ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When they trimmed the roster to 53 players as the preseason drew to a close, the Denver Broncos understood there could very well be days like these because of it.

When the Broncos face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the three available running backs figure to be three undrafted players who have been in uniform for 24 games combined in their careers.

“I guess I didn’t really think about it until now," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase with a smile when asked about the prospect earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIn his second season, C.J. Anderson is suddenly the veteran running back on the Broncos roster.
Running back was already the youngest position group on the roster when the regular season began, as 23-year-old Ronnie Hillman was the most experienced running back, entering his third season. But with Hillman (left foot) and Montee Ball (right groin) now injured, the Broncos have second-year running back C.J. Anderson as their primary back, with rookies Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs behind him on the depth chart.

Anderson, Thompson and Bibbs all arrived to the Broncos as undrafted rookies.

“I think, during the course of preparation, when you have injuries, you have a pretty good idea some guys aren’t going to play," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “You’re able to practice and prepare guys much better than, for instance, in a game when you have a tight end or a receiver go out, those guys are now playing with a whole lot of reps in preparation for that opponent. So those guys have practiced all week, got reps -- we have our test on Sunday."

The Broncos, from Fox to quarterback Peyton Manning to Gase, have all openly discussed the importance of running the ball with more consistency against the Dolphins on Sunday. The Broncos had just 10 rushing attempts, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, in the 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

Anderson had 163 total yards in the Broncos’ victory over the Oakland Raiders, a total that included a 51-yard catch-and-run reception when he made a one-handed catch and then broke several tackles for a game-changing score. Thompson has had 30 carries this season to go with three touchdowns.

Sunday figures to be the first game for Bibbs to be in uniform. He has been a gameday inactive for four games since being signed off the team’s practice squad on Oct. 20, but the Broncos like what he's done and Bibbs spent some time after Friday's practice talking to Manning.

“You feel good with C.J.," Gase said. “He’s shown the last couple of weeks what he can do and just him getting in the rotation has been eye-opening. We might have something good and you just don’t know because he hadn’t had an opportunity. He’s taken most of the opportunity he’s had and the rest of these guys it’s just going to be, ‘make sure I know who’s in the game and help them as much as possible,’ whether it be in the protection game or in the run game."

“All of the guys in the running back room are ready to play," Anderson said. “[Running backs coach Eric Studesville] gets us ready to play; he expects us to be ready."

For the most part, it isn’t carrying the ball in the Broncos offense that is the adjustment. It’s everything the backs have to do to earn the ability to carry the ball. It’s handling all of the audibles at the line of scrimmage in what is primarily a no-huddle offense and it’s getting it right in pass protection.

As Studesville has consistently said: “If you can’t do the right thing in pass protection, you can’t play … you don’t get to run the ball."

The Dolphins have an active defensive front – Miami is tied for fourth in the league with 30 sacks – and they blitz plenty to unsettle opposing quarterbacks.

“I would say the protections are a challenge, but at the end of the day, when they run the ball, it’s just natural instinct," Gase said. “So they just know once you give them the ball, they are just going to find the open hole and hit it. The good ones seem to develop quickly."

“Our job is to do the right thing when we’re in there," Anderson said. “We’re prepared to do that."
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Christopher Harris analyzes the Broncos' pass-catchers for Week 12.

Fantasy: C.J. Anderson

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
4:28
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Christopher Harris analyzes C.J. Anderson for Week 12.

Emmanuel Sanders: Was a legal hit

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
3:46
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said Friday he's ready to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins and that St. Louis Rams safety Rodney McLeod made "a legal hit'' on the tackle that resulted in Sanders' concussion.

Sanders did add, however, he believed McLeod could have made more of an attempt to go for the ball rather than the hit.

"I think it was a legal hit,'' Sanders said after Friday's practice. "Obviously, [McLeod] didn't hit me in the head or lead with the head. He hit me with the shoulder. But in terms of the intentions of targeting, I feel like the guy could have had an opportunity to go for the ball, but I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow. That's the only thing that I'm not too happy about.

"I feel like the National Football League, although it is a violent game, you're also supposed to protect your brother. And most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously, his intent was to try and make a statement, and I guess he did.''

Sanders was knocked out of last Sunday's 22-7 Broncos loss on the fourth play of the second half. Peyton Manning threw a ball deep up the right sideline and McLeod arrived, with shoulder to shoulder contact, as Sanders was diving to try to make the catch.

Sanders remained down on the field for several minutes until he was first helped to the Broncos' bench and then to the locker room. He had not practiced this week until taking part fully in Friday's practice.


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Emmanuel Sanders listed as probable

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos got some good news on the injury front Friday when wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was cleared to practice fully and is expected to be in the lineup Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Sanders had been cleared for light conditioning earlier in the week, but Broncos coach John Fox said after Friday's practice Sanders was a full participant in practice and was formally listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Sanders
“He cleared the doctors, and independent doctors last night,’’ Fox said. “ … He looked good. First and foremost is player safety and he cleared all the required doctors through concussion protocol … and looked good out here today.’’

Sanders said shortly after practice he was ready to play and expected to play against the Dolphins.

Also, Fox said tight end Julius Thomas did little in Friday’s practice. Thomas did go through stretching and dressed in helmet, jersey, sweats and with cleats on as if he hoped to practice.

“We could have said limited, but it was probably closer to did not participate,’’ Fox said. “But he still is questionable.’’

Thomas did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

The Broncos may be light at the tight end spot for the game given that tight end Virgil Green (calf) was also listed as questionable. Green, who has missed the last three games, was limited in Friday’s workout. As a result all three healthy running backs on the roster -- C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs -- will be in uniform against the Dolphins.

As expected, running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) did not practice Friday, after not practicing earlier in the week as well and were ruled out. Hillman has been wearing a walking boot on his left foot in recent days.

Prediction: Broncos beat Dolphins

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Though folks in and around the NFL don’t like to admit it much, or ever really, some losses do actually sting more than others.

And the Denver Broncos' loss to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday resulted in some significant injuries on offense – Montee Ball and Emmanuel Sanders are not expected to play this Sunday and tight end Julius Thomas is a question mark – and took some of the swag out of the Broncos’ swagger.

It also meant the Broncos (7-3) went 1-2 in the stretch of three consecutive road games that ended in the Edward Jones Dome. As a result, the Broncos are now a rather pedestrian -- at least for a Super Bowl hopeful -- 2-3 in road games this season.

The end result is the Broncos now need a cave-in -- at least two losses -- over the season’s last six weeks by the New England Patriots to have a hope of being the AFC’s top seed in the postseason. And the Broncos will have to do plenty of work over their final six games just to be the AFC’s No. 2 seed, a stretch run that begins Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (6-4) in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

“We want to come out of these last six games at 6-0,’’ said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “We just want to get this thing rolling. This is a huge game right here.’’

The Broncos have been a far different team in their friendly confines at 5,280 feet, a far more aggressive and productive team, scoring 12.6 more points per game at home, on average, than they have on the road so far.

The Dolphins have the defensive profile – good defensive front with some matchup ability at cornerback – that has had some success against the Broncos this season. But the Broncos play with a quicker tempo at home and have promised to show a more balanced look this week.

My prediction: Broncos 31, Dolphins 20.

Dolphins vs. Broncos preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
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video When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos (7-3) were poised to enter a stretch of three consecutive road games with their sights set squarely on the AFC’s No. 1 seed. After that road trip ended with a 1-2 record, including a surprising loss in St. Louis this past Sunday, the Broncos are now in a scrap just to win their division.

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) come to Denver having won four of their last five games. They have surrendered 56 points in those five games combined. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday’s game.

Legwold: James, Ryan Tannehill was a player the Broncos took a long look at leading up to the 2012 draft as they looked for a quarterback prospect to pair on the roster with Peyton Manning. What’s been the key for his improvement this year and how he’s handled things?

Walker: Tannehill is on pace for a career year. I’ve watched all 42 career starts, and this is the most decisive I’ve seen him with the football. His play speed is better and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a good job of accentuating what Tannehill does well and avoiding where he struggles. He’s posted four games with a triple-digit passer rating, including the most recent win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the Dolphins’ offense is getting away with a lot of short and intermediate passes, and I’m surprised defenses haven’t worked harder to take that away. The biggest issues with Tannehill are inconsistency and lack of a deep ball. These are areas that have haunted Tannehill for three seasons, and it doesn’t appear it will change anytime soon. Yet teams haven’t challenged Tannehill to consistently throw deep. I’m curious to see how Denver plays Tannehill.

The Broncos have lost two of three and both losses have come by a wide margin. What is the mood of the team heading into Sunday’s game?

Legwold: The mood from the Broncos players and coaches is, essentially, they got what they deserved in losses to the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 and to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday. They've owned up to it and unveiled the usual vows to repair the mistakes. But perhaps most troubling, for a team that has designs on a Super Bowl trip, is they didn’t have a response after some early trouble in either of those losses. They simply didn’t show the kind of bounce-back capability on the road that any team is going to need if they want to go deep into the postseason. The Patriots had a 24-point second quarter filled with Broncos mistakes and the Rams went up 10-0 in the first quarter. In both cases, the Broncos were wobbly and stayed wobbly. They know they didn’t execute on offense. They let pressure get to Manning, and defensively the Broncos had moments, but never really slammed the door to get the team back in the game. And now with the Kansas City Chiefs at 7-3 as well –- the Broncos have a Week 2 win in hand, but go to Kansas City Nov. 30 –- the Broncos know every week matters as they pursue their fourth consecutive division title.

Keeping with one of the Broncos’ trouble spots of late, defenses have tried to rattle Manning in the middle of the formation. How aggressively do you think the Dolphins will rush Manning, and what’s that mean for Cameron Wake?

Walker: The Dolphins are definitely bringing the pressure. They’ve done that against every quarterback they’ve faced, whether it’s an elite talent such as Aaron Rodgers or a developmental rookie such as Blake Bortles. Manning’s constant audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage could provide reason for Miami’s defense not to dial up as many blitzes. But the team knows the best way to win is to get hits, sacks and pressures on Manning. Several players I spoke to were impressed with the way the Rams defended the Broncos’ offense last week. St. Louis provided a nice blueprint, especially with its defensive line. This will be a big game for Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and others on the defensive line to win those one-on-one matchups.

Miami’s pass protection has been an issue lately. What are your thoughts on the Dolphins’ offensive line pass protecting against the Broncos’ front seven?

Legwold: The Broncos are at their best in the pass rush when they move into a six-defensive back look -- a dime package that really plays more like the average five defensive back (nickel) package when safety T.J. Ward moves down and plays at a linebacker spot. They have speed all over the formation, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware moving around some. As a result, Miller is tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Ware is tied for eighth with nine sacks. They use plenty of pre-snap movement, moving players toward and away from the line of scrimmage, to give the quarterback some indecisiveness, and it’s been a productive personnel grouping. However, some teams have found ways to convert some long third downs; the Chiefs converted seven third downs on third-and-8 or more, while the 49ers and Chargers each converted three times at third-and-6 or more and the Rams converted two third-and-10 situations this past Sunday. Tannehill can extend plays and that will be an issue for the Broncos to consider. But at home they play fast on defense as Ware and Miller have repeatedly caved in the edges of the pocket.

Overall, the Dolphins have had plenty of drama over the last year –- the Broncos had Richie Incognito in for a workout last week -– how has coach Joe Philbin done in the swirl?

Walker: This was a major storyline in the offseason and throughout training camp. But at this point in late November, more than a year since Jonathan Martin left the team and Incognito’s subsequent suspension, the Dolphins have moved on from the fiasco. Miami made the right call to remove both players from its locker room in the offseason. The team didn’t re-sign Incognito and traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers. That set the tone for a better locker room culture to develop. This year’s team is together, and I think winning six of 10 games has helped. In some ways, earning a playoff spot would validate the thought that they learned from the situation and became better for it.

Denver suffered a lot of injuries last week against the Rams. What’s the latest update on tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tailback Montee Ball?

Legwold: That’s been the dark cloud hanging over this team this past week. Sanders, who has been one of the best free-agent signings in the league, is the team’s second-leading receiver with 67 catches to go with 954 yards. He’s now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so the Broncos have to simply wait until he is cleared to return. Ball re-injured his right groin as he played just four snaps against the Rams, an injury that kept him out of the previous five games. He is expected to miss, at minimum, two to three weeks. And Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the Rams. While Thomas’ injury wasn't nearly as serious as the team initially feared at the stadium Sunday, he has had ankle troubles before in his career and will be watched closely. His impact in the offense is no small matter. Thomas played just 13 snaps against the Rams and he still leads the league in touchdown receptions with 12, or at least two more than any other player.

The Broncos don’t have a fullback on the roster, so they can’t simply go to a two-back look to cover for some injuries. Tight end Virgil Green and running back Ronnie Hillman were out last week and Hillman is expected to miss additional time. That means young players such as C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson have to be ready to be the guys at running back and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer should get some snaps in the offense as well.
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Used to digging in and standing up to what’s in front of them, the Denver Broncos' beleaguered offensive line has now dug in to fend off a wave of critiques that has gotten bigger with each passing week.

While the group admits there’s work to be done, they aren’t necessarily putting a lot of stock in what’s being said outside the walls of the team’s complex.

“Definitely, it’s a work in progress," guard Manny Ramirez said. “I understand a lot of people are talking outside of here, but we can’t allow ourselves to worry about that type of stuff. We’ve just got to make sure we stick together and continue to put our heads down and continue to grind and be able to with whatever we’re given."

[+] EnlargeManning
Joe Amon/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning has been under pressure the last three weeks, and the flow of the Denver offense has been disrupted.
In their recent three-game stretch, the Broncos have gone 1-2 and quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown two interceptions in each of the last three games. And while Manning has been able to avoid sacks much of the time, the Patriots, Raiders and Rams were able to get pressure on Manning and affect his ability to step up in the pocket and into his throws.

The Broncos’ sack total is still the lowest in the league for quarterbacks who have started every game, but the increased pressure, especially in the middle of the formation, has resulted in batted passes, interceptions and some choppiness in the offense. The Broncos have also had 37 rushing attempts this season for either no gain or negative yardage.

“If we go, the team goes, we definitely need to improve," left tackle Ryan Clady said. “We had a bad week (against the Rams). I think we’ll get better and we’ll get it back on track."

The Broncos have made four changes in the offensive line in recent weeks, with Paul Cornick replacing Chris Clark at right tackle before being replaced two games ago. Louis Vasquez was then moved to right tackle, Ramirez to right guard, and Will Montgomery was put into the lineup at center.

Those three have played those spots for the last two games. Vasquez has also dealt with some back/neck issues while Clady has been slowed by a groin injury, impacting his ability to move in recent weeks. Clady said his surgically repaired foot -- he spent most of the 2013 season on injured reserve -- felt better this week than it has all season.

In search of a successful organization, the Broncos worked out Richie Incognito, a key figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal.

“We’ve just got to continue working hard at it," guard Orlando Franklin said. “Continue trying to create chemistry, because here’s the thing, you don’t just chemistry in two weeks in the offensive line. It’s not going to be like that ... we understand we do need to get better, we understand our team is relying on us, for us to get better and we will get better."

ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Denver guard, blasted the Broncos' line play on a radio appearance in Denver this week, using words such as “horrendous" and “horrible" to describe what he had seen thus far.

Schlereth said “an F would be kind."

The Broncos linemen, who have seen Schlereth at the team’s complex from time to time, said they were trying to tune it all out.

“I care what my teammates think, each and every one of my teammates think," Franklin said. “...We’re going to care what our coaches think, what everybody in this organization thinks, but outside noise, we’re not going to be listening to that. If the Broncos were 16-0 there would still be issues, people are still going to critique our performance ... It’s the NFL, it’s the life that were living, it’s the business that we’re in."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There’s grinding the video and then there’s really grinding the video.

And Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio pulled the curtain back a bit on his unit’s weekly video presentation as part of “Turnover Thursday." A video montage, put together with some aid from defensive assistant Chris Beake, is shown to the players every Thursday. A collection of images with some of the animal kingdom's most well-known predators exercising their place on the food chain.

This Thursday’s offering: Sharks vs. seals.

“We had a great presentation. We saw the sharks coming out of the ocean attacking the seals. That’s how we want to attack the ball. ... Every week we have a new video; that was today’s video. It’s all aggressive animals going after animals that are not so happy about being pursued.’’

“The seals are the ball,’’ said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. “And we’re the sharks.’’

Asked to name his favorite Thursday offering so far this season, Del Rio said the latest had some impact.

“I mean, I’m still thinking about whether I’m going to get back in the ocean right now,’’ Del Rio said. “It’s made an impression on me.’’

It’s all part of the Broncos’ desire to force more turnovers. The Broncos are tied for 10th in the league in interceptions, but are last in the league in fumbles recovered with just one – in the Oct. 12 win against the New York Jets.

“We’ve had some unfortunate calls, where later they’ve said ‘Well, yeah, we might have missed that,’ we have a couple other forced fumbles, we’re getting the ball out,’’ Del Rio said. “We track it, we’re getting the ball out.’’

The Broncos have not gotten the favorable bounce either. In Sunday’s loss to the Rams, with St. Louis leading 19-7 and with still just under eight minutes remaining in the game, Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware plowed into Rams quarterback Shaun Hill, knocking the ball free.

But instead of the play turning into a scoop-and-score play that would have given the Broncos plenty of momentum with plenty of time remaining, the ball simply bounced back to Hill as the quarterback fell on top of it.

“We have one that could be a game-changer the other day when DeMarcus comes off the edge and the ball pops right back to the guy,’’ Del Rio said. “We’ve got to keep doing the right things, we’re drilling it.’’

“We have that mentality to get the ball,’’ said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “We haven’t gotten as many turnovers as we want, but we know they’re going to come if we keep getting everybody to the ball. It’s going to bounce our way some time.’’
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The NFL Live crew make their picks for Miami at Denver.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have consistently said rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer is ready to participate in the team’s offense if they need him to.

Well, the Broncos may need him to be the team’s No. 4 wide receiver Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Emmanuel Sanders, who suffered a concussion in last Sunday's 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, did not participate in Thursday’s practice as he continues to be evaluated under the league’s concussion protocol.

Sanders viewed practiced dressed in sweats just like he did Wednesday. Under the protocol, he would have to be cleared by the Broncos medical staff as well as an independent physician, before he could return to practice even on a limited basis.

Broncos head coach John Fox said after Thursday's practice Sanders has been cleared to do some light conditioning work, which is the first step in the evaluation process to return to the field as the player undergoes cognitive testing.

"He's going through that phase of the program now, we’ll evaluate it again [Friday]," Fox said. "We're optimistic, we'll see what [Friday] brings."

The team’s second-leading receiver is still a significant question mark to play against the Dolphins. That means Latimer, who has played 16 snaps on offense this season, 14 of those in the win over the Oakland Raiders, may see some time in the offense when Peyton Manning is behind center.

Asked this week if Latimer would be ready to be in the rotation with the starters, Manning said: “Yes. I think he certainly has taken advantage of his time out here at practice and we ask a lot of questions of the guys that aren’t necessarily playing or even the practice squad, and try to keep those guys mentally involved ... I think Cody has done a good job studying and I know he certainly wants to be there. He’s a competitive guy and I think he’s improved throughout the season. I certainly think if his name and number was called, I think he’d go in there and answer the bell for us."

Tight end Julius Thomas, who suffered a left ankle sprain against the Rams, is also being evaluated. Thomas did stretch with the team at the start of practice, but he did not participate in the workout.

Running backs Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) also did not participate Thursday. Ball and Hillman are not expected to practice this week or play in Sunday’s game.

Hillman could miss several additional weeks and Ball is expected to miss at least two to three weeks in his recovery.

Tight end Virgil Green, who has missed the past three games with a calf injury, did practice Thursday on a limited basis, while left tackle Ryan Clady (groin) and safety Quinton Carter (knee) were also limited. Punter Britton Colquitt was sent home because of an illness and did not practice.

Will Manning solve Dolphins' defense?

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
2:48
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AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
After losing two of three games on their just-completed road trip, the Denver Broncos return home to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Denver has won all five home games this season, all against teams currently over .500, and the Broncos have the NFL's best home record over the past three seasons (19-2).

But coming home may not be a cure-all for Denver, as the Dolphins have done well against big-name quarterbacks this season.

Dolphins' strong defense
Miami leads the NFL with a 33.1 opponent Total QBR this season, and the Dolphins have been successful against top quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers each had his worst completion percentage of the season against the Dolphins. Miami beat two of those three quarterbacks, and Rodgers needed a touchdown pass with three seconds left to get the win.

One of the reasons opponents struggle against the Dolphins is an inability to hit the deep ball, as Miami has allowed the lowest completion percentage, yards per attempt and Total QBR against passes 20-plus yards downfield this season.

Peyton Manning has completed 48.8 percent of his passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield this season, fifth-best in the NFL.

Overall, the Dolphins' defense has allowed 4.69 yards per play this season, fewest in the NFL. And Miami isn't giving away yards, with only 13 penalties enforced against its defense this season, second-fewest in the NFL.

Manning not on point
Manning’s three worst Total QBR games of the season have come in the Broncos' past three games, largely because of turnovers.

Manning has thrown multiple interceptions in each of those three games, his first such streak with the Broncos and first since 2010. Manning hasn’t thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games since his fourth season in 2001.

Although Manning has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past three games, five of those came against the winless Raiders.

Missing Weapons?
Both Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) and Julius Thomas (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday after leaving last week's game with injuries.

Thomas (12 receiving touchdowns) and Sanders (seven) lead the team in receiving touchdowns this season, and both have caught more than 70 percent of their targets. No other receiver on the team has done that.

Manning has completed 23 of 26 passes (89 percent) when targeting Sanders and Thomas in the red zone this season for 13 touchdowns. He’s completed only 22 of 35 (63 percent) with five touchdowns to all other Broncos.
video

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Miami at Denver.

NFL: Fans still watching in droves

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:31
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Despite all the off-the-field issues, including its handling of the Ray Rice assault case, the NFL says viewership numbers show that the masses are still very interested in watching games on television.

NFL games make up 28 of the top 30 TV shows since the season started Sept. 4, the league announced Thursday. The only shows in the top 30 that weren't NFL games were Game 7 of the World Series on Fox (12th-most watched) and an "NCIS" episode on CBS (27th).

The most-watched NFL game was the matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 12, viewed by 30 million people.

Among the top 15 most-watched NFL games this season, the team that has been featured the most is the Denver Broncos, who have been on one-third of those broadcasts. The Cowboys, Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have appeared four times each.

An NFL game has topped the weekly viewership charts for all 11 regular-season weeks this year, the NFL said.

The only recent competition for the NFL is AMC's "The Walking Dead," which has beaten NBC's "Sunday Night Football" in the ratings in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic for three straight weeks.


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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Will they? Or won’t they?

When it comes to running the ball out of what has been the league’s most prolific passing offense over the past three seasons -- 122 touchdown passes for Peyton Manning in the past 42 regular-season games -- the Denver Broncos have often been, at least some of the time, about semantics.

Instead of raw data, yards per carry, rushing attempts per game, words like "efficiency" and "positive gains" have been sprinkled in and around the descriptions of what is hoped for when Manning hands the ball to a running back. But that was before the 22-7 loss in St. Louis when the Broncos ran the ball just 10 times and one of those "attempts" was a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDenver coach John Fox says the sight of Peyton Manning handing the ball to a running back needs to happen more often in coming weeks.
The fact it happened not only in a loss, but in a game the Broncos trailed by just nine points when the fourth quarter began, caused Broncos head coach John Fox to re-assess this week and say; "There’s no doubt to be the kind of team we want to be, we have to run the ball more. There’s a mindset, mentality, whether you’re on defense trying to stop the run and whether you’re on offense running the football ... Right now it’s something we have to do more, we have to execute better."

And that is the rub, because not only is running the ball more a commitment in play-calling, it is Manning who has the last word on any play before the snap. Manning, because of who he is, can check into, and out of, any play he wishes.

Sunday, in a game the Broncos trailed by six at halftime, and by nine at the end of the third quarter, the Broncos’ last 28 plays from scrimmage were called pass plays. C.J. Anderson had the last rushing attempt in the game for the Broncos, a 3-yard gain with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.

"In my opinion we lost that game because I didn’t play well enough in the passing game," Manning said. "Did we throw it a lot? Yes, we did. There were plays to be made and I didn’t make them."

On what the proper balance between run and pass is in an offense built to be the best at throwing it around in unprecedented pass-happy times, Manning said it isn’t about percentages, but rather purpose.

"No matter how many times you run it or throw it, you have to produce when you do it," Manning said. "So, that’s what I’m disappointed about -- I didn’t execute the plays that were called, the way they were supposed to (be)."

But Manning also tossed out; "We might be an old-school running game this week, be alert for that."

Defenses have dropped plenty of players into coverage, with lighter personnel groupings on the field to chase around the Broncos receivers. That combination would seem to allow the Broncos to pound away if they chose.

But the Broncos have also had difficulty consistently winning the line of scrimmage. The Broncos, who are one of just seven teams in the league with fewer than 245 carries entering this week’s games, have had 37 runs go for no gain or negative yardage.

That is 15 percent of their rushing attempts that haven’t made it past the line of scrimmage.

The Dolphins are eighth in the league against the run -- 94.5 rushing yards allowed per game -- and seventh-best in the league, allowing just 3.83 yards per rushing attempt. Miami is also tied for third in sacks, and has seen the past three Broncos’ opponents affect Manning’s ability to deliver the ball when he wants. Opponents have been folding in the edges of the Broncos’ pass protection and pushing the middle to keep Manning from striding into his throws.

"I just know when they hand it to us as running backs, call our number, we want to make a play that helps us," said Anderson. "Any time they ask us to go, we need to go. I’m just concentrating on being ready to do my job as many times as they need me to do it."

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