My plane arrives in Denver after 6 p.m. MST tonight. I'll check in here once I get settled. Look for an answers-to-your-questions entry at that time. In the meantime, I'll include the game advance I filed for the Sunday paper. We mention the Broncos' zone-blocking scheme. Read more about zone blocking here and here. We'll have additional game-preview coverage in the Sunday paper, and online Sunday.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
Desperate teams can be dangerous. The Denver Broncos look like an increasingly desperate team.
How desperate? How dangerous? The Seattle Seahawks find out tonight.
"All you can do is prepare and go in there with a lot of emotion, a lot of your own intensity, and play the game," coach Mike Holmgren said, "and then see what happens."
The Seahawks and Broncos hold 7-4 records, but Denver has less margin for error in the superior AFC. Seattle is looking to gain momentum and confidence now that key offensive players have returned from injuries.
"There are five games left and we're talking a lot about five games, but we really have to just stay focused on the next one, and the next one is a tough one, Sunday night, national TV, at Denver," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "It is going to be cold, it is going to be loud and they are a good team.
"We're going to have to come ready to play."
The last time the Seahawks played a road game, Frank Gore happened. San Francisco's running back topped 200 yards rushing as the upstart 49ers supplied most of the emotion.
Incensed, Holmgren blasted his team so harshly afterward that he apologized the next day. The team returned home, practiced dutifully and committed four first-half turnovers against Green Bay.
The Seahawks beat the Packers anyway, but the team hasn't defeated a playoff-caliber opponent on the road since edging a mercurial Minnesota team in 2004 (those Vikings finished 8-8 but won a playoff game).
Road victories this season came against Detroit and St. Louis, both on last-second field goals. Road games against contenders Chicago and Kansas City produced two defeats and 861 yards allowed.
Alexander missed both road losses. He rushed for 201 yards against Green Bay last week, not what the Broncos needed to see.
Denver allowed 223 yards rushing to Kansas City and Larry Johnson on Thanksgiving night, less than a week after San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson put up 105 yards on 20 carries.
The defense, left on the field longer than accustomed, has allowed six rushing touchdowns in the last four games after allowing zero in the first seven. Tomlinson scored three of them.
The Broncos have lost consecutive games for the first time since 2004. They have lost two in a row at home for the first time since November 2002, falling in shootouts against AFC powers Indianapolis (34-31) and San Diego (35-27).
Denver's offense has failed to reach 265 yards in five of 11 games. Its 304-yard season average is down from 360 last season and 396 in 2004.
Coach Mike Shanahan responded by benching veteran quarterback Jake Plummer. Rookie Jay Cutler, drafted 11th overall from Vanderbilt, makes his first NFL start tonight. The Seahawks shrugged at the news. They were too busy preparing for Tatum Bell and the Broncos' ground game.
Lofa Tatupu, Seattle's second-year middle linebacker, noted after practice Wednesday that he hadn't even watched Cutler on video. There wasn't much to watch given that Cutler hasn't played since posting a 108.3 rating during exhibition play.
"For the most part, you gotta stop that run first," Tatupu said. "It's a similar scheme as we saw last week, except this is where the scheme started. This is the original zone-blocking scheme where they all made it happen."
The Broncos have consistently ranked among the NFL's rushing leaders since former line coach Alex Gibbs installed his controversial brand of zone blocking more than a decade ago.
In its most recognizable form, the scheme deploys offensive linemen side-by-side in the same general direction. Linemen clear out defenders as needed, sometimes cutting them down below the knees, putting defensive linemen at heightened risk for injuries. The running back trails behind, cutting upfield as lanes open.
"Some plays work quick up to the linebackers," Tatupu said. "Other plays, they'll sit on a double team and really push the line of scrimmage rather than let the back read the hole."
Running back Tatum Bell is expected back in the Broncos' lineup after missing three of the last four games to injury. Bell has three 100-yard games in eight starts this season, all on the road.
Javon Walker has displaced Rod Smith as the Broncos' leading receiver and big-play threat. Smith caught 85 passes last season, but he has only 38 through 11 games, none longer than 20 yards.
"When you are used to averaging 370 to 400 yards and you are averaging 300, numbers are going to go down everywhere," Shanahan said. "That is what we are trying to do, improve those numbers, and once we do I think both the running backs' will go up and Rod Smith's numbers will go up, but we have a lot of work to do."