Coming off one of their most improbable victories in years, Peyton Manning and the Broncos (3-3) will be looking to extend their winning streak next Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Sports Authority Field in Denver.
Although the Broncos haven't played poorly this season by any stretch, they haven't quite lived up to the expectations set when Peyton Manning decided to join the Mile High Club.
While it's still very early in the season, the Broncos have winnable games scheduled over the next few weeks and will need to play more consistently if they plan on reaching their full potential in the near future.
If the Broncos plan on beating the Saints, here's what they'll need to do.
One of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is projected to return to the Saints' starting lineup after suffering a Week 5 ankle injury against the Chargers.
Although not at full-strength, Jimmy Graham will be a game-changer as he presents a constant mismatch for opposing defenses—he is generally faster than opposing linebackers and is too big (6'7", 265 lbs) for any safety to defend one-on-one.
In order to shut Graham down, the Broncos' linebackers and safeties will need to stay assignment-sound and limit big plays to the massive tight end.
Facing a struggling 31st-ranked Saints run defense, however, the Broncos have a chance to run all over the Saints.
In order to get their running game going, the Broncos will have to do a good job of containing the Saints' front seven (which hasn't proven to be too daunting of a task so far this season.)
If they are successful at running the ball, expect the Broncos to put up plenty of points on the board and have a good chance at beating New Orleans.
Darren Sproles is one of the Saints' most lethal weapons offensively .
Known for his shiftiness and explosiveness in open space, Sproles gives quarterback Drew Brees a checkdown option that is always a threat to take it the distance on every play.
If Drew Brees doesn't see any receivers open downfield, look for the lightning bug to get the ball via a checkdown.
The tricky part for the Broncos defense is going to be covering Graham, the Saints receivers and Sproles in the backfield all at the same time. Sproles' presence will create mismatches for Denver's defense as linebackers Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard will be forced to tackle the shifty Sproles in open space—which is almost like catching a fish with your bare hands—when not covering Jimmy Graham.
If the Broncos want to win, they'll need to limit Darren Sproles' production on Sunday.
Pressuring Drew Brees is no easy task.
Brees' exceptional sense of pocket pressure and quick release combined with New Orleans' above-average pass protection make Brees one of the most well-protected QBs in the NFL.
With that said, Denver's defense contains some of the league's most dynamic sack machines.
DE Elvis Dumervil and LB Von Miller make up perhaps the best duo of pass-rushers in the league and are threats to get to the QB on any given play.
Getting Drew Brees to turn over the ball is also not easy considering his uncanny accuracy, but if the Broncos are able to pressure him consistently and force one or two interceptions, expect Denver to win big come Sunday.
Peyton's looked impressive so far.
Has he looked like he did when he was with the Colts?
Not quite. He's still trying to gain chemistry with his new receivers and has lost some velocity on some of his throws (which is expected as you age/ receive two neck operations)
Nonetheless, Manning's mental understanding of the game is still intact and, boy, can he still shred apart defenses.
Facing a defense that gives up the second-most passing yards in the NFL, expect Manning to rack up some pretty big numbers on Sunday.