1:00 PM ET, September 13, 2009
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Trading franchise quarterback Jay Cutler and having top receiver Brandon Marshall demand a trade might not be exactly how Josh McDaniels expected his tenure as the Denver Broncos' coach to begin. He might now be happy to just get his team on the field.
The Broncos look to put a tumultuous offseason behind them Sunday when they open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Denver ended 2008 with a three-game slide that saw it finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs for a third year in a row. That led to Mike Shanahan's firing by owner Pat Bowlen, who had once dubbed the two-time Super Bowl-winner and 14-year Broncos coach his "coach for life."
To replace Shanahan, Bowlen opted to hire McDaniels, New England's 32-year-old offensive coordinator. However, McDaniels' tenure got off to a shaky start. A rift with quarterback Jay Cutler emerged in March following reports that McDaniels was trying to acquire Matt Cassel from New England.
Cutler demanded a trade, and was sent to Chicago with a fifth-round pick in exchange for quarterback Kyle Orton and three draft choices.
Drama picked up again in training camp as Marshall, who led the team with 1,265 yards and six touchdowns on 104 catches in his third season, requested a trade.
Marshall is due $2.2 million this season -- a salary he contends doesn't befit his status as an elite receiver coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons and his first Pro Bowl berth.
The club suspended Marshall Aug. 28 for the remainder of the preseason for detrimental conduct stemming from insubordinate actions during practice.
Despite those distractions, McDaniels suggested Marshall could make a significant contribution against the Bengals.
"Look, he's a good football player and if he's ready to go and we go through this week of practice and we feel like that's the direction that we should play on Sunday, then certainly we all know what he can do as a football player," McDaniels said. "It's a matter of getting acclimated to enough of the game plan and him understanding what's going on, but we'll see as we go through the week."
McDaniels also has reason to be concerned with Orton, who might not play Sunday due to a dislocated right index finger.
He's been wearing a glove on his throwing hand and thin gauze and tape on his injured finger to protect the dislocated knuckle that poked through the skin in the Broncos' third preseason game.
Orton threw for 2,972 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season in Chicago, where he'd served as the backup the previous two years.
If Orton can't play, the Broncos would turn to Chris Simms, who hasn't started since playing for Tampa Bay in a loss to Carolina on Sept. 24, 2006. He's since been a backup with the Buccaneers and Tennessee, appearing in one game for the Titans last season.
Defensively, the Broncos are switching to a 3-4 scheme after ranking as one of the worst units in the AFC, allowing 146.1 rushing yards per game and 228.5 through the air. Denver created a league-low 13 turnovers and its six interceptions were only better than Detroit's four.
The Bengals are looking to show some improvement after going 4-11-1 last season, when quarterback Carson Palmer played just the first four games -- all losses -- before suffering a season-ending right elbow injury.
"We're not going to win four games again," Palmer said.
Palmer, though, is already banged up. He has a moderate high ankle sprain after getting hit several times in the preseason opener Aug. 14, but expects to start Sunday.
"I feel like I'm prepared," Palmer said. "This isn't the best of situations, but you've got to go with what you've got. Would I like to have played? Sure. I'd like to have played all four (preseason) games."
Prior to getting hurt last season, Palmer had topped the 4,000-yard plateau in each of the previous two years while totaling 54 touchdowns with 33 picks.
Chad Ochocinco appears to be ready for a much improved season after enduring his worst year since he was a rookie in 2001. The flamboyant wide receiver -- formerly known as Chad Johnson before he legally changed his name -- had 53 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns last year, and even asked to be traded.
"I'm back," Ochocinco said. "I can't explain it any other way. Before last year, this is how I was. I was good. I was happy. I'm good. It's going to be a great year. We're going to the playoffs. We're going, man."
The Bengals are also expected to show a new commitment to a running game featuring Cedric Benson. Their six rushing touchdowns in 2008 tied Cleveland for the fewest in the NFL.
"In the division we play in, we've got to run the ball, and we showed that we're going to feature the run and hopefully throw off the running game," Palmer said.
Benson had 747 rushing yards and two scores in 12 games after signing with the Bengals following his release from Chicago due to problems stemming from an alcohol-related arrest.
The Broncos and Bengals have split the last four meetings with Denver taking the most recent one, 24-23 at home Dec. 24, 2006.
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|Avg Points Allowed||7.0||12.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||DEN|
|Rush Yds Allowed||DEN|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Denver leads 3-1|
|Dec 24, 2006||DEN 24, CIN 23|
|Oct 25, 2004||DEN 10, @CIN 23|
|Sep 7, 2003||DEN 30, @CIN 10|