DENVER (AP) – Their pass rush is tremendous, their pass protection horrendous.
Thanks to dominating defenses, both the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins are in the thick of the AFC playoff race in spite of shuffled offensive lines that are still working out the kinks.
These two teams also feel very different about themselves heading into Sunday’s showdown in Denver.
The Dolphins are 6-4, their best record at the 10-game mark since 2008, which not coincidentally is the last time they made the playoffs. A 5-2 conference mark helps their wild-card chances, and so should the two games remaining against the last-place New York Jets.
“I really like this team,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I like the talent we have. I like the leadership we have, the way that we are trending right now.”
Peyton Manning doesn’t like the way the Broncos are trending.
They’re 7-3 but it feels like 3-7 around Denver, where the O-line and coaching staff has taken turns taking the heat over their stunning loss at St. Louis in which Manning threw 54 passes and handed off just nine times.
The Broncos have two losses this month after going 10-1 in November under coach John Fox.
“I’m pretty sure there are a lot of teams that wish they had our record right now and were in the position that we are, but we have such high expectations for ourselves,” Broncos nose tackle Terrance Knighton said.
“Right now when it comes to the playoffs we want teams to have to come through Denver. We don’t want any more letdowns and I feel like Miami and St. Louis are similar teams as far as a team that can beat you if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. Then you’re fighting for postseason rights.”
Not making the postseason party? That would be a colossal failure for a team that’s one of the most talented in football.
Some other things to keep an eye on when the Dolphins and Broncos square off:
SACKMASTERS: A lot of times sacks come in bunches and that could certainly be the case Sunday.
Miami’s defensive ends – Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon – have combined for 14 of the team’s 30 sacks with Wake at 8 1/2 and Vernon at 5 1/2.
Even though Manning’s only been sacked 11 times, “I’m sure they might be licking their chops,” Fox said. “We played a pretty good defensive front a week ago in St. Louis. I think it’s important to have balance. It’s not real exciting when you get in a game – I call it a ‘chuck-and-duck’ game – where you’re throwing it 55 times.
“Like all offenses, you try to create some kind of balance. I think that’s how you can deal with a formidable defense, not just a front, in the National Football League.”
Denver’s duo of Von Miller (10) and DeMarcus Ware (9) figure to make things difficult for Tannehill, who’s also being protected by a makeshift line following left tackle Branden Albert’s season-ending knee injury.
LATIMER’S TIME?: Broncos rookie WR Cody Latimer has just one catch to go with five game-day deactivations so far. Yet, with Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) and Julius Thomas (ankle) hurting, Latimer’s number could be called this weekend.
“I certainly think if his name and number was called, he’d go in there and answer the bell for us,” Manning said.
MANNING’S NEMESIS: The Dolphins have the NFL’s No. 2-ranked defense, and they haven’t allowed a touchdown in their past two home games. And Manning has a worse passer rating versus the Dolphins than against any other opponent – 79.8, with 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 12 games.
But he hasn’t faced Miami since 2009, when he was still with the Indianapolis Colts.
COOL WEATHER: In preparation for cool weather in Denver, Miami coach Joe Philbin cooled the Dolphins’ indoor practice bubble down to 62 degrees this week. Philbin joked that he’s not sure he can get it lower, because team owner Stephen Ross might object to the air conditioning bill.
“Once the ball gets kicked off, I think it’s really more about football and attitude and execution than it is about the temperature, whether it be 88 with 70 percent humidity, or whether it be 37 like it’s supposed to be on Sunday,” Philbin said.
MCMANUS OUTDOORS: Last week, Fox went for it on fourth down rather than send out Brandon McManus for long field goals. He explained afterward that McManus’ range in the dome was 50 yards and insisted this week he hasn’t lost faith in his kicker.
It will be interesting to see what McManus’ range is outdoors in the blustery weather.
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– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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