ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In a week when the Denver Broncos may really need their linebackers in pass coverage, Danny Trevathan's knee injury could impact how the Broncos' defense goes about its business Sunday in Dallas.
Trevathan injured a knee in Wednesday's practice and was carted off the field. The Broncos sent Trevathan for an MRI -- the initial report from team sources were the results showed no significant damage that would require a long absence -- and will have to adjust their plans at least some in the coming days to deal with the Cowboys offense. Trevathan, who is questionable for the game at this point, is one of the most active players in pass coverage for the Broncos and plays alongside Wesley Woodyard in the two linebacker spots when the team is in the nickel (five defensive backs).
And the Broncos are in the nickel a great deal these days. They played in the formation for 63 snaps, penalties included, in Sunday's win over the Eagles. They used it 47 times in the season opener against the Ravens. The Cowboys also push most of their passing attack toward the running backs and tight ends. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has completed 46.4 percent of his passes to the team's tight ends and running backs, led by running back DeMarco Murray and tight end Jason Witten, who each have 21 receptions.
“Those guys keep doing what they have to do to get open,'' Irving said. “Whoever is in there will have to step up ... as a defense that's kind of what we pride outselves on, that anybody who goes in there can get the job done.''
In their base defense, one option for the Broncos would be to move Paris Lenon into the middle and then move Woodyard from the middle to the weakside linebacker, where Trevathan has been the starter this year. Lenon was a game day inactive this past Sunday with a thigh injury, but did participate in Wednesday's practice. Woodyard's flexibility -- he has started at weak-side linebacker previously in his career -- gives the Broncos some options.
Or the Broncos could leave Woodyard in the middle -- likely the preferred move given how well Woodyard has played thus far -- and play Steven Johnson on the weakside in the base defense as well.
“I played outside in college, I played (middle linebacker), I played (middle linebacker) here, played outside,'' Johnson said. “All of us linebackers we know how to play multiple positions.''
In passing situations the Broncos could use the dime (six defensive backs) more and move safety Mike Adams in as the weak-side linebacker, something they have done plenty already this season.
Update: By Wednesday evening, the Broncos had some hope Trevathan could return to practice in the coming days after an MRI on the knee turned out to be negative. He would be questionable for the game at this point.
Wide receiver Eric Decker, who is the team's third-leading receiver with 24 catches, was held out of Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury he suffered Sunday against the Eagles. Decker has played with a shoulder injury since the season opener, but said the ankle injury wasn't that serious. He called the missed practice “a precaution." "It's feeling good, I'm just trying to be smart,'' Decker said. He said he expected to play Sunday.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, a former quarterback and offensive coordinator in the league, had a rather lofty assessment of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's play so far this season. Manning is completing 75 percent of his passes and has thrown 16 touchdowns passes, or more touchdowns than any team in the league has scored overall. The Broncos are also averaging 44.8 points per game. “Peyton Manning has played for 15 years at about the highest level you can play,'' Garrett said. “I think he's probably playing his best football over the first four games of the season. He looks remarkable to me.'' For their part the Cowboys have surrendered two 400-yard passing games already this season, 450 yards to Eli Manning in the season opener and 401 yards to Philip Rivers in the Chargers' comeback win over Dallas last weekend. Manning has not had a 400-yard passing game since the 2010 season opener -- 433 yards against the Texans.
Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen had full participation in a practice for the first time since training camp Wednesday. Dreessen had two arthroscopic surgeries in a two-month span, including the second during training camp. He was limited in practice all last week, but did play 17 snaps on offense Sunday to go with 18 plays on special teams.
Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, an Oklahoma native, on most of his family being Cowboys' fans; “I definitely want to ruin their day.''