimore Ravens. A loss would end the Chiefs' realistic hopes of winning the division title and relegate them to chasing a wild-card berth.

Denver, with a win, would banish a rival from the division race and remain at least a game ahead of the Chargers.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold preview Sunday night's game.

Teicher: C.J. Anderson had a big game against the Dolphins last week, rushing for 167 yards. Is he a better alternative as the featured back for the Broncos than Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman? How has he energized Denver’s running game?

Legwold: The Broncos have learned a painful lesson in their three losses this season, especially the one in St. Louis two weeks ago when they ran the ball 10 times. The simple fact is Peyton Manning can make can’t-run, can’t-block games work because of his ability to deliver the ball quickly after the snap. But he is at his best when the Broncos have some kind of run game and the Broncos can also keep the area in front of him in the pocket clean because defenses can’t simply just overload the A-gaps and come after him. Anderson was a huge part of that against the Dolphins, who came in among the league’s most blitz-happy teams but couldn’t turn it loose because of the run game. Anderson is the guy right now as neither Ball nor Hillman will play against the Chiefs because of injuries. And Anderson has done well enough in pass protection -- Job 1 for Broncos running backs -- to go with what he’s done on the ground, to have earned top billing when the other guys come back. The Broncos will use a rotation when everybody’s healthy. They believe Hillman’s speed is an enormous threat in the passing game -- but Anderson has seized the opportunity, and unless his play drops off, they’ll keep handing him the ball.

Jamaal Charles had just two carries in the Week 2 meeting with the Broncos, and the Chiefs still found a way to grind out 133 yards rushing in the 24-17 Broncos win. How has Charles fit in the offense since? And do you think Andy Reid sees him as a 20-carry-a-game runner?

Teicher: The Chiefs have tried to wean themselves away from so much reliance on Charles, but are back to facing the fact he’s their best offensive player. You’ll remember he left that earlier Broncos game with a foot injury and also didn’t play in the next week’s game at Miami. But since then, he’s been as effective as he’s ever been in running the ball. His production as a receiver is way down. The Chiefs have been unable to get their screen game going with any consistency. Even last year, the Chiefs seemed to operate with a pitch count on Charles. They’ll blow through that if they believe that’s what they have to do to win a game. But his backup, Knile Davis, isn’t Charles' equal as a runner, pass-blocker or receiver.

Manning also had a big game against Miami and ended a streak of three straight games in which he had thrown two interceptions. Was this just a case of Manning being human or had opponents maybe started to figure out Denver’s passing game?

Legwold: New England, Oakland and St. Louis were all able to create pressure in the middle of the field -- the Raiders, for a half anyway -- and keep Manning from striding into throws. That meant Manning couldn’t really drive the ball wide, out past the numbers, and that limited his options. Manning did throw for 438, 340 and 389 yards in those games, so "handling" Manning is always relative. The Patriots and Rams were also particularly physical with the Broncos' receivers, jostling them at every opportunity before the catch and tackling well after the catch, limiting the Broncos’ catch-and-run plays. Overall, the biggest difference between what the Broncos do with Manning and what Manning did with the Colts for so many years is the Broncos move receivers all over the formation, whereas the Colts usually lined up players in the same spots. It makes it difficult to get a bead on the matchups for the defense -- the Dolphins had trouble when the Broncos put a tight end out wide and put Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders or both in the slot. Miami then usually had a defensive back on a tight end out wide and linebackers trying to cover receivers in the middle of the field, which is exactly what the Broncos wanted. So, in the end, it comes down to not just pressure off the edge, because Manning identifies that quickly, but pressure in the middle of the field.

The Broncos, because of injuries at linebacker, have used more specialty packages on defense of late, especially against the Dolphins. How would you expect the Chiefs to attack the defense? And despite few teams having anything consistent in the run game against the Broncos, do you think the Chiefs will pound away a bit?

Teicher: I would think that plays into the Chiefs’ favor if the Broncos use extra defensive backs against regular Chiefs personnel. It’s unusual to see Andy Reid’s teams pound away with the running game, but the Chiefs did it a couple of weeks ago against Seattle. They rushed 30 times for 190 yards that day and quarterback Alex Smith attempted just 16 passes. I wouldn’t expect numbers like that from Smith and the Chiefs on Sunday night, but Charles is their best player and the Chiefs need to establish the run, if only to keep Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware honest.

The Patriots are a popular pick to represent the AFC in this season's Super Bowl, but I’m sticking with the Broncos, my preseason pick. Success in the playoffs usually depends on the matchups, but do you like the Broncos’ ability to get back to the Super Bowl again this season, keeping in mind they may have to play the conference championship game in New England?

Legwold: Top to bottom, despite the team’s warts at times this season, it is still a better overall group than last year’s team that advanced to the Super Bowl. That said, this year’s version hasn’t always played with the close-the-deal efficiency last year’s team did. And two spots where the Broncos largely stood pat in the offseason -- offensive line and the return game -- have been significant issues, especially the offensive front. The offensive line has been a riddle for much of the season -- the Dolphins win is the exception at this point. It's a group that is largely the same as last season with Ryan Clady back at left tackle after he missed all but two games in 2013, and the line has not played nearly as well as it did last season. The Broncos have already made four changes up front, including two at right tackle, as they look for a way to kick-start a group that has played on its heels for much of the season. It’s a foundation position, and unless the Broncos' play looks more like it did this past Sunday, those troubles would be big enough to keep them out of the title game.

Was the Raiders loss indicative of some issues as far as the Chiefs’ postseason profile, or are they closer to the team that won five in a row? Do you think they have the chops to win on the road in New England or Denver in the postseason?

Teicher: The Chiefs have some flaws that will make things difficult against high-scoring teams such as the Patriots or Broncos, no matter where the games are played. They get very few big plays on offense, so their margin for error is very slim. Believe it or not, the Chiefs’ longest pass play of the season is just 34 yards. It seems like Manning and the Broncos get one of those a quarter. The Chiefs have also forced just nine turnovers and they’re not getting as many long kick returns as they did last season, so they’re not providing short fields for the offense. As a result, the Chiefs have to be remarkably efficient. They have to be good on third down, which they were until they got to Oakland, where they were just 2-for-14 on third down. That helps explain why they lost.
video

Julius Thomas returns to practice

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
4:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who suffered a left ankle sprain in the Broncos' Nov 16 loss in St. Louis, took part in the team’s Thanksgiving Day practice on a limited basis.

Thomas
Thomas, who played just 13 snaps against the Rams and was then held out of the Broncos' win against the Dolphins this past weekend, was receiving treatment following the practice, but it was the most activity he has had on the practice field since the injury. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of this past Sunday’s victory against the Miami Dolphins, did not take part in practice, but was cleared in the concussion protocol to begin some light exercise.

So, Marshall stretched with the team and took part in some individual dills during warm-ups. Marshall is the team’s leading tackler and has played 95.5 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season.

Asked if Marshall and Thomas had made enough progress to be on track to play Sunday night in Kansas City, Broncos head coach John Fox said; "I don’t like trying to predict the future, we’ll see where they are (Friday)."

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hamstring) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) did not participate in practice. Talib did work with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches during practice.

Running backs Montee Ball (right groin) and Ronnie Hillman (left foot) continue to be held out of practice. Hillman, who was wearing a walking boot on his injured foot last week, was not using one Thursday. The Broncos continue to hope Ball can return to the practice field within the next two weeks.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith (ankle) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were limited in both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice. Both are expected to be available to play Sunday.

Thursday also marked a year to the day when Fox visited the team’s complex for the first time following his heart valve replacement surgery last season. Fox missed four games, and last Thanksgiving was the first time he spoke to the team in person following his return to Denver from Charlotte, North Carolina, where the surgery had been performed.

"It is amazing what a year brings and how thankful you need to be," Fox said. " ... It brings you back to earth for sure."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – With Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 4 ranked rushing attack waiting in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, the Denver Broncos’ injury issues on defense will require some attention.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler and has played 95.5 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season, did not practice Wednesday as he goes through the NFL’s concussion protocol. Marshall plays in every defensive personnel grouping, so his absence would require the Broncos to use multiple players to replace him.

Rookies Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson would be in that mix as will Steven Johnson, who is already filling in at middle linebacker in the base defense for Nate Irving, who is on injured reserve. Todd Davis, a linebacker the Broncos claimed off waivers just before they played in St. Louis, even worked some on defense in Wednesday's practice.

Fox
Fox
“We’ve got a long list,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “We’ve got some young guys … We’ll lean on Corey Nelson, Lamin Barrow, Steven Johnson. We got Todd Davis out there [Wednesday] a guy we acquired last week … He got a pretty good look. It will be from that crew.’’

Cornerback Aqib Talib (left hamstring) also did not practice Wednesday, and cornerback Kayvon Webster, who plays in some of the team’s specialty packages, did not practice because of a right shoulder injury. Talib was on the field during practice, dressed in sweats, but Marshall and Webster were not.

Also Wednesday, tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) was once again dressed for practice, as he did last week, but did not participate. Thomas did do some work with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches off to the side.

Thomas dressed for practice each day last week, but did not practice and was a gameday inactive for the Broncos’ 39-36 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) did not practice last week and were not on the field Wednesday. Hillman, who has been wearing a walking boot on his left foot, is expected to miss several weeks. The Broncos continue to hope Ball can return to the practice field within the next two weeks.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith (ankle) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were limited in Wednesday’s practice. Both are expected to play Sunday.

Safety David Bruton, who had X-rays for a finger injury following Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, took part fully in practice.

Broncos benefit from finding undrafted gems

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:00
AM ET
video
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
1:00
PM ET
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).
video
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.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Anderson
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."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD