By Rich Kurtzman
The Denver Broncos have cruised through their schedule as of late, winning an NFL-best six straight games, but they don’t want to go into “cruise control” with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town.
Tampa Bay is a fearsome foe at 6-5 overall, sitting second in the NFC South. The Bucs sport the NFL’s fourth-highest scoring offense, at 28.2 points per game, doing so with a balanced attack. While the Broncos have been special in the secondary all season, it’s their run defense that is suspect.
Last week in Kansas City, Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster ran wild on Denver, racking up 130 yards combined on the ground. Running was the Chiefs only offensive weapon, yet the Broncos couldn’t stop them. This week, they’re preparing to face rookie running back sensation Doug Martin. The “Muscle Hamster” is a fast and strong back in a seemingly small package; Denver’s likely preparing to face him and be more disciplined not only in their assignments but in their tackling too. Martin’s not only a load to bring down, but fast and elusive as well; stopping him will be a tough task.
One of the men that could be trying to tackle Martin, Robert Ayers, missed practice Wednesday. Ayers, a fourth-year backup defensive end, was excused from practice due to the death of his father. Ayers hasn’t been ruled out from playing this Sunday, and expect him to be on the practice field later this week.
Limited in practice were Manny Ramirez (back) and Brandon Stokley (wrist/hip). Ramirez is the backup right guard that has played in six games this season, has been moved back to the bench so his absence shouldn’t be too big a deal. Stokley’s injury is more impactful, as he’s the team’s third receiver and quarterback Peyton Manning’s go-to guy on third downs. He injured the wrist on a deep pass from Manning in Kansas City that he dropped when he was hit hard by a defender. Without him, Denver’s offense won’t be as efficient and may bog down at times on third downs.
Speaking of Manning, he understands the importance of the winning streak the team is currently on and how they can actually continue to elevate their game down the stretch of the regular season. “Certainly when you win, I think it does help,” Manning said. “I think you have better practices but you still want to try to improve. The coaches challenge us to improve and I think we have the right kind of players that challenge each other to improve and get better. You’re always trying to play that perfect game. Whether you can or you can’t, but you still strive for that. We still feel like we can improve as a team and we need to improve.”
Manning is an ultimate leader and consummate professional; with him, the Broncos are sure to be prepared against each and every opponent as they have been all season long.
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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.