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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
When Peyton and Eli Manning led their teams into duels in 2006 and 2010, there was a moment -- brief, lasting as long as the national anthem -- when they pondered the fact that they, as brothers from the same house, were now set to battle as NFL quarterbacks.
Even with a father who spent most of his 14 NFL seasons as a starter, the notion of two members of the same family playing quarterback -- and being among the league's best -- was statistically absurd.
"The past two times we have, for whatever reason lined up across from each other during the national anthem. So you do take a moment to realize that it is your brother over there that is a quarterback for the New York Giants in the NFL and it is the same person that you grew up with," said Peyton Manning. "So it is unique and I think you do take a moment to realize that it is special.
Eli Manning agreed.
"When I look back on the times that we played against each other, I think you remember the national anthems and looking over and nodding at your big brother, talking to him before the game for a little bit, the handshake after the game," he said. "Those things are special moments."
But in between the anthem and the handshake is the game, and that's where the focus changes from brotherly love to deciphering the opposing defense. In the previous two games, Peyton's side -- then the Indianapolis Colts -- won both, 26-21 in 2006 and 38-14 four years later.
Peyton Manning's success against the Giants -- and his thoughts on the pass rushers that will try and disrupt him -- was a subject that was barely touched by media.
"I did the New York conference call and there was not one question about the Giants defense. I had to force it in there myself," he said. "That's where our focus is."
That's also where the challenge lies for the Broncos. Manning was sacked twice last week, as left tackle Ryan Clady and tight end Julius Thomas each surrendered sacks. Neither ended up costing the Broncos much in the scheme of the game, but with Thomas still developing his blocking skills, Clady recovering from rotator-cuff surgery, center Manny Ramirez having just one regular-season start at the position and rookie Montee Ball seeing work picking up blitzes, much of Manning's protection is in the hands of players with inexperience or temporary injury concerns that the Giants might exploit, which could force an increased reliance on short passes to Wes Welker.
"You can't go to sleep in protection," said Thomas. "It's something that we take very seriously - protecting our quarterback. We're going to do everything we can to slow those guys down a little bit."
But no matter whether the topic is pass rushers or sibling rivalry, Peyton Manning is unchanged.
"Same guy," said wide receiver Eric Decker. "I think for him, it doesn't matter if it's Week 2, if it's the Super Bowl, if it's his brother if it's not his brother -- every game is the biggest game."
And the quarterback's business-as-usual attitude has filtered down to his teammates.
"I could (not) care less, honestly," said running back Ronnie Hillman. "All I care about is Manning right now, how he does. It's a great story but right now we've just got to focus on actually winning the game, not the hype of it."
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5. Broncos have lost three straight on the road to the Giants and haven't beaten them in New Jersey since 1980. The most historic meeting between these two teams was in Super Bowl XXI, when the Giants routed the Broncos 39-20, powered by Phil Simms' playoff-record completion percentage (88.0 pct.).
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--One game as the starting center was enough for Manny Ramirez to earn a two-year contract extension. That's how it appeared on the surface, but Ramirez's new contract is as much a function of his work as a swing backup and 11 starts at right guard last year as his move to center this year.
But such faith in Ramirez at center didn't always seem guaranteed -- particularly during the summer. When the Broncos learned that J.D. Walton would be out until at least October following a second ankle surgery, they signed Dan Koppen, who started for them last year. When Koppen tore an ACL in training camp, they made a procession of moves. They signed ex-Colt and Chief Ryan Lilja and ex-Seahawk and Jaguar Steve Vallos; they traded for John Moffitt from the Seahawks; they had Chris Kuper take a few snaps in practice.
But all were backup options, head coach John Fox maintained.
"Most positions you have backups and you need quality backups in case somebody does get injured or misses some time," Fox said. "Much like (when) Dan Koppen was signed last year, it was not an indictment on J.D. Walton. I think you need that."
One factor in Ramirez's favor was the experience he gained in the offseason, working at center while Walton convalesced following ankle surgery. That forced Ramirez onto the first team, which gave him a chance to work extensively with guards Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez, and got them on the same page in regards to their pre-snap communication.
"The more reps I do, the better and more comfortable I feel," Ramirez said. "We're real big on communicating so we're always on the same page. If I don't see something and they do, we communicate it across the line, we get on the same page as fast as we can and we get the ball going."
-- The Broncos' second preseason game this year was a total mess: a 40-10 loss at Seattle in which Denver conceded touchdowns of more than 100 yards apiece via kickoff and fumble returns.
But the game did have a benefit: it forced the offense to work on functioning in raucous, noisy conditions like it will face on the road in the regular season.
"When we saw that on the schedule we thought, 'This is perfect,' because we knew it was going to be a hostile environment," said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "Everyone says it's a preseason game, but that was big for us because we had a full half to go through all of our mechanics."
It's not quite the same as what the Broncos will face against the Giants, but the CenturyLink Field crowd was in regular-season form, and the Broncos seemed a bit discombobulated that night. They chalked it up to a learning experience, something they didn't have before playing at Atlanta in Week 2 of last year's regular season; as a result, the Falcons jumped to a 20-0 lead after intercepting Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter.
"I know last year we didn't really get that good road test during the preseason and whether or not that played a role in how we played in our first road game last year -- who knows?" Manning said. "But Seattle was a good test for the road. Now, this is the regular season. This is a four-quarter game, not a half. So, hopefully that will pay some dividends. We'll work the crowd noise all week. We know the crowd will be into it. It's a loud, tough place to play. Communication will be very critical this week."
It was loud and it was hard to communicate sometimes but our guys handled it well. We just turned the ball over and that's what we need to avoid. You have to avoid anything bad happening. You want to try to stay as calm and as cool as possible."
--Von Miller just can't stay out of trouble.
The latest incident involving the suspended star linebacker took place last week, when he was pulled over for speeding and subsequently arrested for driving with a suspended license.
"Obviously, it's something that we're not happy about," said Broncos coach John Fox. "Everybody here has an individual responsibility -- not only to themselves, but this organization as well as to this football team.
"So obviously it's something we're not pleased about. I'll leave it at that."
Miller is serving a six-game substance abuse suspension, but has also been plagued by issues involving general life management. He failed to appear in court for a prior traffic violation and was subsequently arrested at a local gun club when a background check revealed his failure to appear in traffic court last Dec. 31.
Defensive captain and fellow linebacker Wesley Woodyard said he spoke to Miller after his latest arrest.
"He's like my little brother, so I'm always going to be tough on him," Woodyard said. "If it's something good, something bad, I'm always going to tell him the right thing."
Miller was not booked at a local jail for this latest arrest; he was released, since his father was a passenger in the car and had a valid license.
--Lost amid the Broncos' offensive downpour in a 49-27 thrashing of the Ravens on Sept. 5 was the scattershot performance of wide receiver Eric Decker, who dropped a pair of passes, including a potential touchdown, and finished with just two receptions for 32 yards.
The drops rankled Decker.
In the moment, it's kind of, 'Oh, crap. Why did that happen?' And then you've got to flush it quickly because when you play 70-plus plays a game, you've got to play them one at a time," he said.
It seemed likely that Decker would lose at least a handful of opportunities over the course of the season with Welker around to push for his typical 100-catch season working from the slot. That was exacerbated by the emergence of Julius Thomas, who provided a downfield threat from tight end that the Broncos didn't have in 2012 with Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
But Manning reiterated his faith in Decker, who led the Broncos in touchdowns last season.
"You will see me throwing the ball at Eric as many times this Sunday as I did Thursday (against Baltimore)," said Manning, who threw seven passes in Decker's direction.
Manning's words put Decker at ease.
"For me, it's a big self-confidence booster, knowing that a guy like him -- your quarterback -- has that trust in you and knows that you have that ability. It makes me want to work that much harder and make sure that I show up and prove that."
--The Broncos' running-back-by-committee arrangement began with Knowshon Moreno leading off against the Ravens, followed by Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. None had more than nine carries or 28 yards against the Ravens, and none got into anything approaching a rhythm.
"It's little bit harder because you get in there, you get three plays, they take you out, and you go back in," said Hillman. "It's harder to get into a rhythm but at the end of the day, it kind of helps the running backs staying healthy for the remainder of the season, especially when you're in an up-tempo offense like this."
After frequently seeing more than 30 carries a game at Wisconsin last year, a game with just eight touches is something foreign to Ball.
"At first, it was tough," Ball said. "But now, understanding the situation, you've got to be able to adapt in this league. You've got to be able to adapt quickly. I think that's what I've done. Whenever I get it and get it running, just like last week, I'm trying to do the most with the football."
No running back knows exactly when his turn will arise, Hillman noted.
"They (the coaches) just feel it," he said. "You really don't know exactly when you're going in," he said. "You just know that when they call you, you've got to have your helmet snapped."
BY THE NUMBERS: 169 - Number of regular-season games the Broncos had played since a tight end had as many receiving yards as Julius Thomas did in their Week 1 win over Baltimore. Thomas caught five passes for 110 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't have a benchmark for statistics each week. We know that everybody is going to have their day. When you have a lot of talent around you, somebody is going to rise to the top that day." -- TE Julius Thomas, on the notion that Broncos targets will have to share the load and that at least one won't have a big day in a given game.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--LB Wesley Woodyard returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's work with an ankle injury. He said it would not keep him from playing against the Giants on Sept. 15 and he was listed as probable Friday.
--WR Wes Welker was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday because of an ankle injury. Welker hurt his ankle in a preseason loss to Seattle on Aug. 17 and didn't play the rest of the preseason, but returned against Baltimore and scored twice. He was listed as probable on Friday's injury report.
--WE Eric Decker was limited because of a shoulder injury during Wednesday's practice, but was upgraded to full practice Thursday and is expected to play against the Giants. He was listed as probable Friday.
--S Omar Bolden injured his shoulder against the Ravens, but it is not considered serious and he has not missed a practice since being hurt.
--CB Champ Bailey was officially ruled out of the Giants game Friday. Bailey sprained his foot at Seattle on Aug. 17 and wore a walking boot for nearly two weeks after suffering the injury. He missed the Week 1 win over the Ravens.
"He's on schedule," said coach John Fox. "He's making great progress. He's being watched over by our medical staff and he's getting closer."
--TE Joel Dreessen has not practiced since undergoing knee surgery last month. He spent Thursday's practice working out with a team trainer and has been ruled out of Sunday's game.
--G Chris Kuper continues to practice on a limited basis, but isn't likely to play Sunday. Kuper's work has been limited because he is still not back to full strength after multiple ankle surgeries. Kuper is officially listed as questionable.
--RB C.J. Anderson practiced this week on a limited basis for the first time since spraining his MCL during training-camp practice on Aug. 15.
--WR Demaryius Thomas has more receiving yardage since Week 13 of the 2011 season than anyone but Detroit's Calvin Johnson. In the 22 games Thomas has played in that span, he's caught 124 passes for 2,043 yards and 15 touchdowns.
--S Duke Ihenacho led the Broncos in tackles in Week 1 in making his regular-season debut. Ihenacho was one of the Broncos' best run defenders against the Ravens, frequently reading carries and accelerating to the line of scrimmage.
--DE Shaun Phillips had 2.5 sacks in his Broncos debut. Phillips worked as a pass-rushing defensive end against the Ravens, but also saw some work rushing the passer out of a stand-up position.
--CB Chris Harris could start at left cornerback once again if Champ Bailey sits out a second consecutive game. Harris is expected to go one-on-one against Victor Cruz in Week 2.
GAME PLAN: The Broncos can't count on the Giants being as generous this Sunday as they were last week against the Cowboys; based on statistics since 2000, there's a 1.22 percent chance of New York repeating its six-turnover, gaffe-prone performance. But if the Broncos can successfully make the Giants one-dimensional, as they did Baltimore last week, they can concentrate on using creative blitzes to mount pressure on Eli Manning like they did Joe Flacco. The responsibility for creating this scenario rests as much on the offense as the Denver defense; if Peyton Manning and the offense are as efficient and effective as they were last week, they'll force the Giants into pass-intensive mode. Although the Giants are blessed with three reliable downfield targets, removing the run from the equation could free the Broncos up for extra pressure on Eli Manning and takeaways could be the result.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Broncos CB Chris Harris vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz. The offseason acquisition of Wes Welker has turned Harris' practices into stern examinations more difficult than what he faces in games. Harris should be hardened for the challenge that Cruz provides, but he's also a different type of slot receiver than Welker; he runs different routes and gets more yardage prior to the catch than Welker -- 30.2 percent compared to Welker's 51.8 last year.
Broncos OTs Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin and TE Julius Thomas vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. Clady missed all of the offseason and most of training camp following rotator cuff surgery, and while he had moments of dominance against the Ravens, he also surrendered a sack to Terrell Suggs late in the second quarter. Thomas handled some one-on-one work against Suggs and Elvis Dumervil in Week 1, but he also allowed a sack to Dumervil early in the third quarter. The Giants' best hope for defusing the Broncos is to pressure Manning; with Clady still healing and Thomas still learning the nuances of pass protection, this could be a soft spot they attempt to exploit.