<span>Saints Head Coach Sean Payton usually makes it a point during his Monday gatherings with the local press to focus on the previous day's game and reserves talking about the Saints' upcoming opponent until his Wednesday post practice meeting with reporters.
Monday was different, though.
Payton concluded his 25-minute press conference by talking about this week's opponent, the Denver Broncos, and was pointed in his remarks.
"They're a good team," Payton said. "We're going to play a better team this week than we just played. They're 2-0 and it's a tough place to play; it's a louder environment than (Washington). We're going to have to suck it up."
Through the first two weeks of the season the Broncos (2-0) have proven to be one of the most explosive and high-scoring teams in the league, scoring 41 points in their season-opener on the road in Oakland and then returning to Denver last week, where they defeated the San Diego Chargers, 39-38.
Two games, 80 points scored. 52 points allowed. A 28-point difference in points scored versus allowed will usually translate into exactly what the Broncos are: undefeated.
Denver is led by Head Coach Mike Shanahan, who has been their head coach since the commencement of the 1995 season. Shanahan, like the Saints' Payton, played college football at Eastern Illinois University before heading into the coaching ranks. Shanahan owns an overall record NFL head coaching record of 148 wins to 97 losses and guided the Broncos to Super Bowl victories in 1997 and 1998 and has taken the Broncos to seven playoff berths during his 13-years in the Mile High City. Shanahan and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher own the current distinction of having the longest continuous current tenures among NFL head coaches, besting their nearest competition (Seattle's Mike Holmgren and Philadelphia's Andy Reid-nine years each at their current location), by four years.
Denver is led offensively by third-year QB Jay Cutler, who certainly appears to have taken the next step in his career thus far this season, and grown into one of the top young signal-callers in the NFL. The former Vanderbilt star, who was a first round pick of the Broncos in 2006, has completed 52-of-75 passes through the first two games of the season for a 70.3% completion percentage with six touchdowns to one interception for a passer rating of 118.6, the fourth-highest QB rating in the league thus far this season.
Cutler's favorite target is WR Brandon Marshall, who despite being suspended for the team's first game of the season, rebounded to catch 18 passes last week for 166 yards and a touchdown. But Marshall isn't Cutler's lone receiving weapon, as rookie receiver Eddie Royal from Virginia Tech has caught 14 passes for 183 yards and two scores, while tight end Tony Scheffler (6-5, 250) has added seven receptions for 136 yards (19.4 avg.) and two scores. In addition, the ever-productive Brandon Stokley, who hails from Lafayette and starred at Southwestern Louisiana, is a dangerous presence from his slot position and has added five receptions for 72 yards thus far this season. Not to be forgotten is long-time Seattle Seahawk Darrell Jackson, who despite only having one reception through two games, made it count, as he turned it into a 48-yard touchdown.
The Broncos, under Shanahan, have always produced one of the top-rushing units in the NFL, and while the faces seemingly change on a yearly basis, the production level is always amongst the best in the league. This year it is second-year running back Selvin Young, from the University of Texas, that leads the team in rushing yards with 114 on only 15 carries (7.6 avg.) with a long jaunt of 49 yards. Andre Hall, also a second-year back, has a team-high 17 carries for 92 yards and also boasts an impressive rushing average of 5.4 yards per carry. Long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Pittman is a newcomer to the Broncos this season and has quickly grabbed the baton as the team's top short yardage back, as three of his 14 carries have resulted in rushing touchdowns. Pittman is also a lead blocker in many of the sets the Broncos deploy.
The Broncos offensive line has some new faces this season, as rookie left tackle Ryan Clady, a first-round pick out of Boise State, stands at 6-6, 325 pounds and has stepped right into the starting lineup. The Broncos' right tackle is former 2007 third-round draft choice Ryan Harris (Notre Dame) and he also brings impressive size and agility to the lineup, checking in at 6-5, 300 pounds. Chris Kuper, a third-year man from North Dakota took over the starting spot from former Saint Montrae Holland during training camp and the Broncos subsequently dealt Holland to the Dallas Cowboys for a conditional future draft choice before the start of the regular season. C Casey Weigmann, now in his 13th NFL season, mans the center spot while incumbent starter Tom Nalen rebounds from a knee injury that has slowed his start of the 2008 season. The Broncos' starting RG is Ben Hamilton, a former fourth-round draft choice out of the University of Minnesota who has been a fixture on the Broncos' offensive line since the 2002 season.
Denver's tight end position is a three-pronged attack. The listed starter is former New England Patriot Daniel Graham, a top-flight blocker who also owns a career receiving average of 11.4 yards per reception and 19 touchdowns. Nate Jackson, a six-year veteran from tiny Menlo College in northern California, also plays quite a bit and spells both Graham and the aforementioned Scheffler.
The Broncos' defensive line is highlighted by defensive end Elvis Dumervil, a 5-11, 260-pound third year pro from the University of Louisville. Dumervil tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks in 2007 with 12.5 and owns 21 sacks through the first 31 games of his career, including six two-plus sack games over that span. The other starting defensive end is former San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick John Engelberger (6-4, 260), who traditionally lines up at left end while Dumervil handles the right end spot. Along the interior of the line is Dewayne Robertson, the fourth overall pick of the New York Jets in 2003 with the fourth pick overall. Robertson is a 6-1, 308-pound defensive tackle out of Kentucky that was acquired by the Broncos in an off-season trade. He posted a career-high 74 tackles last season playing in the Jets' 3-4 defense and is now back in the 4-3 front that he broke into the league playing in. Marcus Thomas, a 6-3, 305-pound second year player out of the University of Florida is Denver's other starting defensive tackle who stepped into a starting role this season after seeing playing time in all 16 of the Broncos' games last season as a top reserve and an occasional (five) starter. Waiting in the wings as a top reserve this year is 2007 first round draft choice Jarvis Moss, a defensive end that was slowed by a broken fibula after six games last season. Moss, at 6-6, 265-pounds, was the 17th player taken overall last year following a standout career at the University of Florida. It remains to be seen if Moss will play this week though, as he was inactive for Sunday's win over the Chargers.
At linebacker D.J. Williams was the Saints' MLB Jonathan Vilma's counterpart at the University of Miami on the collegiate level at Miami and both were first round draft choices in 2004. Williams, at 6-1, 242 pounds recently signed a lucrative long-term contract with Denver. Williams has been returned to his most comfortable position, that of an outside linebacker (weak-side) this season following three years in the middle and is expected to have a big year roaming the second level of the defense and blitzing the quarterbacks. In the middle of the linebacker crew is Nate Webster, who held off a challenge by former Seahawk Niko Koutouvides during training camp. Webster, a ninth year pro from the University of Miami, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 20000-2003, then the Cincinnati Bengals for two season before moving to Denver as a free agent in 2007. The strong-side of the Denver linebackers is manned by the rangy Boss Bailey, a sixth-year linebacker who enters his first season with the Broncos after starting at least 11 games each season in his first five seasons with the Detroit Lions. This year he joined his older brother, Champ, in the Denver defense.
Champ Bailey, long considered one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL, is the Broncos' starting left corner. The 10-year veteran, who has made eight Pro Bowl appearances, leads the NFL with 25 interceptions since joining the Broncos in 2004 after a trade with the Washington Redskins for RB Clinton Portis. Bailey, from the University of Georgia, is skyrocketing up the NFL's all-time interception chart with 43 career interceptions. The other starting cornerback is former Detroit Lion and St. Louis Ram Dre' Bly, a two-time Pro Bowler. Bly, now in his 10th NFL season, is also a ballhawk, as his 38 career interceptions will attest to. The Broncos' safeties spots have both turned over in the last year, as long-time fixtures, John Lynch and Nick Ferguson, have been replaced. Marlon McCree, a free agent acquisition from the San Diego Chargers this off-season is the new starting free safety and is flanked by strong safety Marquand Manuel. Manuel, also a former Florida Gator, is now in his seventh season in the NFL and has played for the Cincinnati Bengals (2002-2003), Seattle Seahawks (2004-2005), Green Bay Packers (2006) and Carolina Panthers (2007).
Second-year kicker Matt Prather now mans Denver's kicking game, long handled by the venerable Jason Elam, who has taken his accurate leg to Saints' division rival-Atlanta. The strong-legged Prather has been perfect thus far this season, going three-of-three on field goal attempts and nine-of-nine on extra points. Prather's longest field goal came on a 52-yarder on Sunday against the Chargers. The punting duties are handled by Brett Kern, a 6-3, 205-pound rookie out of Toledo. Kern beat out Sam Paulescu in a training camp battle for the punting spot and has hit five punts for a 48.2 average (40.6 net average) through his first two games. His longest punt thus far has been a 62-yarder and he has tucked two punts inside the opposing teams' 20 yard-line. Eddie Royal handled the punt return duties (8.3 average) and running back Andre Hall (21.7 average) and Royal are the kickoff units' deep men.