Denver at St. Louis wire reports

Matchup Breakdown | Game Notes

ST. LOUIS (Sept. 6, 2006) -- A fantastic 2005 regular season for the Denver Broncos was tempered by a bitter defeat in the AFC championship game, leaving the club wanting more.

Considered a top Super Bowl contender, the Broncos begin this season by visiting the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

Thanks to a career year from quarterback Jake Plummer, Denver went 13-3 last season and won the AFC West title for the first time since 1998. Long considered turnover-prone, Plummer made his first Pro Bowl by throwing 18 touchdowns and a career low-tying seven interceptions.

"I know I had one of my best years last year and I look to improve on that, whatever that means," said Plummer, who is 32-11 as Denver's starter. "I didn't expect to go out and throw that little amount of interceptions, but I would like to do the same again this year, up the touchdowns and just lead the team the best I can."

But Plummer -- fourth among active players with 148 career interceptions -- reverted to his old form in the AFC championship game, committing four turnovers as Denver lost 34-17 at home to Pittsburgh.

The Broncos gain a key offensive weapon this offseason in WR Javon Walker.
The Broncos hope a repeat of that performance doesn't happen and have surrounded Plummer with some new weapons, including wide receiver Javon Walker, who was acquired in a draft-day deal with Green Bay.

Walker made the Pro Bowl in 2004 after catching 89 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, but missed nearly all of 2005 after tearing a ligament in his right knee in the season opener.

He performed well in training camp and figures to be an upgrade over Ashley Lelie, who held out because he wasn't going to be the featured pass-catcher and was eventually dealt to Atlanta for a draft pick.

"New city, new atmosphere," he said. "And the old Javon Walker."

Rookie Mike Bell is the probable new starter at running back, getting the nod ahead of Tatum Bell, who still figures to see plenty of carries. Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson shared the job last season and the pair combined for 1,935 yards. Anderson was a salary-cap casualty in the offseason and Mike Bell has impressed the coaching staff with his preseason play.

Denver coach Mike Shanahan hasn't officially named a starter, likely to keep the Rams guessing until kickoff.

"The coaches haven't decided yet," said Mike Bell, who went undrafted out of Arizona. "I know I'm going to play some. But they don't know who the starter is going to be. And I feel whichever way it goes, I know it's going to be good for the team."

St. Louis is beginning a new era under coach Scott Linehan, who was hired after Mike Martz was fired following a six-year tenure in which he took the Rams to a Super Bowl after the 2001 season.

Gone is the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that Martz preferred, replaced instead by Linehan's ball-control system. An offensive coordinator in Minnesota and Miami the last four seasons, Linehan still likes to air it out, but will rely on the running game -- led by Steven Jackson -- much more than Martz did.

With Marshall Faulk's career likely over because of a knee injury, Jackson is expected to improve significantly in his second year as the starter. He rushed for 1,046 yards in 2005, but was ineffective for portions of the season.

Last week, St. Louis signed former Pro Bowler Stephen Davis to be Jackson's backup.

"It's intriguing to have two really good proven backs," Linehan said. "I like the mix of those two plus Tony (Fisher) on third down."

Quarterback Marc Bulger is healthy after missing eight games last season, and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce both return at receiver.

Holt is the first person in NFL history to have six straight 1,300-yard seasons, while Bruce is the franchise's career leader in receptions (813), yards receiving (12,278) and touchdown receptions (77).

The Rams hope an improved defense plus their place in the weak NFC West can help them get back to the playoffs after finishing 6-10 last season.

"I think our entire team improved," Linehan said. "We're going to find out here soon. We've really spent a lot of time on our ability to stop the run. A lot of it is technique things we had to sure up. I think all those things will improve, it's how much that I'll find out here shortly, but I think we're in much better shape."

St. Louis and Denver have split 10 all-time meetings, with the Broncos winning 23-16 on Sept. 8, 2002, at home in the most recent matchup. The Rams won 41-36 in 2000, the only meeting in St. Louis.

Team Standing
Denver 3rd AFC West
St. Louis 4th NFC West

QUESTIONABLE DE Courtney Brown (Knee)

PROBABLE OLB Patrick Chukwurah (Ankle)
WR Brandon Marshall (Knee)
T Adam Meadows (Shoulder)
T Erik Pears (Finger)
FB Cecil Sapp (Hamstring)
DT Gerard Warren (Toe)

No injuries reported.