The Denver Broncos were the NFL’s most pleasant surprise through the first two months of the season, but back-to-back blowout losses suddenly have them looking quite vulnerable.
A game against the slumping Washington Redskins might be what they need to bounce back.
The Broncos hope Kyle Orton(notes) and their offense can get back in gear and their once-formidable defense can return to form Sunday when they visit a Redskins team looking to avoid losing five consecutive games for the first time in eight years.
Denver (6-2) opened with six straight victories under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, but very little has gone right since. The Broncos averaged 22.2 points and allowed an average of 11.0 during the winning streak, but have been outscored 58-17 in losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh with the offense reaching the end zone just once.
“Well, we’ve got to score points,” Orton said after Monday’s 28-10 loss to the Steelers. “So, we’re moving on from the last couple of weeks. We’ve got plenty of areas to improve on.”
Orton threw nine touchdowns and one interception in the six victories but is beginning to look quite ordinary. After passing for a season-low 152 yards in a 30-7 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 1, Orton threw three interceptions Monday.
“They are two good defenses,” Orton, who shaved his trademark beard this week in hopes of changing the team’s luck, said of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. “When you play those guys, the margin for error is very small … As a quarterback, I put it on myself. It is my offense, and I will get it back on track.”
Denver’s ground game has been virtually nonexistent the past two weeks with veteran running back Correll Buckhalter and rookie Knowshon Moreno combining for 82 yards on 32 carries. The Broncos averaged 132.7 rushing yards during the winning streak.
The Broncos appear to have a good chance to re-establish their ground game against a Washington team that allowed a season-high 181 rushing yards last week. The Redskins defense has given up a new season high in points two weeks running, following a 27-17 loss to Philadelphia with a 31-17 defeat at Atlanta last Sunday.
Still, an anemic offense remains the biggest concern for Washington (2-6).
The Redskins, who haven’t dropped five straight games since opening the 2001 season 0-5, have yet to exceed 17 points in a game as quarterback Jason Campbell continues to take a beating behind a makeshift line. He has been sacked 25 times - third-most in the NFL - and will face a Denver defense that ranks third in the league with 26 sacks.
Making matters worse, Washington will be without starting running back Clinton Portis, who suffered a concussion in the first quarter against the Falcons.
Ladell Betts, who rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries last week despite nursing a sprained ankle, likely will get his first start since the 2006 season finale.
Portis, who ranks eighth in the NFC with 494 rushing yards, was traded to the Redskins from Denver for Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick prior to the 2004 season. This will be the first time Bailey, an eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has faced his former club.
It’s also the first meeting between the teams since the Broncos won 21-19 at home Oct. 9, 2005. Portis ran for 103 yards in a losing effort for Washington, while Bailey missed the game due to a hamstring injury.
Current Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was involved in a bizarre episode last week.
After Washington safety LaRon Landry’s late hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Hall jumped into the middle of things, surrounded by a horde of Atlanta players and coach Mike Smith. Hall said he would file a complaint with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, accusing the Falcons of losing their cool.
The incident is the latest in an incredible run of Redskins news that has made the team’s actual on-field performance almost an afterthought. In the last month, owner Dan Snyder and team management have stripped Zorn of play-calling duties, issued an apology of sorts for the team’s play and had an assistant coach lash out at Hall of Fame running back John Riggins for claiming Snyder is someone whose “heart is dark.”
Amidst all the turmoil, Washington must try to stay motivated through the final eight weeks.
“It’s your job. You’ve got to have pride,” Redskins running back Rock Cartwright said.