The Denver Broncos came out and made a statement in the Week 1 opener against the Baltimore Ravens. We saw Julius Thomas emerge as a dangerous weapon in the offense. Peyton Manning also tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Ravens.
They travel to New York to play the Giants in Week 2, and the game script is unlikely to unfold in the same way. We're going to see some surprise players this week, but who could those be?
The Broncos have a talented roster on both sides of the ball. We could see breakout players on their offense and their defense in Week 2.
They are looking to establish better balance offensively and may run the ball more than they did in Week 1. This means we could see one of their three running backs break out against the Giants.
The Broncos need to protect Peyton Manning first and foremost. The offensive line will have their hands full with the Giants' pass rush on Sunday.
They need to get pressure on quarterback Eli Manning as much as possible. Facing a fumble prone running back like David Wilson, the team needs to be focused on stripping the ball if possible.
Let's take a look at who those breakout players could be on Sunday.
Knowshon Moreno is the most trusted running back on the Broncos' roster. If there's one back most likely to emerge with a big game, it is Moreno as he'll likely be on the field the most.
He is a tough runner between the tackles and can be a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Moreno really stands out because of his pass protection ability and that's why he gets the nod as the starter. Protecting Peyton Manning is priority number one.
After practice on Thursday offensive coordinator Adam Gase had this to say about the team's trio of running backs.
We talked to them about what our plan was and we started [RB] Knowshon [Moreno] but all three of them, we told we were going to play them. I don’t see how that’s going to change. Whoever is the starter for that game, everybody knows they’re going to play.
Moreno provides the team with a safe starter who can hold onto the ball and protect Manning well. He's not a tremendously exciting option but could get into a better rhythm than Ronnie Hillman or Montee Ball. We'll see if Moreno can surprise with a strong rushing game against the Giants in Week 2.
Montee Ball is the rookie running back the Broncos want to feature more as the season goes on. He's got a nose for the end zone and should be the team's leading rusher inside the 20-yard line.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase wants to achieve a better run/pass ratio and commented on that desire after practice on Thursday.
You’re always trying to be balanced. Last week, I got away from the running game probably a little too quick. I would have liked to stay with it probably a little bit longer. In the second half I felt like we were a little bit more balanced. I probably ducked away from it a little bit in the first half. We kind of regrouped at halftime and tried to balance it up a little bit—attack the defense a little bit differently than what we did in the first half. But we’re always looking for that balance but really it’s what’s the defense going to give us. That’s going to be our biggest challenge—OK here’s what we have, that’s what we’re going to take.
Ball is the type of runner who gets stronger as the game goes on. It would be best if the team could feed him the rock and get him into a rhythm.
In the Broncos' committee they just can't do that. Ball commented on how difficult it was to get used to being part of a rotation.
At first, it was tough. But now, understanding the situation, you’ve got to be able to adapt in this league. You’ve got to be able to adapt quickly. I think that’s what I’ve done. Whenever I get it and get it running, just like last week, I’m trying to do the most with the football, and I plan on doing the same this week.
If the Broncos get out to a big lead we could see Ball get more carries as the Broncos want to get him more experience.
Ronnie Hillman is the most explosive back on the Broncos' roster. He can make plays in the open field and gets to top speed in a hurry.
All offseason long, offensive coordinator Adam Gase has been commenting about explosive plays coming from the ground game.
After practice on Thursday he gave us further insight into how the fast tempo of the offense can help out the ground game.
It can put them in some awkward spots where they have to get to some basic coverages very quickly. It does create some softness in the defense. The Ravens being as stout as they are inside, they were very sound in what they were doing. It’s tough. It’s not like there’s huge, gaping holes when you play. That’s a good defense. Every defense, there’s going to be different kinds of challenges and that’s where you’re trying to find those little holes—whether we go up-tempo, no-huddle or just regular no-huddle or huddle. It just all varies.
Going forward it's going to be difficult to determine how the carries will be distributed. Hillman said the coaches feel out the situation as the game unfolds.
Yeah, they just feel it. You really don’t know exactly when you’re going in. You just know that when they call you, you’ve got to have your helmet snapped.
Hillman could be a surprise player in Week 2. He's got the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and Hillman is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
He had a poor game against the Ravens, catching only two passes even though he was targeted seven times on the night.
Decker had strong comments about his play in that game. After practice on Wednesday he spoke candidly about his performance.
The biggest critic is myself. For me, it’s demanding perfection out of myself. The biggest thing I want to leave any game with or just my career is being consistent. Being the same guy, day-in and day-out, and having games where I can be reliable. I just thought last game, there were way too many mistakes personally and fortunately I’ve got a lot of great teammates that picked up the slack and played very well. But I can’t let that happen again, it’s embarrassing to myself.
Peyton Manning expresses confidence in Decker still after practice on Wednesday.
Eric is one of our hardest workers. Eric has a lot of pride as well. He said publicly he was not happy with the way he played on Thursday. He gave great effort, sometimes those games happen. You will see me throwing the ball at Eric as many times this Sunday as I did Thursday. He’s a huge part of our offense, and we have great confidence in him. He’s going to be fine.
This passing game is one of the most dangerous in the league. Decker is going to see plenty of one-on-one coverage each week, and he still has the confidence of Manning. We could easily see Decker bounce back with a strong game against the Giants.
If the Broncos are going to jump start their ground game their offensive line has to aid the cause. Left guard Zane Beadles can really help blast open holes and protect Peyton Manning.
Head coach John Fox knows the Giants defense could pose a problem for the offensive line.
I think it’s very good. It’s been the strength of their defense all the way back to when I was there. They put a premium on it. They’ve got outstanding people. I know ‘JPP’ (DE Jason Pierre-Paul) just had his action last week. He’s just going to get better and better. The list goes on. They’ve got a good wave of guys they roll through there. It’ll be a big test for our protection this week.
The Broncos are using a fast tempo offense as another weapon in their offensive arsenal. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase commented after practice on Thursday about keeping the offensive line from getting winded. “I just assume they’re in great condition (laughing).” Gase said.
Starting center Manny Ramirez feels good about the chemistry on the offensive line with guys like Beadles.
On the offensive line we have here, with [G] Zane [Beadles] and [G] Louis [Vasquez] right next to me, we’re real big on communicating so we’re always on the same page. If I don’t see something, and they do, we communicate it across the line. We get on the same page as fast as we can, and we get the ball going.
The middle of the offensive line will have a tough task on Sunday. Beadles could help lead the charge when the Broncos have to grind out the tough yards against the Giants.
Sylvester Williams was the team's first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He only played 16 of 89 possible snaps in the season opener against the Ravens. Williams finished the game with one tackle for loss on the night.
Even though he's a top pick, the Broncos are not going to rush him into the lineup until he's ready.
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio commented on evaluating players without considering their draft position.
It’s easy for me. I’m not the general manager that has to protect the pick or justify a pick. As a coach I can just let them compete and play the best guys. I think ultimately, people in a football organization that are legitimately interested in putting the best product out there—that’s how it ends up playing out. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to get there. Often, top picks are protected for a while before that occurs. The reality is that if you play the best players and they earn it, everybody in the building knows. Players know it, coaches know it. You guys even know it, so I think it’s apparent to everybody.
The best guys will play the most, and right now Williams is not performing better than veteran Terrance Knighton. We'll see if he can provide middle push on the offensive line and earn more playing time.
The Denver Broncos' pass rush looked better than some expected in the season opener against the Ravens. We could see them have another strong performance against the Giants in Week 2.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio commented on what he saw from the pass rush in Week 1.
It was OK. We like to have it be stronger at times. It was good to be able to get him down and get him off the spot some. There’s definitely room for improvement.
The defense will be facing second-year running back David Wilson. He's a talented runner who can run through arm tackles. In fact, during his final year at Virginia Tech he led the NCAA in yards after contact.
Wilson has trouble holding onto the football as evidenced by his two fumbles in the season opener. Del Rio also talked about coaching his players to try and strip the ball from Wilson.
I think that’s pretty much what defenses try to do every week to every player. I don’t know that there’s any special mark on him or anybody else that plays the game. I think, from what I can see, he’s got a lot of talent and we’re getting prepared for the very best that they have to offer, and he’s one of the real good football players that they have.
The Broncos are a favorite to go to the Super Bowl this year which is going to be held at Met Life Stadium. When asked about playing this week at the site of this year's Super Bowl, Wolfe had this to say.
You’re not looking that far ahead. We’re just thinking about winning the game. We’re not thinking about if we’re going to be there for the Super Bowl. We’re thinking about week to week, day by day.
Wolfe has become one of the leaders of this defense, and the team could really use a breakout performance from him this week.
This final player was Champ Bailey, but he has been declared out for the game against the Giants. It's once again time for Tony Carter to show what he can do.
Carter is, and has always been, a gambler in coverage. He likes to take chances and the results vary. Sometimes he makes a big play by intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown. Other times Carter is burned by a play fake or double move on a route.
I remember watching Carter during the week of practice for the 2009 Texas Vs. The Nation Game in El Paso, TX. He was an impressive player coming out of college and showed no fear no matter who he was covering.
The Broncos have their hands full facing Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. The Giants like to work the seam and attack the edges of the defense vertically with their passing game.
Denver could really use a big game from Carter on Sunday.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand.