The Denver Broncos came into 2012 with high expectations and a brutal early schedule. Two wins and three losses through five games is the result. On one hand, Peyton Manning looks like the quarterback he was in Indianapolis. On the other, the Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders and the only team the Raiders have beat this season.
The three losses were pretty ugly defensively, with the defense giving up an average of 30 points. In victories, the defense gave up an average of 13 points. In many ways, the Broncos are repeating the recipe they used in 2011 in which they gave up an average of 37 points per game in losses and 17 points in wins.
The San Diego Chargers aren’t known for slamming the door on their opponents, and the Broncos have a chance in Week 6 to make the AFC West a two-horse race. With Manning leading the way, the Broncos are scoring at least three touchdowns per game, so it will be on the defense to hold the Chargers under 21 points.
In case you needed more evidence that Manning has totally transformed the Broncos’ passing game, the statistics prove it. The Broncos don’t rate below 13th in any of the passing categories and rank in the top five in touchdowns and yards per game. Not bad for a guy coming off multiple neck surgeries.
With Manning running the show, the running game has become a complement rather than a feature.
Any plans to run a balanced attack were thrown out the door soon after Manning took his first regular-season snap. The running game is converting short-yardage situations into first downs and red-zone opportunities into touchdowns despite average to below-average production overall.
As a whole, the offense is getting the job done and is ranked ninth in points and yards. It’s the defense that should be more closely examined.
It’s assumed that if a team limits pass yardage, completions and puts pressure on the quarterback they should be able to stop the pass. What’s so interesting about the Broncos is that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Broncos are yielding touchdowns, first downs and third-down conversions with frequency and ease.
The Broncos haven’t made many big plays of their own, which could be attributed to the smart quarterbacks the Broncos have played. Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New England are behind the Broncos now, and the overall pass defense should benefit from lesser opponents.
The run defense statistics are skewed because opponents are attempting 31.6 runs per game on the Broncos. Likely a result of falling behind early in three of the five games this season. The Broncos are actually producing quite well considering all the attempts and are allowing just 3.8 yards per carry. If the Broncos can generate leads early, the run defense figures to be the most improved unit on the team.
The stats suggest the Broncos are victim of a tough schedule, but also that the team is not yet elite itself. Manning may raise all boats, but some of them have further to rise.
The biggest question surrounding the franchise this offseason was the health of Manning. That concern has pretty much been put to bed at this point. Manning looks healthy enough to do what he needs to do as the quarterback.
The Broncos have been a very healthy team over the first five weeks of the season with only one major injury to right guard Chris Kuper. The Broncos have had their share of bumps and bruises, but have so far been lucky enough to avoid major injuries.
Injuries have not been a key factor for the Broncos this season despite being the subject of talk all offseason. Injuries usually catch up to teams at some point, and how the Broncos navigate those injuries could play a key role in how the team finishes.
It didn’t take long for the entire offense to shift from Tim Tebow’s zone-read to Manning’s no-huddle. There was some speculation that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy would try to incorporate Manning into an offense of his design, but if that was the plan it didn’t last.
Manning is still the master at running the no-huddle offense, which basically enables him to become the offensive coordinator. The offense Manning is running even looks like the offense he was running in Indianapolis with slight variations and different personnel. It’s working.
The defense has undergone a more drastic change in philosophy since last season, although the results haven’t changed. Jack Del Rio likes his defense like his ice cream: vanilla. Dennis Allen liked to mix things up a little more. The major difference has been the Broncos inability to get off the field on third down in 2012.
Del Rio’s defense is allowing opponents to convert on third down 47 percent of the time, which is 29th in the league. Compare that with Allen’s defense, which allowed opponents to convert just 34 percent in 2011. That difference is likely due to Allen’s willingness to get aggressive on third down.
Being more aggressive on third down can also force turnovers, which the Broncos haven’t been able to create with any frequency. If the Broncos are to rise from a good team to an elite team they are going to have to do more with the same players on defense. Del Rio needs to get creative.
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