The injury bug has struck early in Denver this season. The Broncos will be really feeling the absence of many key contributors on both sides of the ball this week when they face the Cincinnati Bengals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Four key Broncos were injured in last week’s Monday night matchup against the Oakland Raiders.
All of the players were starters and were expected to be top contributors throughout the season. The players who are questionable for the game this weekend against the Bengals include: Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, Knowshon Moreno and Brandon Lloyd.
The Broncos will face an uphill battle against a moderately weak opponent in the Bengals. These key injuries will test the depth of the Broncos as they attempt to replace so many impact players.
Head coach John Fox espouses the “next man up” approach to the injuries, and he has been known to stick to his method of coaching and play-calling no matter who you throw out there. He is a believer in the philosophy that you shouldn’t change your playbook based on who’s out there and instead plug-in whoever you’ve got to step up into that role.
Stud defensive end Elvis Dumervil is questionable for Monday’s game against the Bengals after he tweaked his shoulder during practice the week before the Monday night game against the Raiders; he then aggravated the injury during the game. Dumervil is coming off a season-ending injury last year when he tore his pectoral muscle early on during the preseason.
Speedy running back Knowshon Moreno is questionable for this weekend’s contest with a hamstring strain he suffered against the Raiders. The Broncos have moved to activate Jeremiah Johnson from the practice squad to hopefully fill-in alongside the situational, third-down and red zone back, Willis McGahee.
Star cornerback Champ Bailey has also been held out of practice all week with a hamstring strain he suffered in the fourth quarterback with a touchdown-saving tackle on the Raiders’ Darren McFadden. Champ will likely be replaced by the second-year cornerback and special teams stand-out Cassius Vaughn.
The only good news on the injury front for the Denver Broncos was that Brandon Lloyd, the Broncos pro-bowl wide receiver and Kyle Orton’s favorite receiver, is likely to be back in the lineup against the Bengals this week as he was sighted practicing Thursday with the team. He left the game on Monday night with a strained groin.
Four other players who have yet to see action in the 2011 season have already been ruled out for the Broncos on Sunday.
D.J. Williams is out. He plays weak-side linebacker and dislocated his elbow in Week 3 of the preseason.
Demaryius Thomas is out. At the wide receiver slot, he was a surprise addition to the final 53-man roster. He has spent all of the offseason recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Shortly after beginning to practice with the team again, he broke his finger. He is still working on getting into football shape after missing the entire preseason.
Marcus Thomas is out. Thomas, a defensive tackle, suffered a strained pectoral muscle with a slight tear during practice in the preseason. The Broncos were hopeful he would be ready by the time the season started. It looks like it will be at least another week before he is healthy enough to play.
Ty Warren is out. Warren, nose tackle in the 4-3 defense, is probably the most missed and will likely be out for the longest. He suffered a tear in his triceps, which required surgery to repair. The Broncos are hopeful that he will be ready to go near the end of the season if the Broncos are in a position to compete.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, a rookie out of Texas Christian University, injured his wrist/forearm last week against the Cleveland Browns. But team sources have confirmed that Dalton has been cleared to play this weekend.
The threat of Dalton’s arm connecting with the electric A.J. Green, a fellow rookie who caught a 41-yard pass for a touchdown last week, could be a struggle for the Broncos without Bailey at cornerback. Also, the absence of Dumervil would give the Bengals more time in the pocket to find open receivers.
The pressure for Kyle Orton to succeed in the second-straight home game of the season is also ratcheted up without Moreno in the lineup. Moreno provides a little bit of a running game, but more importantly for Orton, he was a safety valve to dump the ball off to if the pocket broke down. Johnson will replace Moreno, and he figures to be more of a power back compared to Moreno.
It is likely that the boo-birds will be out early at Sports Authority Field this weekend, likely when the first-team offense is announced prior to kickoff. Chants for Tim Tebow, a Broncos fan favorite, will also likely ring throughout Mile High.
With the chips down and fan popularity waning, Orton must silence his critics this week against Cincinnati. The Bengals surprised many last week with an upset over the Browns. The Bengals remain beatable, but it is likely a defining game for Orton, who many believe will never be the answer in Denver.