ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -The Denver Broncos overhauled their defense for just this occasion - stopping LaDainian Tomlinson.
The San Diego Chargers tailback has made a living out of shredding the Broncos, rushing for 1,222 yards and 15 touchdowns in 14 games against them.
That's why Denver brought in new safeties (Marquand Manuel, Marlon McCree), added more beef up front (DeWayne Robertson) and shuffled around their linebackers, to be more effective against the run.
And Tomlinson will be the litmus test. He'll quickly show whether the Broncos are indeed improved against the run - an area in which they ranked near the bottom of the league in 2007.
``It's a different ballgame now,'' Broncos cornerback Karl Paymah said.
r, who's now in Atlanta, gaining 147 yards in the first meeting, and Tomlinson rushing for 107 on Christmas Eve.
``It's embarrassing what they've done to us,'' defensive lineman Ebenezer Ekuban said. ``We definitely have something to prove, we want to be competitive. Whenever you kick our tails like that, we're definitely going to put forth some extra effort to try to make sure it doesn't happen again.''
The Broncos started their defensive transformation by giving the coordinator job solely to Bob Slowik, after he shared the duties with Jim Bates last season.
Then they began reconditioning their run defense by bringing in the run stuffer Robertson in a trade with the New York Jets. The 308-pound defensive tackle posted career highs in tackles (74) and sacks (4) for the Jets last season.
The team also added physical safeties McCree - who knows Tomlinson well having played in San Diego the last two years - and Manuel. Their arrivals prompted nine-time Pro Bowler John Lynch to ask out of Denver, and he was released.
But the biggest changes to the defense were made at linebacker, where Nate Webster took over the middle, captain D.J. Williams was switched back to the weak side, and newcomer Boss Bailey inherited the strongside slot.
Winborn has stepped in.
So far, Manuel likes what he sees out of the revamped squad.
``You've got 11 headhunters, guys trying to do their job,'' said Manuel, who's been playing with a broken thumb on his right hand. ``Everybody is always trying to get to the ball. That's the main thing with these guys - everybody stays hungry.''
The Raiders were able to find holes against the Broncos' rush defense on Monday night, averaging 4.8 yards a carry, but it didn't matter much in Denver's 41-14 rout.
``We're still a long ways away from where we want to be,'' Manuel said.
Time's quickly running out - Tomlinson is coming to town Sunday.
In his career, Tomlinson has five 100-yard games against Denver, including a 220-yard performance in 2002.
``Everything makes that guy tough,'' Winborn said. ``He's got tremendous vision, he understands the game, plays within the offense. He's got all the tools athletically to make guys miss, outrun guys. He can catch, he can block. He's a phenomenal athlete.''
Even in his eighth season, Tomlinson doesn't appear to have lost a step - at least in the eyes of Dre' Bly.
out threat.''
However, the 2006 NFL MVP won't be facing the same defensive front as in years past - or so the Broncos hope.
San Diego coach Norv Turner has definitely noticed a difference.
``You can see they're very, very focused on stopping the run,'' Turner said. ``They're playing very, very aggressively. They've got great speed and great quickness. You can tell they've spent a lot of time doing it and are very committed to it.''
The Broncos will soon find out if the retooling has worked.
``Their bread and butter is running the ball, being a physical team up front,'' Ekuban said. ``If you stop the run, they'll get frustrated and hopefully pass the ball more than they want to. If we can do that, we'll get them where we want them.''
Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial

NFL Team Pages

Recent NFL Discussions