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Denver vs. Washington: Top Five Storylines

Posted Oct 25, 2013

A look at five compelling storylines for this week’s matchup.

Another Week, Another Homecoming

Last week it was Peyton Manning returning to the city where he won four MVPs and a Super Bowl.

This week, Washington Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan returns to Denver, where coached the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles.

“Looking forward to it,” Shanahan said. “You’re there for 21 years you got a lot of great friends – a lot of great memories. (It is) where we raised our family – yeah I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be enjoyable.”

Cornerback Champ Bailey, tackle Ryan Clady, guard Chris Kuper, kicker Matt Prater and linebacker Wesley Woodyard are the only players left on the club from Shanahan’s time as the head coach.

All but Bailey began their careers with Shanahan as their head coach.

Woodyard was brought in by Shanahan and the Denver front office as a college free agent after going undrafted. He said that Shanahan even called him twice to make sure he was on board.

“One was to tell me, you know, we want you here in Denver," Woodyard recalled. "And two was, ‘Hey, we want you here in Denver so make sure you get out here and give us a shot.’ So I’m extremely proud and it was a blessing that I got a call from our head coach – Coach Shanahan at the time. It was an exciting moment for me.”

Shanahan coached in five Super Bowls with the Broncos – three as an assistant and two as a head coach.

He led Denver to 138 regular-season victories in 14 seasons, and was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

“I’m just looking forward to going back to a place where I've got a lot of great memories,” Shanahan said. “I think it’s a little bit different when you come back 4.5 years later in comparison to the next year. There has been a lot of time that has gone since I was in Denver but I have a lot of great friends there.”

Momentum for the Bye Week

Last year the Broncos were 2-3 and staring at a 24-point deficit with 30 minutes to go until its bye week.

Thirty-five unanswered points in those 30 minutes evened the club's record to 3-3 and provided a surge of momentum. The team won 10 more in a row after the bye to close out the 2012 regular season.

That proved to this year’s team just how important the game before the bye week can be.

“Oh it’s huge. Last year we had a big win before the bye week,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “We know that we've got some rest ahead of us so put it all on the field—leave it all on the field --  and that’s something that we try to do every Sunday but especially this Sunday having extra days off. Just playing extra hard.”

While this week’s game vs. Washington counts as much as any of the other 16 that the Broncos will play, the result will stay in the Broncos’ minds for an extra week. 

“Every one of these are tone-setters,” Head Coach John Fox said. “I think obviously when you lose in this league you prefer it to be less lingering. In other words, get back to business pretty fast on a Wednesday. You go into your bye (and) by league rule now you give guys four days off – it is mandatory. I think to go into a bye off of a victory is a lot more (important) than off of a loss.”

First Look at RGIII

The Broncos defense will get its first look at quarterback Robert Griffin III, who earned the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2012.

Griffin III ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago to go with 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air.

After injuring his knee in the Redskins postseason loss to Seattle, Griffin III rushed for just 72 yards in the first four games of 2013.

Since then, he’s run for 77 and 84 yards respectively in the past two weeks.

“I think he’s just getting comfortable back with his knee and he’s one of the players that—me, as an NFL guy—I respect watching him play,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “It’s good seeing him back there, full speed, and he’s getting comfortable on that knee, so that’s always good. We expect a little running from him, a little bit more.”

Injury Report

After a lengthy list of Broncos veterans missed practice Wednesday, there was concern about who would be able to suit up on Sunday.

Thursday’s injury report helped quell those fears.

"Some of it is wear and tear of being almost halfway through an NFL football season," Head Coach John Fox explained. "Some of it is guys that are a little further along in their careers resting to make sure they’re ready to play on Sunday.”

Quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Eric Decker, wide receiver Wes Welker, defensive end Shaun Phillips, tackle Orlando Franklin, tight end Joel Dreessen, guard Chris Kuper and cornerback Champ Bailey all missed Wednesday’s session.

All but Kuper and Bailey returned to practice the next day.

"It’s that time of the season where you just make sure you’re 100 percent and take care of things," Welker said. "Everybody has something at this point in the season so you just try to manage it and move on.”

Shutting Down a Top 10 Offense

Denver’s defense, which enters Week 8 ranked in the bottom third in both points and yards allowed per game will face one of the league’s Top-10 offenses.

Washington averages 415.8 yards per game and 25.3 points per game to rank fourth and 10th among all NFL teams in those categories.

“Their last couple of weeks – well over 400 yards of total offense, over 200 yards rushing, 45 points last week in the win,” Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “Yeah, they’re obviously – it looks like ‘RGIII’ is getting healthier as the year goes on. Yeah, it’s a good football team.”

While Del Rio is still waiting to get the 11 players that he started training camp with on the field at the same time, he isn’t dwelling on who is missing from the lineup.

“No—I mean, I love coaching,” he said. “I love coming out here and working with the guys, teaching the guys and motivating the guys. And then we go out and let it rip on Sundays. We’re excited about this opportunity Sunday against a very good team.”

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