ENGLEWOOD—If the Denver Broncos want to stop Kareem Hunt, it would help if they had Derek Wolfe.
“I should be there,’’ Wolfe said.
The Broncos’ standout defensive end, Wolfe has missed practice this week with a bruised right foot and torn tendon in a ring finger. The Broncos play against the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play a couple days ago,’’ Wolfe said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ But we’ve got a great training staff here. They get us ready to play. That’s what they’re best at. It would take a lot for me not to be playing in a Monday Night Football game against the Chiefs.’’
Playing without practicing is something all NFL veterans learn to do from time to time.
“I usually play better when I don’t practice,’’ Wolfe said with a wry smile.
The foot is the biggest issue. It got stomped on Sunday during the Broncos’ 21-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Wolfe progressed to where he was running around while wearing cleats Thursday.
Hunt, the Chiefs’ rookie running back, leads the NFL in rushing and already has more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage through seven games.
“He’s a great back,’’ Wolfe said. “Great back. His balance. The balance he runs with. He gets hit and he stays on his feet. It’s impressive.’’
Three other Bronco players didn’t practice again Thursday because of injuries: Starting receiver Emmanuel Sanders, starting inside linebacker Todd Davis and backup offensive tackle Donald Stephenson.
Olivo accepts blame
The problem wasn’t the punt. The problem was special teams coordinator Brock Olivo didn’t do a good enough job coaching up his punter.
So said the refreshingly self-deprecating Olivo during the coordinator press conferences Friday. Turns out, Riley Dixon was supposed to directionally punt toward the right sidelines with the speedy Travis Benjamin back as the Chargers’ returner.
But like most young punters, Dixon has yet to master the directional punt. His boot went low, short and down the middle. Benjamin caught it in a hop and sprinted 65 yards for a touchdown.
Worse, it occurred a few plays after the Denver defense came up with a four-down, goal-line stand from its 1 yard one. The Benjamin return made it, 7-0 Chargers as the Broncos’ defense watched helplessly from the sidelines.
“We left it in the middle of the field with 3.2 (second) hang time against an elite returner like Travis Benjamin -- we can’t do that,’’ Olivo said. “It puts us in trouble. It puts a lot of stress on your coverage team. That’s on me. I have to get Riley ready to go. He had to come out of the gate hitting a good directional punt. We knew that Travis Benjamin was a guy that we had to stop. That was one of our first objectives going into that week. I didn’t do a good enough job of preparing him to do that, apparently. I have to be better with that coming out of the gate. We can’t give that up. I’m letting our team down and our staff down. I have to do better.”
McCoy says turnovers the key
For two weeks, Mike McCoy seemed like an offensive genius as the Broncos’ new offensive coordinator. The Broncos built an impressive (and barely insurmountable) 24-7 lead through three quarters against the Chargers in the opener. They then put up 42 points (with help from an Aqib Talib pick six) against Dallas.
But in the last four games McCoy’s play-calling has often been second-guessed as the Broncos have scored 16, 16, 10 and zero points.
Did the shutout – the first suffered by the Broncos in nearly 25 years – cause McCoy and his offensive assistants to make changes this week?
“I think number one we have to quit turning the football over,’’ McCoy said. “That’s the first thing, Throughout the season, that’s one thing that has hurt our team.’’
Indeed, the Broncos have turned it over 12 times, or two a game.
“Secondly, we have to eliminate penalties,’’ McCoy said. “There are some things where we’re driving the ball at the end and there’s a penalty here and there, especially in the red area which are critical at times.’’
The Broncos had just one red-zone trip last week – and it didn’t happen until 5 minutes left in the game with the Chargers up by the 21-0 score that became the final. On first and 10 from the Chargers’ 11, the Broncos first went back 5 yards when right tackle Allen Barbre was called for an illegal formation.
That made it first and 15.
Then left tackle Garett Bolles was called for holding. That made it first and 25 at the Chargers’ 26. So much for the red zone possession. The Broncos wound up turning it over on downs.