Denver Broncos: Breaking Down the Impact of Their Breakout Stars

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Denver Broncos: Breaking Down the Impact of Their Breakout Stars
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The Denver Broncos made some solid moves this offseason, and they received lots of hype for adding Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips and other impact players.

That hype has been validated with stellar performances, as the new Broncos have helped their new team get to 4-0. However, there is another group of Broncos who have also helped steer the team the right way.

Many players who failed to make an impact in 2012 have come through so far, as Duke Ihenacho, Julius Thomas, Robert Ayers, Danny Trevathan, Tony Carter, Nate Irving and others have looked great. Denver's defense hasn't allowed more than 27 points in a game, and its offense has been dominant.

Denver has won by an astounding average of 22 points per game, with its closest game being a 16-point win over the Raiders (and it wasn't actually that close). Denver has overwhelmed opponents with a superb offense, but it has also been helped by its defense.

That defense has been anchored by Duke Ihenacho. Despite being limited and missing some time due to an ankle injury, he has been a difference maker. He is on pace for 20 pass defenses and 112 tackles, which would be huge for the Broncos. 

How important is Duke Ihenacho to Denver's defensive success?

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Ihenacho is a sure tackler and a solid cover guy, one who has given up some big plays but has also sparked the defense. He has defensed five passes and been stout against the run, which has been critical for the Broncos. With Ihenacho flying around the field, Denver's defense has given up the fewest rushing yards per game (74) in the league.

Denver hasn't been as good against the pass, but it has still managed to intercept six passes and surrender just six passing touchdowns. Tony Carter, who was only responsible for one touchdown, has been a major reason why as well, keeping talented receivers in check with eight pass defenses and an interception.

Oh, and he is tied for the league lead in passes defended.

Carter is replacing Champ Bailey, and Ayers is replacing Von Miller, another star. Miller's six-game suspension appeared to doom Denver's pass rush, but Ayers and Phillips have combined for seven sacks (each has 3.5). Ayers has 2.5 in Denver's last two games and has put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

He has also been solid against the run, posting 12 tackles and coming through with six against the Philadelphia Eagles and star running back LeSean McCoy.

With Ayers leading the way, Denver's pass rush has been effective. It has a respectable 11 sacks, which ranks 14th in the league. Trevathan contributed to that by sacking Eli Manning in Week 2, and he has also contributed in pass coverage.

He has 30 tackles on the year, filling in admirably for Miller. Irving has seen a spike in playing time too, and he has taken advantage with 19 tackles. Denver's defense has stepped up as a cohesive unit and has thrived, thanks to Trevathan, Ayers, Ihenacho, Irving, Carter and others.

On offense, a breakout star has evolved. Thomas had one catch for five yards coming into this year, but he now has 237 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The big tight end is a matchup nightmare, and he has incredible hands as well.

With Thomas and Welker at quarterback Peyton Manning's disposal, the Broncos simply have too many weapons for opponents to cover. Thomas' emergence is a big reason why.

And with Manning at the helm, Denver's offense is unstoppable.

Its defense does yield points, and its overall numbers haven't been gaudy this year. However, if it weren't for the impact of Denver's breakout players, the defense would be among the league's worst and suffering mightily.

Which breakout star has performed the best?

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If Ayers weren't guiding the pass rush to success, opponents would have time to pick apart Denver's defense. If Trevathan and Irving didn't have 49 tackles, Denver wouldn't have the top-ranked run defense. If Carter wasn't able to adequately fill in for Bailey, top receivers would be gashing Denver's coverage.

And if that happened, the Broncos would have many more question marks, and might not be 4-0.

The Broncos take pride in being a complete team, one that isn't solely fueled by Manning and the team's well-known stars. Because everyone has risen to the occasion, Denver has retained that label. Good play on offense and defense and in all facets of the game has led to the Broncos winning their four games by an average of 22 points.

Yes, Welker, Phillips, Vasquez and Rodgers-Cromartie have helped. Terrance Knighton and Kayvon Webster, also new additions to the team, have played well too. Still, the team's breakout stars, all of whom spent last year with the team, deserve credit too.

Because if Ihenacho, Ayers and others keep playing at this torrid pace, they could develop into household names and start earning credit for their play.

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