TAMPA — Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has his hands full this week, trying to find a way to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos, who bring an eight-game winning streak to town Sunday with a defense ranked second in the NFL with 12 sacks.
"There are other teams that are harder to figure out, but Denver really doesn't have to be that hard to figure out," Koetter said Friday. "They want to say 'We've got good (pass) rushers. Let's see you block us.' "
LB and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller leads the league with five sacks, and LB Shane Ray had three sacks in last weekend's win against the Bengals. Even without veteran LB DeMarcus Ware, who will miss the game with a forearm injury, the Broncos have a difficult pass rush to contain, reminding Koetter of Colts LB Robert Mathis (118 career sacks) and former-Colts-now-Falcons DE Dwight Freeney (120½) that he faced twice a year in his days as Jaguars offensive coordinator from 2007-11.
"When (the Broncos) get a lead on you, it's kind of like … when Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Colts," Koetter said. "They had those two great ends and they just say 'Let's see if you can block us.' "
Koetter and the Jaguars went 1-5 in his first three years against the Colts but went 3-1 in his last two years, with Mathis and Freeney combining for nine sacks in those 10 games.
If there's complexity to Denver's defense, it's in blitzes out of the Broncos' dime package, which has six defensive backs on the field, including versatile S T.J. Ward.
"They play Ward kind of like a linebacker, and he really is their No. 1 blitzer," Koetter said. "And he's good at it. He's slippery."
INJURY UPDATE: For Sunday the Bucs have ruled out the same four injured players as they did last weekend: RB Doug Martin (hamstring), DE Robert Ayers (ankle), TE Luke Stocker (ankle) and WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring). Bucs C Joe Hawley, who missed Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Rams, practiced for the second straight day and is listed as questionable, though he's expected to start. Denver will be without one of its best pass-rushers in Ware, along with TE Virgil Green (calf) and T Donald Stephenson (calf) Broncos safeties Justin Simmons (hand) and Shiloh Keo (knee) are questionable.
THIS AND THAT: The Bucs have been conservative in bringing kickoffs out of the end zone, with an NFL-low two returns. Rookie Ryan Smith is an option to line up deep if the Bucs have Jacquizz Rodgers focus on being the No. 2 running back. … P Bryan Anger ranks third in net punting with an average of 43.9 yards. Six of his 15 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line. … G Kevin Pamphile was honored as the NFL Players Association Community MVP for the week for his help in launching science, technology, engineering and math programs in Tampa schools.