The Denver Broncos head into the final 10 games as the favorites in the AFC West. Despite a 3-3 record, the Broncos have the fewest issues in the division and a soft schedule over the final 10 games. They have to feel pretty good with Peyton Manning looking as sharp as he’s ever been.
Every week we’ll take a look at how the Broncos stand statistically on injuries, approach and scheme. By most accounts, Denver look like a team on the cusp of being elite and it will be interesting to see if they can rise to that level over the final 10 weeks.
The Broncos were on a bye last week, but gained ground in several areas with the win over the Chargers. They did lose ground in some of the stats due to the bye, so take those rankings with a grain of salt.
One thing pops out immediately when you look at the stats is the passing game. The Broncos' aerial attack is one of the top five in the league and it’s still improving. A big reason for this has been the rise of Manning after a bit of a slow start. Not only is Manning healthy, but he’s having a year that stacks up with the best of his career.
The rise of the pass has come at the detriment of the running game, but the Broncos are still able to use their backs to get short first downs and score touchdowns from the goal line. It’s not that surprising that the running game has suffered, but if the Broncos get a lot of big leads in future weeks, Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman could see more opportunities.
Defensively, the secondary is holding up despite playing several good passing teams. The Broncos could do a better job of keeping opponents out of the end zone, which is something that should be correctable with better communication.
The rush defense has improved just by nature of the teams the Broncos have faced, but this is one area where Denver could falter down the stretch. Fortunately, the nature of the NFL is that few teams have truly elite rushing attacks these days, and the Broncos need only worry about a few games on the schedule.
When you look at everything altogether, it’s clear that Manning and the offense are carrying the load, but there’s room for the defense to improve. The Broncos are allowing an inordinate number of touchdowns through the air and on third-down conversions. If the defense can tighten up in those two areas, Denver might join the NFL elite.
The Injury Report
The Broncos have been very fortunate to have been a healthy team. Chris Kuper missed time with an injury to open the season, but otherwise the Broncos haven’t sustained an injury to an impact player.
At some point the Broncos will probably have to deal with a more significant injury, but as long as it isn’t Manning, Von Miller or Champ Bailey, they should continue to produce at their current level.
Either the Broncos aren’t disclosing all their injuries or they’ve been extremely lucky so far this season. The only player in question for Week 8 is Tracy Porter, who missed the last game with an illness, but all signs point to him playing against his former team.
Approach & Scheme
A theory for why the Broncos have started slow in games is because they are using a plan designed by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy that may run counter to what Manning does best. Unfortunately, the situational stats don’t support this theory because Manning has attempted just five more passes in the second half than the first half this season.
It’s puzzling why the Broncos have started so slowly in games, but two big parts of the problem could be poor special teams and a defense that is exploitable when the offense has had a week to prepare. Another theory is that the offense is better when Manning can call the play in the no-huddle
What’s not puzzling is how good Manning has been this season. The veteran signal caller has been nothing short of incredible after a year off, and has proven that you don’t need a cannon arm to produce. In fact, the Broncos rank fourth in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Broncos lead the league in that statistic after Sunday’s game against the Saints.
Denver has found a recipe that works, they just need to clean up a few areas on defense and start faster to join the NFL’s elite.