Kevin Nogle, The Phinsider (TP): What are you hearing about Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Emmanuel Sanders, and Julius Thomas, all of whom have not been practicing this week? Will any of them be able to play on Sunday? (Note: Our conversation happened prior to the Friday release of the injury report. Ball and Hillman were listed as out for the game, while Thomas is questionable and Sanders is probable.)
Kyle Montgomery, Mile High Report (MHR): Montee Ball reaggravated his groin injury in his first action back on the field last Sunday, and early reports suggest it was the most significant of the three injuries (Sanders, Thomas) the Broncos suffered that day. He's out. Ronnie Hillman (foot) was said to be out for two weeks two weeks ago, but Adam Schefter reported he could miss up to six weeks. He's probably out.
I'd say that either Sanders (concussion) or Thomas (ankle) could play, but it's probably a 25% chance for both at this point (Friday morning), and that's just my best guess. Sanders began conditioning Thursday, which makes it sound like he's one step away from being able to practice. He basically admitted on Twitter that if it weren't for the NFL's new concussion protocol, he would have been right back out there during the game after his hit. Kinda crazy, but it makes it clear: this is a guy who believes he is ready to go. If he's cleared to play, he'll play. Thomas has an ankle, and those can be tricky, but he did dress for practice Thursday and took the mental reps. We'll be watching the injury report closely Friday.
TP: What's going on with the Broncos right now? Is it all centered on a shaky offensive line? Speculation has Denver waiting until after this game to sign guard Richie Incognito, so the former Dolphins player and subject of the bully scandal investigation last year, is not facing his former team in his first game, adding more of a media circus. Do you think Incognito, who really is a good guard and will make some offensive line better whenever he is signed, ends up in Denver?
MHR: It's very mostly centered on the shaky offensive line. For some context: after the Super Bowl, the Broncos decided they were fed up with Orlando Franklin at right tackle. He had been a good right tackle for most of his young career, but he got abused that game, pretty much caused the early pick-six, on and on it goes. So they decided that backup left tackle Chris Clark, who played pretty well in replacing Ryan Clady (Lisfranc sprain) in 2013, would move over to right tackle, Clady would return to left, and Franklin would move to left guard. On paper, this shift should work. On paper, this looked really good to me. Hell, I kind of claimed it was my idea.
It didn't work. Chris Clark was not able to make the move to right tackle. He was benched after Week 6 in favor of a late round backup Paul Cornick, who also did not play well. Then, against the Raiders and Rams, the Broncos just decided to try something crazy: shift All Pro right guard Louis Vasquez to tackle, shift center Manny Ramirez to right guard, and call up veteran backup center Will Montgomery. This worked okay against the Raiders; it did not work at all against the Rams.
The Broncos' core offensive line issues have been and continue to be at right tackle and center (Ramirez just kind of sucked too), and there isn't an easy fix available. Some people want the Broncos to sign Richie Incognito, start him at left guard, and move Franklin back to right tackle. I'm beginning to be a fan of the idea, but if the Broncos were going to do it, they should have just done it two weeks ago. Waiting to make a football move because of bad circumstantial PR means you probably shouldn't make the move, period. I personally don't think the Broncos sign Incognito next week, but if the Dolphins abuse Denver's OL and cause a second straight loss, I know that could change.
TP: The Broncos have the second ranked rushing defense in the league along with one of the top cornerbacks in the league in Chris Harris, Jr., not to mention Aqib Talib, plus the DeMarcus Ware/Von Miller pass rush combination. If you are designing an offense to attack Denver's defense, how do you draw up the game plan?
MHR: The Rams just showed you can beat a Denver Broncos team with five field goals if your defense can supply enough pressure. So it really starts there: you have to keep Manning far, far below his 30-points-per-game average with the Broncos.
Part of that stopping-Peyton-formula is to keep him off the field. Sustain long drives. Run the football. Keep drives alive in the short passing game. Again, this only works if you keep Manning below his points. You need both sides playing well to stop Peyton Manning.
TP: The question that you probably get asked way too much lately - what's the deal with Peyton Manning? I mean, he's playing better now than he was five years ago. As Dolphins fans, we are all just waiting for the day Tom Brady retires and we don't have to see that guy any more (something I am sure Peyton understands), but both Manning and Brady seem to have stopped aging. What's the secret here, and what are realistic expectations for how much longer Manning can do this?
MHR: I think playing for a new team has been refreshing for Peyton. I think playing for a fellow Hall of Fame QB in John Elway has been too. Manning is driven to break all the records, and he probably will, so there's that as well. I've said for years that I've had a gut feeling that Peyton will play three years in Denver, so this is his grand finale. There's no evidence that is the case, except my gut. He could finish out his contract (through 2016) in Denver, or he could call it any given year. He basically signed five one-year deals with the Broncos, and he's taking it one year at a time. Realistically, I'd be shocked if he played beyond 2016.
Although really, I think Peyton Manning is just hogging all of MJ's Secret Stuff.
TP: I can tell you, the Broncos losing last week worries me. Peyton Manning could be set to come out with a 7 touchdown performance or something, just to get that loss behind him. How do you see this game going down?
MHR: I can tell you, the Dolphins having a terrific defense worries me. That is the exact formula you need to beat the Broncos: a terrific pass rush with four players, and talented guys in the back seven to confuse Manning. I see a close game, but at home, and being a homer, I think the Broncos pull away in the fourth quarter. But I could easily see another big shellacking if the Dolphins defense is able to outclass Denver's offensive line the way the Rams were.
A big thanks to Kyle for giving us a closer look at the Broncos. The Dolphins and Denver kickoff at 4:25pm ET Sunday afternoon.