You can’t help but notice the similarities between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.
After finishing last year at 8-8, neither team is where it hoped to be nearly midway through this season. The talent is there, but the results are not. The 49ers are 1-6 and Denver is 2-5; still though, both teams believe they can turn things around starting with Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium.
The 49ers arrived in London early Monday morning, but the Broncos aren’t leaving Denver until Thursday. They will arrive in London on Friday morning.
Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels said his team is waiting to leave because he wants to keep the schedule as normal as possible. Also, after doing the research, he believes his team will have enough time to acclimate despite the later arrival.
“I think being over there for three days or being over there for seven or six days, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference,” he said. “And we felt it was very important to have some level of normalcy in our preparation.”
The Broncos are coming off of a 59-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders, tying a franchise record for points allowed. They got behind early in the game, trailing 21-0 with 8:58 to go in the first quarter. In all, Denver allowed 508 total yards, 328 of which came on the ground, and committed three turnovers.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are coming off a 23-20 loss to the previously winless Panthers, and there are questions as to whether or not starting quarterback
This game will be the 13th meeting between the teams and the series is tied at six wins apiece.
The Broncos have had no problem piling up the yards this year, but finding the end zone has been a different story.
Denver is averaging 358.6 yards per game, good for 10th in the NFL, but they score just 19.7 points per contest, ranking them 21st overall. In 26 red zone attempts this season, they have only scored 10 touchdowns.
But the Broncos do have the fourth-ranked passing attack in the NFL. Quarterback Kyle Orton has thrown for 2,140 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and his big arm can torch defenses, as evidenced by his 476-yard game against the Colts in Week 3.
Orton gets a lot of help from a talented receiving corps; even with the departure of two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall there has been little drop-off from this group.
No wide receiver on the Broncos roster has more than three touchdowns, but Brandon Lloyd has become the big-play threat averaging more than 20 yards per reception. The former member of the 49ers has 709 receiving yards this season, ranking him second in the NFL.
Starting opposite of Lloyd is third-year wide receiver Eddie Royal. The speedster out of Virginia Tech has 393 yards this season, and he is also a threat as the team’s punt returner averaging 12.4 yards per return. However, Royal did miss practice Tuesday and his status for Sunday’s game is yet to be determined.
Even with all the success in the passing game, the Denver rushing attack has been somewhat maligned in 2010.
Starting running back Knowshon Moreno began the season with rushing touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2, but a hamstring injury kept him sidelined for the next three weeks. In his absence the Denver ground game seemed to disappear, but he returned to the starting lineup last week and will be ready to go again this Sunday.
Still, the Broncos enter the game with the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging just 68.4 yards per contest.
Like the 49ers, the Broncos start two rookies on the offensive line in center J.D. Walton (a third-round pick out of Baylor) and right tackle Zane Beadles (a second-round pick from Utah).
Opposite from Beadles at left tackle is Ryan Clady, who is one of the best in the league at his position. The 325 pounder is arguably the most athletic linemen in the NFL and rarely misses his blocks.
While Denver’s offense has struggled to find the end zone, the defense has had as much trouble keeping opponents out of it. The Broncos have allowed 28.4 points per game, 30th in the league.
But much of that can be attributed to injuries.
The Broncos began the season as a 3-4 team, were forced to switch to a 4-3 due to injuries, and now are back to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
As their roster looks now, they will enter Sunday’s game with a veteran group – every starter except for one (outside linebacker Robert Ayers) has at least five years of experience.
The biggest playmaker on the defense has been inside linebacker D.J. Williams, who leads Denver in tackles (68) and sacks (3.5), and is one of just three players on the team with a forced fumble. Williams teams with fellow inside linebacker Mario Haggan (43 tackles, one forced fumble) to form a formidable duo in the middle.
Up front, the Broncos defensive line is anchored by veteran nose tackle Jamal Williams. On either side of him are defensive ends Justin Vickerson and Justin Bannan. All three are in their first year with the team.
The Broncos secondary is highlighted by Champ Bailey. The veteran cornerback has been one of the best in the league throughout his 12-year career, and teams regularly avoid throwing his way. Bailey has recorded one interception this season.
The other big name back there is Brain Dawkins. The strong safety missed the last two games with a sprained knee, but he returned to the practice field Tuesday and reports say it appears as if he will be ready for Sunday’s game.
And Dawkins wasn’t the only starter in the secondary who returned to practice Tuesday. Cornerback Andre Goodman, who has missed four of the last five games with a quadriceps injury, was on the field as well.