[Editor’s note:  Former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist looks at how his old team did against the Buccaneers in Week Five.] 
QB Brian Griese and Tampa Bay went to Invesco Field for the first time to take on the team that had originally drafted the Buccaneers’ signal caller as the heir to John Elway. Denver’s current and apparent version of that honor, Jay Cutler, had been ripping opposing defenses for most of the month. That is until Kansas City derailed the Broncos last week from their 3-0 start. The Buccaneers had won three straight and were looking for a 4th to stay on top of the NFC South. Denver’s vaunted running game was becoming an afterthought to the big-play ability of Cutler and his receivers. Brandon Marshall and rookie Eddie Royal brought a combo of size and speed respectively, something that most defenses had yet to figure out. But this was the Tampa 2 of the Buccaneers. Monte Kiffin’s defense is one of the League’s best and this would prove to be a good test for the young Cutler.
I felt KEY #1 would be Jay’s ability to bounce back from last week’s disappointment. Cutler is plenty smart, poised on the field, but can get a bit emotional underneath it all. The safeties play a huge key in this style of defense. Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips had been instrumental in helping Tampa shut down both the run and pass. Cutler would need to show patience and not force the ball into coverage. Tampa had been successful not only creating the turnover, but scoring off it. The only thing that had stopped Denver to date was themselves.Cutler did show patience. He was an efficient 23 of 34 for 227 yards. More importantly he did not throw an interception. The Bucs cutoff his primary targets in Marshall and Royal, so he turned to the old veteran Brandon Stokley, who worked underneath the coverage for 6 catches and 52 yards, scoring Denver’s only TD.
Tampa did all they could do in shutting down Cutler and still it wasn’t enough. For the better part of a month Denver’s defense was taking the brunt of the criticism, because really there was nowhere else to turn. The offense was scoring almost at will and Larry Johnson had just run through the Broncos for almost 200 yards the week before. Lack of pressure off the edge or up the middle was allowing the San Diegos and New Orleans and Kansas Cities to put up their own gaudy numbers. Backup DT Kenny Peterson led the team with 2 sacks. Elvis Dumervil had been held to one. Brian Griese had struggled in the face of pressure before and that led to KEY #2 for the Broncos: Get some heat on the QB. Tampa was dead last in efficiency against the blitz and Denver was one of the worst teams in the League blitzing. Go figure.
Denver brought the heat. Dumervil and DE Ebenezer Ekuban grabbed a sack a piece. They both added a QB hurry to their stats as well. LB’s D.J. Williams, Boss Bailey, and Jamie Winborn would all tally a hurry. It was the noticeable difference in Denver’s defensive performances over the past couple weeks (3 sacks and 6 hurries). Denver had even gone to a 3-4 look at times to get their LB’s on the field more often, but this week they just came hard off the edge. Griese held his poise and didn’t force the mistake, but the sacks and pressures disrupted the Bucs rhythm and ultimately killed a few drives.Invesco Field is a tough place to play and the best way to quiet the crowd is with a strong running game, all the while chewing up the clock. Tampa had used the combination of Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn to rip into their opponents the past 3 weeks. Big-play runs were the norm and Denver had shown to be suspect to that over the first quarter of the season. Graham already had plays of 46, 47, and 68 yards. I felt KEY #3 would be Tampa’s ability to hit the hole with their talented tandem and take on the Denver LB’s. The Bucs are at their best when staying out of third down and moving the chains efficiently on first and second. Denver tends to tighten up on short yardage, so the Bucs would want to keep on pace. They had been one of the best in producing the long drive (10+ plays) and controlling time of possession. Bronco fans had to be worried when Warrick Dunn sprinted for 38 yards early in the game. But the holes got significantly smaller and the yards a bit harder as the game progressed. Tampa was able to compile 133 yards on 21 carries by Graham and Dunn (over 6 per). But the big plays ended on Dunn’s scamper and the top three tacklers on the day were Denver’s starting trio of D.J. Williams, Boss Bailey, and Nate Webster. The Broncos forced five three and outs, with one drive ending at 3 plays and an interception.
A requirement to execute the Tampa 2 is getting pressure from your front four (with no help). Jay Cutler has enjoyed a relatively clear and easy path created by his O-Line for most of four weeks. What’s amazing is how quickly the different components have gelled. If you read my early report on the Broncos, no offensive lineman has played next to his teammate until this season. Denver is effectively starting two rookies at OT (Ryan Harris a 1st time starter in year 2). I thought the interior battles with Chris Hovan and Jovan Haye would open up some “one on one” opportunities for DE’s Gaines Adams, Greg White, and Kevin Carter (KEY #4). Once again, rookie Ryan Clady and Harris more than held their own. Tampa recorded no sacks and no pressures. Cutler was never pressured into forcing the ball. He had the time and showed the patience to read through the coverage and find the open receiver, especially with Stokley in the 3rd quarter. Great job by the young OT’s!
KEY #5 was not to be as KOR Andre Hall only got two chances in the game. He had a long of 24 yards. Tampa’s Matt Bryant wasn’t able to find the elusive touchback, even at altitude. The coverage unit descended upon the Bronco KOR’s rather quickly.