McCarron focused on what he can control**
First-year quarterback AJ McCarron will have his hands full on Monday when he goes up against a Broncos defense that ranks No. 1 in rushing yards per play allowed, passing yards per play allowed and sacks per pass attempt.
But he's trying not to be too concerned with a pass rush and secondary that can make life hell for quarterbacks.
"I think it comes down to watch Coach always says—it's how we play," McCarron said in a conference call with Denver media on Wednesday. "We feel like we control what happens on how we execute and how we perform. They have an unbelievable defensive line, great secondary and we've just got to go out, execute, play our game and put us in the situation to win the ballgame."
Safety T.J. Ward made his return to practice as the Broncos prepare to host the Bengals.
McCarron's situation is not too different from Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler's; he was thrust into the lineup because of an injury to starter Andy Dalton, who suffered a thumb injury against the Steelers in Week 14. But McCarron didn't have the advantages Osweiler did throughout the offseason and into the season when he got practice snaps with the first team at least once a week when Peyton Manning took his rest days.
But in spite of the change in his preparation, McCarron tries to not get too overwhelmed with who he'll face and what's at stake for him and the team. After Cincinnati fell to Pittsburgh in his first game of significant action, McCarron bounced back for a win over the 49ers with a touchdown pass and no interceptions.
"That's a great part of his personality," Lewis said. "It doesn't get too big for him. He's been that way all the way through here. That's why we liked him so highly and thought so highly of him. He has not done anything to disappoint us in that."
For McCarron, he aims to avoid disappointment by simply trying to find the holes in the defense when he can without forcing any risky attempts.
"I just really try to take what the defense gives [me]," McCarron said. "It's kind of a saying that I've always kept with me ever since when I first got to college and [former Alabama Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Jim] McElwain, who is now at Florida, kind of told me when I got there—take what the defense gives you and eventually they'll give you the game. That's just my mindset. If they take away the big, explosive play and the check down is there, take the check down until they eventually give you the big play. I think that's the biggest thing is to keep taking care of the football and taking what they give me and then we'll be fine."
Denver defense impresses Lewis from line to secondary**
McCarron may be looking for what the defense will give them, but he knows that it won't give him much because Denver has such a star-studded group.
"They're unbelievable. They've got some legendary guys," McCarron said. "I grew up watching [OLB] DeMarcus Ware. I know [CB Aqib] Talib well. We have the same agent. It's a special group—a special defensive group especially—and we have a challenge for us on Monday night. I know my guys. We're up for the challenge, but it's going to be a good one."
With a pass rush and secondary that feeds off each other, the Broncos defense often creates time to pester quarterbacks into sacks or errant throws.
"[Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has] the perfect marriage," Lewis said. "He's got the two outside rushers and they added two more last year with [OLB] Shane Ray and they got the kid from Colorado State [OLB Shaquil Barrett] two years ago and his development. Then the guys inside have done a great job—basically their five techniques—and are really playing well. [DE Malik] Jackson is playing awesome. They really have great personnel to do what he likes to do. His corners are great and, as you said, it fits to Wade's style of defense."
Lewis recalls the first time he saw Peyton Manning throw**
Peyton Manning has been ruled out for Monday's game as he continues to recover from a foot injury, but Marvin Lewis couldn't help but think back to the time he first saw Manning in person.
"I got an opportunity to observe him when he was at Tennessee and was preparing for the draft," Lewis said. " It was a tremendous day. I remember myself and [Bears head coach] John Fox, we were two of the defensive coaches there that day and the rest was populated by a zillion offensive people, personnel, GMs and so forth. I just remember that we were in awe, John and I, sitting there and watching how he directed the entire workout that day.
"He gained a fan in me right from the start. I got a chance to coach against him his rookie year and just have been able to watch his career all the way through and it has just been incredible. […]He has been tremendous for the NFL. He's a tremendous role model for the young guys coming in each and every year with what he does with the uplifting of the football team and making everybody around him better and pull the best out of them."
But Manning will not be playing against Lewis' team on Monday. Rather, it will be Osweiler, making his sixth start.
"I think that he's done an impressive job. He's big, strong and he's athletic," Lewis said. "He's carried the ball 18 times thus far, so obviously he's not afraid to get out of there and run when he has to do things. He has good command of the field. He has good vision down the field and, for the most part has been very, very accurate."