"I think he is the best running back we've faced so far," Broncos defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said Wednesday. "What he is good at is finding your mistakes."
The Broncos made plenty of them last weekend in a 59-14 loss to the Raiders, for whom the newly anointed player of the week, Darren McFadden, ran for a career-best 165 yards with touchdowns of 57, 4 and 4 yards to go with a 19-yard catch-and-run for another score. McFadden led a Raiders rushing attack that gained 328 yards and dropped Denver's rushing defense to 30th in the NFL rankings. The Broncos are allowing an average of 156.6 yards per game. Only winless Buffalo (174.4)and Tampa Bay (157.7) have allowed more.
"Any time something like that happens, it's going to be a rough week, if you're a competitor at all," said Martindale, whose preparations this week will be complicated by the Broncos' 10-hour overseas trip later this week for Sunday's game in London against the 49ers. "We just need to be more consistent. We've shown some spurts. We've played well against some really good running backs, and then that happened to us last week, and I'd be sitting up here telling you a lie that I wasn't shocked that that happened to us.
"We're all in this together, and this hurt our pride, no doubt about that, and we're making a conscious effort to being exact on every single play this week in practice."
The 49ers have won just once this season and are dealing with a quarterback change -- from Alex Smith, who has a shoulder injury, to Troy Smith -- but they rely heavily on Gore, who has bedeviled defenses. He rushed for 102 yards in last week's 23-20 loss at Carolina, his club-record 23rd 100-yard game, and he leads the NFL with 914 yards from scrimmage (573 yards rushing, 341 yards receiving).
The change at QB is expected to amp up his workload.
"He's a big part of the offense, and we expect that to go up," Broncos linebacker Mario Haggan said. "He's a very explosive runner and very underrated in this league, if you ask me. He can find holes, he catches the ball a lot out of the backfield, and he definitely makes you pay for the mistakes that you make on defense."
The Broncos have had success at times defending the run, most notably limiting Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 53 yards on 19 carries in an Oct. 3 victory over the Titans. They used outside linebackers Robert Ayers and Jason Hunter to hold the edges and funnel the runs back inside, where inside linebackers Haggan and D.J. Williams typically made the tackles.
But Ayers broke his foot a week later at Baltimore and remains sidelined, and the defensive line has been banged up. Strong safety Brian Dawkins, the top run defender in the secondary, sprained his knee against Baltimore. He has missed the past two games but resumed practicing this week, and indications are that he'll be available for Sunday's game. Veteran cornerback Andre Goodman, who has missed four of the last five games with a thigh injury, also is practicing this week and is expected to be available, barring a setback.
Coach Josh McDaniels believes the return of Dawkins and Goodman will help restore some of the defensive "togetherness" critical to swarming to the ball and slowing down the run.
"The run game, the run defense, is a lot of things that work well together," McDaniels said. "It's not just a single thing that you have to do right, it's everybody has to take care of their responsibility in the front so that you don't give (Gore) any opportunities to find a bunch of easy yards.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press