Step Up or Get Out: Denver's Key Players at Washington

Jesse SchafferCorrespondent INovember 13, 2009

DENVER - NOVEMBER 09:  Head coach Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos works the sidelines as he faces the Pittsburgh Steelers during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 9, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Steelers defeated the Broncos 28-10.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Is it me, or is this year's team starting to remind anyone else a little bit of the 2006 Denver Broncos?

Personally, I hate to make comparisons to old teams. What happened three years ago should have no relevance to what's going to happen for the rest of this season. Still, the two teams are a little too similar to ignore.

That team, as you may remember, was famous for not allowing a single touchdown through their first 11 quarters of play and did not surrender more than 20 points in a game until their loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts in Week Eight. The offense wasn't scoring as many points as Mike Shannahan would have liked and he eventually benched Jake Plummer in favor of rookie quarterback Jay Cutler.

Until their last two games, the 2009 Broncos had not given up more than 25 points in a game nor had they been outscored in the second half. Or lost a game at all. The offense, though mostly efficient and turnover free, has struggled to put points on the board. Some in the media are already calling for Chris Simms to replace Kyle Orton at quarterback despite the fact that Orton has been a good fit for Josh McDaniels' offense.

After ending the first half of 2006 at 6-2, the Broncos slumped badly in the second half of the season and finished with a record of 9-7. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and it was the beginning of the end for Mike Shannahan in Denver.

After ending the first half of 2009 at 6-2, the Broncos...?

That part of this article, or season, has yet to be written for the Broncos. It starts this Sunday at Washington, where Josh McDaniels and co. desperately need a win to avoid going into their key Week 11 matchup with San Diego on a three-game losing streak.

Here are three players that need to play well for the Broncos to win in our nation's capital.

QB Kyle Orton: If you read my column from earlier this week, you know my feelings about Orton's play as of late. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games and has looked frighteningly inconsistent passing the ball. Based on what he's done, it's hard to be too tough on Orton, but it's obvious that something is off.

For those of you who think the Broncos would be better off with Jay Cutler (five int's last night) or Chris Simms under center, you are mistaken. A switch to Simms would only be detrimental to the progress this team has made and barring an injury or a simply awful performance by Orton, McDaniels wouldn't make that change anyway. So what then?

We've seen that Orton has a hard time getting the passing game going when the running game is faltering as well, so Denver needs to get back to what they do best. And speaking of running the ball...

RB's Correll Buckhalter/Knowshon Moreno: Most people thought that under Josh McDaniels, the Broncos would deviate from the running game that they had relied on for years and move towards a more passing-oriented offense. This supports my belief that most people know nothing about football. Wait a minute, I was one of those people!

However, this much I do know. This season, when the Broncos run the ball well, they win. When they don't...well, you saw what happened in the last two games. And I don't know about you, but I say it's time for the No. 12 pick in the draft to earn his paycheck. Moreno has been solid, but the Broncos expected him to be more than just solid when they drafted him.

CB Champ Bailey: In all likelihood, Jason Campbell won't even look Champ's way. Most quarterbacks don't. However, Ben Roethlisberger did, and he and Santonio Holmes found unlikely success as they burned Bailey on more than one play.

It hurts to see that happen to your team's best player, but even Champ has his moments of mortality. He'll probably bounce back this week and assume his usual duties of shutting down half of the field. I don't want to be greedy, but it's been awhile since No. 24 has had a pick-six.