By Rich Kurtzman
Some guys just can’t buy a break––or avoid them, it seems.
Broncos’ guard and captain Chris Kuper fought valiently for six weeks to recover from a fractured forearm, finally making his 2012 debut Week Five in New England. Kuper has played well since being back, helping open holes for running back Willis McGahee, and Denver gained a season-high 225 yards rushing two weeks ago against New Orleans. But Kuper didn’t escape last week’s win in Cincinnati unscathed; he suffered an ankle sprain in the fourth quarter and couldn’t return. It was revealed the injury was not a break, but it’s severe enough to put the seven-year veteran on the bench for 2-4 more weeks. It means an increased work load for backup guard Manny Ramirez, starting in practice this week. Ramirez was called on to play for Kuper earlier in the year, meaning he now has game experience, but he also was beaten many times in run and pass-blocking.
Sitting out with Kuper was cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter again missed practice, and has been held out of four straight games for Denver. The fifth-year starter is continuing to deal with seizures, or at least their after effects, and is cautiously protecting his health intelligently. Undrafted, young corners Chris Harris and Tony Carter have played very well in his absence though, allowing Denver’s defense to dominate the team’s last three contests.
But, after playing many passing offenses in a row, the Broncos’ defense has to be gearing up to play against a rushing attack in the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton has attempted the third-least passes of any quarterback in the NFL this year, and we all know he loves to run the rock. Carolina implements the option offense at times—just like what Denver did last season with Tim Tebow—allowing him to read the defensive end and keep the ball for long and bruising runs. He’s racked up 347 yards and four scores on the ground, and it will certainly be a focus of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil this week in practice. Miller and Dumervil are used to rushing the quarterback to rack up sacks—they have 15 combined—but this week will be a bit different for them. While they still need to get up the field, they also need to stay at home a bit more, setting the edge to try and keep Cam contained in the pocket when he wants to run.
On offense, there’s no doubt that Denver will pass the football. Peyton Manning has been magical this season, making a case for NFL MVP while leading the team to three comeback wins. But this week, they should be able to run on the Panthers’ defense that allows 119 yards per game on the ground. The Broncos couldn’t get it going until late in the game against the Bengals’ much improved defense, and could only rack up 68 yards all game long; McGahee will be hungry for a good game this Sunday. And this presents a great opportunity for the Broncos to add some balance to that offense, which is currently the third-best in the NFL.
Lastly, while the special teams shined on the 105-yard kickoff return touchdown by Trindon Holliday last Sunday, they were terrible the rest of the game, and really, all year. Special teams must be an emphasis this week in practice and that unit has to improve for Denver if they want to truly compete this season.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.