Questions the Denver Broncos Must Answer in the Playoffs
The Broncos have won games in every possible way. They have relied on Manning and his gun-slinging, no-huddle offense. They have relied on Von Miller and the defensive pressure. And they have relied on Matt Prater's long-distance field goals with the game on the line.
Manning has led the Broncos to an AFC West title and leads the league in passing yards and completions. The defense hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points per game. Von Miller is a big part of that, tallying 16 sacks so far this season and in a tie for Defensive Player of the Year after winning Defensive Rookie of the Year last year.
Although the Broncos are performing amazingly, there are a few questions that must be answered—mainly, how far can they go in the playoffs?
Let's take a look at the most pressing questions the Denver Broncos must answer.
Can the Broncos Handle Playoff-Caliber Teams?
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The Broncos may have clinched the AFC West title, but their schedule is easy and the AFC West is the weakest in the NFL. In the Broncos' eight-game win streak, only one team has a record of .500 or better (Cincinnati). The Broncos' three losses have come at the hands of Atlanta, Houston and New England, two of which could be playoff opponents. The only playoff-caliber team Denver beat was the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.
This week's matchup with the Baltimore Ravens will be a good test for the Broncos. Although the Ravens have been fading lately, they are still a playoff team. Beating them on the road would prove the Broncos can beat a high-caliber team, even under pressure of the opponents' fans.
Will the Broncos Be Able to Attack First, Often?
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The Broncos have the best offensive player in Peyton Manning, but they have still found themselves playing from behind in multiple games this season. On multiple occasions, it has taken until late in the first or early in the second quarter for the Broncos offense to get going and get points on the board.
Having a slow start in the playoffs could mean never coming back and losing in the first round. Denver may have the No. 1 pass offense in the league but starting off slow could be detrimental. When the Broncos meet with Tom Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs, starting out slow could mean being down two scores early, making it hard for Manning to recover.
The Broncos can't rely on a magical fourth-quarter comeback from Peyton Manning if they face New England or the Texans. It's more unlikely to happen against them compared to the other comebacks of the 2012 season.
The Broncos just need to come running out of the gate, get on the board first and never lay off the pedal. They have the offensive tools, they just need to put them to use in a timely fashion.
I have no doubt that if the Broncos score first and often, they can go far in the playoffs.
Can the Defense Hold on Third Down?
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If the Broncos had a problem (which, as of late, is hard to find), you could point to their issue of being unable to stop third-down conversions.
Earlier in the season, the Broncos had a huge problem with failing to to keep opponents from converting on third-and-longs. Defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, and Coach John Fox also said this was a big problem as of mid-October.
Third-and-long situations should pump up the defense, making them want to make the big play and get the ball back to Peyton Manning.
The only team that didn't convert on a third-and-long situation was Oakland. The Broncos had the biggest third-down issues against Houston and Atlanta, where they failed to make any key third-down stops, which resulted in two losses.
Going into the playoffs, the defense has to step up and find the right mix of pressure and coverage. If the defensive tackles can continue to perform and keep formations, the defense has a better chance of making stops.
Secondly, there needs to be more timely sacks from Von Miller. He has stepped up in recent weeks, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings in the playoffs. If the defense can make these adjustments and keep up the energy, I'm confident they could hold against high-caliber teams like New England and Houston.