NFL Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Von Miller's inspired play leads a defense that dominated on Sunday
The 36-14 victory was a total team effort. Led by Von Miller, the defense played especially well, executing a perfect game plan against second-year quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina offense.
Newton was harassed all day long, as he was taken down seven times, the most in his adolescent career. An interception return for a touchdown and a safety only capped a dominating defensive performance by the blue and orange.
In addition, while it wasn't the most spectacular game on offense, the Broncos still managed to control the scoreboard, posting over 350 yards and scoring twice.
Trindon Holliday has shown all Denver fans how nice it is to have a reliable return game, as he took a punt back for a touchdown one week after doing the same with a kick-off (although his early celebration should have cost the Broncos a score).
Other factors that were somewhat overlooked include the tremendous kicking game and kicking coverage, with Britton Colquitt landing three punts inside the 20 and the coverage team allowing only 3.3 yards per return.
Aside from his first missed field goal of the season, Matt Prater played exceptionally well for most of the game, booming a 53-yarder in the second quarter and planting the majority of the kickoffs out of the end zone, proving that his leg is more than capable of making the long kicks, even away from the thin air of Sports Authority Field.
Finally, the overall mentality and maturity of this team is evident. This contest had all the makings of a letdown game for Denver. In previous years, Denver would have waltzed in, way overconfident, and lost, dropping them back to the pack in the pedestrian AFC West. This team, led by the grueling work ethic and example of Peyton Manning, doesn't seem to be capable of letdown games, proving that three weeks in a row.
The maturity of this team has continued to grow week in and week out, thrusting them to the upper echelon of the league and positioning them for a possible first round bye in the playoffs if they can continue to play at such a high level and avoid any lackluster performances or debilitating injuries.
All of these factors beg the question: Is Denver the most complete team in the NFL?
The main weakness this squad has displayed is the tendency to turn the ball over too much. Willis McGahee at times seems to have trouble holding onto the ball, and Manning has been guilty of his fair share of turnovers this season—though the fumble on Sunday was not his fault. If they can address this one issue, they will be as tough as any team in the postseason come January.
With the third-ranked offense and the sixth-ranked defense in terms of yards, as well as the second-highest scoring team in the NFL, few teams can match the Broncos on both sides of the ball. In fact, none of the teams ranked higher than the Broncos in total offense eclipse their numbers on defense.
Couple this with the fact that Denver has one of the strongest kicking games in the league and a new dynamic returner in Holliday, and you have a team that could go blow-for-blow against any team in the league.
The Broncos did lose three games to some very tough teams in New England, Atlanta and Houston, who may be the only teams (along with Chicago when fully healthy, maybe) to be in the same conversation with the Broncos in terms of talent and ability this season. Also, two of those losses came on the road, and all of them were early in the season.
Since that time, the offense has grown by leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Peyton Manning, and the defense has adjusted phenomenally to Jack Del Rio's scheme.
Denver has all the makings of a legitimate Super Bowl contender, as they are built to score a lot of points and rush the passer with electric dexterity. This formula has worked well in the past, as the most recent Super Bowl champs, the New York Giants, showed last season.
The Broncos are not without their problems, and there is no reason to crown them quite yet, but after the amazing comeback against San Diego on Monday Night four weeks ago, the Broncos have shown that they are as complete a team as any in the league. Kudos to John Elway and his staff for putting this team together. Elway should be the clear favorite for executive of the year, quelling the stereotype that great players don't make great executives (I'm talking to you, Matt Millen and Dan Marino).
In addition, Denver will see the return of DJ Williams this week, and while his role in the defense is unclear, there is no denying that DJ can still provide valuable minutes for the Broncos, as he is viewed as one of their more talented defensive players. If he wasn't valued so highly, would Elway have held onto him through all of his bone-headed infractions?
Whether or not the Broncos will emerge this season as the last team standing is yet to be seen. However, they are definitely in the conversation for Super Bowl favorites and, as of right now, appear to be the most complete all-around team in the league.