Rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe might be figuring things out.
The Broncos have been scoring with such reckless abandon that the defense hasn’t been tested in weeks, but Kansas City’s offense wasn’t up to the challenge even when it was provided a perfect opportunity.
In Week 13 the Broncos face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have won five of their last seven games. The Buccaneers haven’t lost any game by more than a touchdown and have scored just eight fewer points than the Broncos this season.
The Bucs could be the best team the Broncos face the rest of the season. At very least the Bucs present the second-greatest challenge out of the final five, with only the much-anticipated game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15 being superior.
The game against the Ravens could have playoff seeding implications and serve a postseason primer for the two clubs, but the Bucs could actually be a better team.
Primary Talking Point for Week 13
Knowshon Moreno was given an opportunity to start in place of the injured Willis McGahee, and he took it and ran with it. Moreno had 85 yards on 20 carries, which is plenty productive for a Manning-led offense.
A lot was made of the running backs' ability to pass-block, even though McGahee was only asked to do so 4.7 times per game according to ProFootballFocus play counts. Moreno was asked to pass-block just two times in Week 12 and rookie Ronnie Hillman was asked to pass-block once. Neither Moreno nor Hillman allowed a sack, hit nor hurry on Manning.
In reality, the decision to start Moreno over Hillman probably had more to do with his ability to gain positive yardage. Moreno is more like McGahee in that he will get the Broncos at least a few yards on most running plays. Hillman will try to bounce runs outside and too often is tackled for a loss or no gain.
Moreno went from being an irrelevant inactive to being invaluable for this reason. Even though Manning is great, the Broncos don’t want to rely on the big play for scoring. Methodical drives are a Manning staple, and managing down and distance is the key to the whole thing.
The Broncos’ 53-man roster is relatively healthy. Wide receiver Brandon Stokley and offensive guard Manny Ramirez were the only two players limited in practice on Wednesday. The Broncos are probably the healthiest team in the NFL.
Obviously some teams have placed more players on injured reserve than others. The Broncos have lost McGahee, Joe Mays and others for the season, but what’s most important for the Broncos is that the passing game and pass-rushers are healthy. The Broncos can probably plug in a guy here and there at several spots, but there are some players that are much more valuable to the team than others
Players on the Rise
Mike Adams is 31 years old and not the typical guy that you would peg as a player on the rise, but he’s gone almost totally unrecognized in Denver despite starting all 11 games. Adams has been rock-solid overall, despite some occasional struggles in coverage.
Derek Wolfe also might be figuring things out. Wolfe is still not much of a pass-rusher, but with Von Miller on the team he hardly needs to be. Wolfe has put together three solid games in a row after a bumpy first half.
The Broncos would probably like Wolfe to show a little more as far as pass-rush moves from the defensive end spot, but he may ultimately find a home inside at defensive tackle. Wolfe has been good in run support and that’s where he can continue to be a great asset for the Broncos.
In many ways Adams and Wolfe are the unsung heroes behind a run defense that has allowed just five touchdowns, 98.7 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry.
Stat Trends – Offense
The Broncos offense fell one or more spots in seven of the 13 statistical categories used for this weekly progress report. The Broncos didn’t play as well and the Kansas City defense did a good job of slowing down Manning in Week 12.
There’s really nothing to worry about because the offense is intact. The running game didn’t get in the end zone or get as many yards as normal, but a lot of that can be attributed to being in a closer game.
Manning has the Broncos in an excellent offensive position, and the issue of turnovers also appears to be improving. It’s hard to find fault in the direction of the Denver offense under Manning, even if they experience the occasional hiccup.
Stat Trends – Defense
Passing touchdowns, points scored and passing yards all improved significantly by holding the Chiefs to nine points in Week 12. The Broncos could still do a better job forcing fumbles and limiting passing touchdowns, but that’s nit-picking at this point.
You could make a case that both Denver’s offense and defense are top-five units in the NFL. That’s the power of the Manning and Miller duo and the makings of a potential Super Bowl contender.
The Broncos don’t have much further to rise, but yet they still manage to improve at something weekly. It’s clear from looking at everything that the Broncos have arrived and the only question is how they will handle tougher competition in the playoffs.
Week 13 is a big week for the Broncos because the Bucs aren’t a pushover team like most of the others they have faced. The Broncos can win convincingly and make a case that they are the AFC’s best team, or they could lose and raise doubts about the quality of their wins and ability to compete in the playoffs.