Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 4

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 4
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos continued their march to the Super Bowl with a 37-21 Week 3 victory over division rival, the Oakland Raiders.

Denver now has 14 straight regular season wins, and the margin of each victory has been by seven points or more. That mark ranks second in NFL history to the 1941-42 Chicago Bears, who racked up 16 straight such wins.

The Broncos offense continues to dominate, and Week 3 was no different. Peyton Manning has thrown 12 touchdowns this year to rank first in the NFL. It’s also the most touchdown passes in the first three games of a season in NFL history.

Denver’s 127 points in the first three games of the year is tied for second-most in league history. In Week 3 against the Raiders the Broncos had 536 yards of total offense. They are the only team to have multiple games over 500 yards this season.

Manning is 3-0 for the sixth time in his career, tied with Dan Marino for the most such undefeated starts by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

This week the Broncos host the Philadelphia Eagles and their high-flying offense. The altitude could really have an impact on this game. The Eagles love to run an uptempo offense, and they may wear themselves out trying to execute it a mile above sea level.

The Eagles have 10 days between games as they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football in Week 3. The extra time to prepare could help the Philadelphia defense deal with the league’s best offense. The Eagles defense currently ranks 29th against the pass and 23rd against the run. This week we'll see if they can figure out how to at least slow down Manning and company.

This game will be fun to watch as both offenses could put up plenty of points on Sunday.

 

Division Standings

Division Standings via NFL.com

The Broncos sit atop the AFC West after three weeks, tied with the Chiefs, who are also 3-0. The Chargers and the Raiders bring up the rear with 1-2 records.

The AFC West isn’t as weak as some thought it would be before the start of the season. However, it’s shaping up to be a two-horse race between the Broncos and the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the season goes along.

 

Injury Report

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Carter's injury may not be as serious as initially feared.

The Broncos didn't get through the game against the Raiders unscathed. Their secondary was hit by the injury bug, and Tony Carter and Duke Ihenacho both left this game due to ankle injuries.

Carter suffered an ankle injury during a special teams play. It sounded brutal as the television audience was treated to a shriek from Carter when the injury occurred. The defensive back was seen wearing a walking boot after the game.

Ihenacho suffered his ankle injury in Week 2 against the Giants. He was limited during the week of practice leading up to the Raider game as he dealt with the ailment. Against Oakland, Ihenacho reaggravated the injury and had to leave the game.

Neither injury is considered serious, but the prognosis is different for each. Carter may be out of the lineup against the Eagles in Week 4. Most expect Ihenacho to be back on the field this Sunday. 

Veteran linebacker Paris Lenon was also sidelined by a mysterious thigh injury.

After the Raiders game, Denver head coach John Fox commented on the injury report:

Alright, update on the injury report: [CB] Tony Carter, corner, left the game with a right ankle (injury), did not return. [LB] Paris Lenon, same thing with a thigh bruise or strain—not sure exactly—it’s his left thigh. And then [S] Duke Ihenacho, kind of tweaked that right ankle that was a little sore on him last week. We just pulled him out to kind of save that ankle.

 

What Must Improve

It’s difficult to nitpick with the Broncos at this point, but they do have some things to clean up on both offense and defense.

On offense the Broncos have to take care of the football. Manning has yet to throw an interception this year, but ball security for the running backs continues to be a problem.

And it continues to be a problem specifically for rookie Montee Ball. For the second straight week we saw Ball lose a fumble. This time it was late in the game against the Raiders as the team was trying to run down the clock.

In the picture below you see Ball losing the rock just before his knee hits the ground. One constant with the Broncos is that they like to run the ball towards the end of the game after building a big lead. Losing a fumble late in the game can throw a kink into that plan. It could also lead to a comeback by the opponent.

Ball must clean this up if he wants to continue to get snaps behind Knowshon Moreno.

Two fumbles in two weeks could land Ball on the bench.

On Tuesday, I asked Fox if Ball’s fumbling problem can be cured:

I don’t know about ‘curing’ anybody, but like I said before, we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s going to play a lot of football for us. Hopefully, we’ll clean up the fumbling situation.

 

On defense the Broncos need to clean up their tackling. They are getting some big hits from guys like rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster, and those are helping to energize the team. However, the rookie needs to do a better job of wrapping up on tackles so an opponent doesn’t get away.

In the picture below we see Webster lining up Raiders running back Rashad Jennings for a big hit after a reception. Webster was able to get Jennings on the ground, but a more slippery player, like Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, could bounce off that hit.

Webster is always looking for the big hit.

On Tuesday Fox noted Webster's issues with wrapping up ball-carriers:

A couple of times, I would have liked to see him wrap up a little bit more, but he’s gaining valuable experience. We had very good grades on him. He was still on the board when our pick was there and we actually had him graded higher than what we took him.

 

Webster is making big plays by being an enforcer, but he can’t let his technique get sloppy. The rookie is not the only player with this problem.

In this picture we see both Duke Ihenacho and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie miss tackles on Raiders wide receiver Denarius Moore. This catch turned into a 73-yard touchdown for the Raiders. An even more elusive player like the Eagles DeSean Jackson could make another play like this happen again.

Missed tackles here gives the Raiders their biggest play of the night.

 

Summary

The Eagles are going to find the Broncos offense difficult to stop. They don’t have the secondary to match up against Denver’s high-powered passing game. Playing in nickel defense only opens the door for the Broncos ground game to do more.

If the Broncos want to play a complete game offensively then ball security has to be the top priority. Defensively this team needs to make sure to wrap up against explosive playmakers like Jackson or McCoy.

The Broncos are unlikely to slow down in Week 4. The team should be able to put up 35 or more points once again this week. Relying more on the ground attack could help slow down the pace of the game by keeping the Eagles offense on the sidelines.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.

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