Denver Broncos: 5 Ways the Team Will Step Up Despite Lack of Running Game
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were predicted to get back to the Super Bowl this season, but few predicted the increasingly ineffective running game to bog the Broncos down to a 1-2 start. Still, the Broncos aren’t in bad shape and have ways they will step up without a running game.
The Broncos rushed for just 59 yards on 21 carries against the Houston Texans in Week 3 and just 94 in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning was expected to go to the air this season, but the Bronco rushing attack wasn’t supposed to be this ineffective.
The issues keep mounting for a Broncos team that was favored by seven ESPN analysts to win the AFC West. A 1-2 start isn’t what fans were expecting, but fortunately, the AFC West is a weak division and the Broncos have a significant chance to win it.
That came to fruition in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, as the Broncos rushed for 165 yards on 38 attempts. Broncos fans shouldn't look too much into that performance, though. Oakland is 22nd against the rush (128.5 YPG). The Raiders gave up 263 rush yards to the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.
Here is how the Broncos will still step up despite missing an effective running game.
Growing out of Transitional Pains
Manning performed well in his Broncos debut against the Steelers, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Things came crashing down the following week against Atlanta, when the future Hall of Fame QB threw three picks in the first quarter.
While few hoped that Manning would struggle, there is always an adjustment period, especially in the NFL. The growing pains that have come with the new environment, new system and new teammates seem to be coming to a close.
Manning has hit eight or more receivers in every game this season and had a 100-plus-yard receiver in three of four. He appears to be settling into a groove with his arm, the offensive line and his receivers.
That’s good news for Broncos fans.
The Defense Will Get Better
The Broncos defense is currently 19th in the NFL in points allowed (77). Last season, that defense gave up 24.4 points per game. Signs are showing some improvement on defense, and when things click, expect a significant increase in wins.
Third down hasn’t treated Denver well this season. Late in the games against the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, the Broncos gave up third-down conversions that cost the team potential game-tying drives.
Still, the Broncos defense will improve. Von Miller is in his second year and has played well. Rookie defensive tackle/end Derek Wolfe is growing into an effective lineman.
The Bronco defense just held the struggling Oakland Raider offense to 237 yards― only 56 on the ground. Any time you can hold RB Darren McFadden to 34 yards, that’s a good sign.
The Broncos did run away with the game in the second half, forcing the Raiders to throw. Still, the 37-6 score isn’t indicative of the strong first-half performance of the rushing defense.
Denver’s defense has the ability to create turnovers. That hasn’t happened, yet. When it does, expect the Bronco defense to lift the team above a struggling ground game.
Favorable Scheduling Will Minimize Effects
The Broncos’ early-season schedule was tough. AFC South favorite Houston, AFC North contender Pittsburgh, NFC South favorite Atlanta and division rival Oakland in the first four weeks caused the Broncos to take some lumps early on.
With a few weeks under their belts, the schedule is far more favorable for the Broncos. With games against Carolina, New Orleans, Cincinnati and New England on the upcoming slate, the Broncos won’t face teams of the same caliber as the Texans.
Week 5 against the Patriots should be another classic Tom Brady-Manning showdown. This will be a great gauge for the momentum-gaining Broncos in the AFC. These teams are very similar. It will come down to execution.
This game comes at a favorable time. The Broncos are picking up steam and the Patriots’ new offense under Josh McDaniels is rounding into form.
Yes, that’s the same McDaniels for any Broncos fans that are unaware.
Improving Passing Game Chemistry Means More Time of Possession
Manning’s performance against the Atlanta Falcons deflected some of the pressure away from the Broncos receivers. The QB had great chemistry with his receiving group in Indianapolis and is developing that chemistry with his new group of young receivers.
Adjusting to game speed is a process. It can’t be created in preseason games. For the first few weeks of the season, the young receivers (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker) were probably affected by outside factors like replacement referees.
With all the outside factors taken care of and the adjustment to game speed made, the Broncos receivers seem to be developing a good rapport with Manning. The passing game went 30-of-38 for 338 yards and three touchdowns in last week's game against Oakland.
Denver had eight different receivers catch passes, including Thomas with his game-high 103 yards. The Broncos have had a 100-plus receiver in three of their first four games. Thomas has two, while Decker has the other.
Watching the game from last week, the Broncos receivers are running cleaner routes and settling into windows that Manning is comfortable throwing to. Improving in those aspects means a more efficient pass game, which leads to more first downs and more time of possession.
This weekend should provide another opportunity to display that chemistry against the Patriots secondary, which is ranked 25th in the league against the pass (281.5 yards per game).
Offensive Line Chemistry Will Limit Sacks
There is no more important position in an offense than the offensive line. Sorry, skill guys, but without a strong line, the offense sputters. Anchored by left tackle Ryan Clady and the return of right guard Chris Kuper, the offensive line appears to have its quarterback figured out.
Manning has been sacked eight times this season, but didn’t give up a sack last week against the Raiders. The Patriots are tied for 21st in the league with seven sacks.
Keeping Manning pain-free is obviously a top priority for Denver. Things are trending in the right direction. The offensive line’s biggest challenge will come against league-leading Cincinnati in Week 9.
San Diego is one of the five teams tied at seven sacks. Week 8 opponent New Orleans is 26th in the league with six sacks.
The next few weeks provide the offensive line a great opportunity to build momentum for the stretch run. Keeping Manning upright against weaker pass rushes will be crucial as temperatures fall and playoff hunts heat up.