In Week 11, they take on the second-place Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and with a win can probably coast to the playoffs without much of a challenge from any of the teams in the division the rest of the way.
Football Outsiders has the Broncos as the best team in the NFL using their propriety DVOA statistic, up from third last week. Peyton Manning truly does float all boats in Denver and have made the Broncos one of the elite teams in the entire league after just nine games.
Primary Talking Point for Week 11
The rise of the defense and special teams in Denver has been a very welcome development for the Broncos. The Broncos allowed an average of almost 30 points per game in their three losses to the Falcons, Patriots and Texans. Since the bye week the Broncos are allowing just 17 points per game compared to 23 point per game prior to the bye.
With the addition of Trindon Holliday, the special teams has also improved. Prior to Holliday’s arrival the Broncos couldn’t get the return game going and were frequently forcing Manning and the offense to play on a long field. It didn’t make much of a difference to Manning, but it’s a factor that could come into play against better competition. The occasional special teams touchdown is always welcome and takes some pressure off the offense.
Elvis Dumervil has a strained shoulder, but no tear according to the Denver Post. There are some medical technicalities that make it virtually impossible to have a strain without at least minor tear, but the gist of the story is there is very little damage and it might not have even showed up on an MRI.
The Broncos will want Dumervil’s ability to make plays in the playoffs and should give him as long as he needs to fully heal. Dumervil has seven sacks and five forced fumbles in 2012 and is likely to continue this production as long as Von Miller is drawing the double team.
Tracy Porter is still out with symptoms similar to those that led to a seizure. With Tony Carter and Chris Harris playing so well you might as well stick a fork in him unless the Broncos need an injury replacement. The Broncos don’t want to put him in harm’s way if they don’t need him and right now he’s be pretty far down the depth chart.
Chris Kuper is still out with a severely sprained ankle. He was expected to miss at least a few weeks and at this point he can’t be expected back any time soon. With a win Sunday there will be little reason to rush Kuper back as the Broncos will have a three-game lead in the AFC West with six to play.
Player on the Rise
Holliday is making so many plays on special teams that the Broncos even gave him a few snaps on offense. The Broncos lacked a dynamic speedster prior to Holliday’s arrival and now they have one.
At 5’5” 170-pounds, Holliday can only be described as tiny by NFL standards. Of course, Holliday has a low center of gravity and speed to spare which is a combination that makes him very hard to tackle in the open field or be seen behind big blockers.
If the Broncos win on Sunday, don’t be surprised if they try to work him into the offense. Manning loves to check to a receiver screen against press-man coverage and it wouldn’t be hard to see Holliday turning a screen pass into a touchdown.
Stats Trends - Offense
The passing offense is going to be great as long as Manning is throwing the ball. It’s gotten to the point that the passing offense can’t get much better as the Broncos are top five in just about every passing statistic. Since it can’t get much better all you have to worry about is the passing game regressing, but the only way that’s going to happen is if the Broncos get big leads and improve in the running game.
The running game is not explosive or especially productive. This is a concern headed into December when the weather turns increasingly cold and wet. The Broncos play three games at home in Denver in December, so this is at least a minor concern. More than the production of the running game being a concern, the fumbles have been a concern.
The Broncos rank 31st in the league in fumbles lost with 12 and that’s dragging down their turnover margin. Willis McGahee is responsible for four of the 12 lost fumbles, Demayrius Thomas is responsible for three and Manning two.
The Broncos learned the hard way in the first half of the season; turnovers are a good way to get beat. The Broncos turned the ball over at least three times in two out of their three losses. If McGahee doesn’t correct his fumbling issues soon, it’s not hard to imagine Ronnie Hillman stealing more and more carries from the veteran.
Stat Trends - Defense
With a big win against the Carolina Panthers, the Broncos improved significantly in several defensive categories. The Broncos are now a Top 10 defense in yards per game, points per game and third down conversion percentage.
The pass defense is improving weekly thanks to a pass rush that ranks second in sack percentage. Good pressure has created more opportunities for the secondary to make plays and the young secondary is learning to take advantage of those opportunities.
The Broncos could work on forcing more fumbles and could tighten up the pass defense in the red zone, but otherwise have a rising defense that stops the run and makes plays in the passing game. A defense that can make big plays and not give them up is a good defense and that’s what the Broncos are doing right now.
If Football Outsiders is correct then they can’t get much better, but there are still plenty of things the Broncos can work on.
The rushing offense could certainly be more productive on a per carry basis and ball security will be an important thing the coaching staff will stress. The defense also still has room to grow in many areas. More than anything the Broncos will want to avoid any regression. The last thing the Broncos want to do is peak in Week 10 and by the time the playoffs arrive be playing their worst football of the season.