ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has always had a knack for uncovering unheralded tailbacks in the draft.
His eye for wideouts, though, has been wayward, a point even he concedes.
"When you look at my track record, it's not very good," said Shanahan, whose team hosts New Orleans (1-1) on Sunday.
Then, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal came along. Suddenly, his hunches for receivers have been right on, the same way they were with Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson, all of whom were late-round picks that rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
"The last couple have been pretty good," Shanahan said of his wideout selections.
The talented Marshall and Royal have been dismantling defensive backs so far, becoming trustworthy targets for Jay Cutler. The Broncos (2-0) have the top-ranked offense in the league, averaging 463.5 yards and 40 points a game.
That's definitely a concern for Saints coach Sean Payton, whose secondary is nicked up. He's hoping to have cornerback Mike McKenzie back from a knee injury, but he's not sure yet.
"They can get you into certain looks and force you into some bad matchups," Payton said. "It puts a lot of stress on the defense."
The Broncos, long known for their running game, are putting the pressure squarely on the rifle right arm of Cutler. He's winging the ball all over the field, attempting a career-high 50 passes in a 39-38 win over San Diego last weekend.
Cutler has thrown for a league-leading 650 yards, his offensive line giving him ample time to pick out his targets. Cutler has been sacked once this season, despite a front that includes rookie left tackle Ryan Clady.
"He's someone that they brought along real well," Payton said of Cutler. "He has a great grasp of what they're doing on offense. You see his stroke -- it comes out quick with a lot of velocity on the football."
No need to tell that to Marshall, who's coming off an 18-catch performance in his first game back following a one-game suspension. He's wary of breaking fingers.
"We have some off time in practice and he wants to go to the side and get some more reps and throw the ball," said Marshall, a fourth-round pick in 2006. "I try to run away and he's like, 'Where are you going?' I'm like, 'You throw too hard, man!' I only want to catch the balls when I have to."
Marshall reminds Payton of his young wideout, Marques Colston, who's currently out four to six weeks after tearing a ligament in his left thumb in the opener.
They're both tall, reliable targets that arrived from out of nowhere. Marshall hails from Central Florida, while Colston arrived from Hofstra.
"(Marshall) provides a big target and he has real strong hands in traffic," Payton said. "We're going to have to tackle well, tackle better than we have."
The emergence of the rookie Royal should free up Marshall -- or vice versa.
Royal became the first Broncos rookie to start at receiver in 23 years against Oakland in the opener. His debut was dazzling as he caught nine catches for 146 yards.
He followed that by hauling in a 4-yard touchdown pass late against the Chargers to pull Denver within a point, 38-37.
Then, Shanahan rolled the dice, electing to go for a 2-point conversion, and Royal wrapped up a strike from Cutler for the win.
It was a gutsy call. Would Payton have made that decision?
"Sure," he said. "If the situation was similar, yes. You have to have conviction in a play, too, and certainly confidence in the quarterback."
Shanahan definitely has confidence in Cutler, loosening up the playbook for his third-year quarterback and taking more chances downfield.
So far, it's working.
"We have a chance to be as good as anybody," Shanahan said of his offense. "We have a chance to be the best in the league."
Shanahan has grown quite fond of Saints quarterback Drew Brees over the years, after facing Brees while he was with San Diego. He appreciates Brees' intelligence and savvy.
"Drew has been my hero. I watched him grow up from a good quarterback to a great quarterback," Shanahan said. "You can just see that he understands the game. He doesn't make too many mistakes."
That's bad news for a Denver defense that ranks near the bottom against the pass, allowing 266.5 yards a game.
"(New Orleans) is a team that can hurt you with the big play," linebacker Boss Bailey said.
The Broncos were burned by the big play against San Diego, as the speedy Darren Sproles returned a kick 103 yards for a score and later juked his way to a 66-yard touchdown on a short pass from Philip Rivers.
New Orleans has a Sproles of its own in Reggie Bush.
"They're somewhat the same," Bailey said. "Reggie Bush is a little more power guy. They use him all over the field."
Bush wouldn't mind seeing a linebacker try to cover him, as Denver sometimes does with backs in motion. In fact, he's hoping for it.
"Anytime I'm able to be matched up with a linebacker, I feel like I have an advantage," said Bush, who had a 55-yard punt return for a score in a loss to Washington last week. "We'll see. Everybody plays us different. We'll look to find ways where we can take advantage."