Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been getting a lot of praise and coverage lately, and deservedly so. The veteran quarterback is playing his way into his 12th postseason and possibly his fifth MVP award. After giving the Indianapolis Colts more than a decade of amazing wins, Manning is lending his skill set to the Broncos, and they are a revitalized team. They're 6-3, having won their last four games, and they show no signs of slowing down. Bravo to Peyton Manning.
While Peyton's achievements should certainly garner praise and his impact cannot but understated, it's important to look at the rest of the Denver Broncos roster, which is making Peyton's path to another MVP award possible. After all, no player can win on his own in the National Football League.
Take, for instance, Willis McGahee. At 31, he's five years younger than Manning, but he's a veteran presence on the team and has taken quite the beating throughout his football career. He suffered a gruesome knee injury while playing college football at Miami which could have ended his football career. His stock fell in the 2003 NFL Draft, yet the Buffalo Bills believed in him. After sitting out a year to recuperate, McGahee put up two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Buffalo before putting up another 1,000 yards with the Baltimore Ravens before getting injured again. Many wrote McGahee off, yet he came back to rush for just under 1,200 yards last season with the Broncos and is on track for another 1,000-yard season this year. His yardage on the ground has taken a huge burden off of Peyton's shoulders.
Also helping Peyton carry the load on offense are third-year wide receivers DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who have gelled magnificently with their older mentor and have become two of the league's top wide receivers. Thomas has great downfield speed and Decker has legitimized himself as one of the league's best red-zone receivers. Seven touchdowns through nine games is not too bad for a guy that Denver drafted in the third-round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Protecting Peyton is one of the league's best offensive line units. Peyton's been sacked a league-low 11 times, which has secured his safe recovery from his neck injury and allowed him to orchestrate the league's top passing offense. Orlando Franklin and Ryan Clady, the team's offensive tackles, are rarely beaten out by opposing defensive ends, and Dan Koppen has filled in brilliantly at center after J.D. Walton was lost with a season-ending injury.
While all of the offensive player's have made Peyton's arrival in Denver seamless, the other side of the ball has been playing amazingly as well. An offense is nothing without a good defense, and right now, Denver's defense ranks fifth in the league. They've allowed just 2,851 yards through nine games and have held opponents to an average of 21 points per game.
This same unit finished last season ranked 20th in yards allowed and allowed 24.4 points/game. This is quite the improvement, and some of the credit can be given to linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who is ninth in the league with 80 tackles. Woodyard only gained the starting role due to D.J. Williams suspension, and he has become a player that head coach John Fox would never think of benching.
There are also cornerbacks Chris Harris and Tony Carter, who have let Denver avoid a bout of adversity after Tracy Porter became sidelined with an illness. Both of the young backs have been playing lights out and have two picks each. Not much needs to be said for the team's other cornerback, Champ Bailey; he's shut down Andre Johnson, Julio Jones and many other wide receivers this season.
Making the job easier for the defensive backs is of course the Denver pass rush, which has accumulated a league-leading 31 sacks. Von Miller, last year's Defense Rookie of the Year, gets his fair share of recognition, but he only has 10 of those 31 sacks. Helping him out have been Elvis Dumervil (7 sacks), Woodyard (3 sacks), Kevin Vickerson (2 sacks), Harris (2.5 sacks) and rookie Derek Wolfe (3 sacks), who has proven to be a tremendous first-round draft pick.
Peyton is making an impressive case to win his fifth league MVP award, yet chances are, that's not on his mind. Peyton is looking to hoist a Lombardi Trophy in February, and with the squad that he has working alongside him, that's a very possible reality. He's without question the most valuable player on the Broncos' roster, but he is not constructing a masterpiece out of scraps. I've only named a few of the players who are helping the Broncos win games. Many more have contributed to the effort.
Peyton has an enormous amount of talent around him, and there is no magic act going on Denver; this is a team, after all, that went 8-8 with Tim Tebow last season. Praise Manning all day long, as he really does deserve it, but we should all be careful to not view the Broncos too superficially. There are 52 other players on the Denver Broncos, and they are all playing like they want to be Super Bowl champions.
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