The Denver Broncos have showed us a mixed bag in terms of performances through the first four weeks of the 2012 season. Their 2-2 record is an indication of just how up and down it has been.
Are they legitimate AFC contenders? Can they win the clutch games down the stretch that are necessary to make it to the postseason?
Those are questions that cannot be answered definitively based on the season thus far. Last week with their backs against the wall, Denver pulled out a stellar performance against division rival Oakland—easing the minds of antsy Bronco fans everywhere.
Here's a look at both the positives and negatives of the first four weeks of the season and what Denver should focus on moving forward.
Clearly the biggest issue with Denver's defense in 2011, there was wide speculation as to whether the front office did enough in the offseason to make a difference. Through the first four games, they have allowed only 3.4 yards per carry, which is 10th best in the league.
Last season Denver finished with the 22nd-best run defense, allowing 4.1 yards per carry. The addition of rookie workhorse Derek Wolfe has proved to be a fantastic fit with this Bronco defensive line.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback has certainly shown glimpses of his former self so far this season.
When in the no-huddle offense, Manning has been on point, leading Denver to two touchdowns in the Pittsburgh game and two almost comebacks against Atlanta and the Texans. In the Oakland game, punter Britton Colquitt never saw the field, certainly a good thing for this Manning-run offense.
While McGahee is coming off a great performance last season for Denver, the fact that he is almost 31 was of slight concern at the start of the season.
In these first four games, he has shown that he is not slowing down and will continue to move those chains for the Broncos. He has compiled 325 yards with an average of 4.7 yards per carry; a solid effort so far this season.
Manning's first-quarter performance against the Falcons was pretty atrocious. In Denver's first three possessions, he threw three ugly interceptions. His accuracy was a bit off and the "wobble" that Manning has always had looked worse than usual.
If the Broncos are going to make a run for the AFC West title, Manning will need to leave performances like he had against the Texans in the past.
The Tight Ends
While it is no secret that the tight end position is one that is favored in an offense with Peyton Manning behind center, so far both Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme have been underwhelming for the Broncos.
In the first four games, the tight end position has combined for only three touchdowns and less than 200 yards. They are going to need to make more key plays moving forward in order for Denver to win those tough games ahead of them.
Not every team is going to play like the Raiders.
The Pass Rush
Even though it is the strongest facet of the Broncos defense, the pass rush has been shaky at times this season.
Both Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub had way too much time to get rid of the football, leading to crucial first downs for the opposing teams. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil only have 5.5 sacks between the two of them in four games and are clearly not living up to their potential.
Fines and Suspensions
Some of the blame for Denver's early-season fines and suspensions can certainly be put on the replacement referees, right? I would say so; however, it is not entirely the fault of the men and woman fill-in officials that were clearly out of their league.
The Broncos have racked up over $130,000 in fines for illegal physical and verbal contact, along with the one-game suspension of Joe Mays after a vicious hit on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub in Week 3.
Both head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio received fines from the league for verbal abuse of the replacement officials following the Texan game.
I know that ugly is a bit of a stretch, but the amount of drops and missed opportunities this season by the Broncos' receiving corps, minus the Raider game, has been a bit alarming.
These guys need to shake off their nerves against the tough opponents and make those catches.
Lucky for Bronco fans, there is just not an enormous amount of ugly going on this season. While there is certainly room for improvement on both sides of the ball, the talent and chemistry is there for this Bronco team.
What they do with it for the remainder of the season will determine Denver's postseason fate. This Sunday the Broncos will face New England, a team with a rich history with not only Denver but with Peyton Manning as well.