Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 5

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 5
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos continued their hot start with a big 52-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4.

The Broncos scored a franchise-record 52 points in the win, and have scored 179 points this season. That's the second most in league history through 4 games, trailing only the 1966 Cowboys (183).

Peyton Manning threw four touchdowns for the 24th time in his career. This broke a tie with Brett Favre for the most games with four passing touchdowns in league history.

Manning has 16 passing touchdowns this season, the most in NFL history through 4 games. That mark is also tied for the most ever in a season before throwing an interception.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Milt Plum of the Browns also threw 16 touchdowns before throwing an interception in 1960.

Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 82 percent of teams to start a season 4-0 have reached the postseason. Of the 47 Super Bowls played, 18 of them have been won by a team that started the season with an unbeaten record after four weeks.

However, that type of a start does not guarantee a Super Bowl win—or even a postseason victory. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1990 there have been 12 teams that started 4-0 who did not even make the playoffs. Another 19  teams who started 4-0 made the playoffs but did not win a playoff game.

Broncos head coach John Fox talked about keeping his players level headed as the season rolls on.

You don’t get too high, you don’t get too low. You’re never as good as they say you are, you’re never as bad as they say you are. You just try to stay even keel and work at your craft every day. The old adage in this league is if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. You don’t stay the same.

This week the Broncos travel to play the Dallas Cowboys. In Week 4, we saw the Cowboys fall to the San Diego Chargers 30-21.

The Broncos offense is much more dangerous than the Chargers, so expecting another 35-plus point performance from Denver is not out of the question. The Cowboys pass defense ranks 27th in the NFL, allowing 304.5 yards per game. We’re likely to see another 300-yard game from Manning on Sunday.

The Cowboys have the large task of being the first team to figure out how to at least slow down Manning and company. We’ll see if they can solve the puzzle in Week 5.

 

Division Standings

The Broncos still sit atop the AFC West with a 4-0 record, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs. The San Diego Chargers are now 2-2, and the Oakland Raiders fell to 1-3.

The AFC West is stronger than originally anticipated. The Chiefs have doubled their win total from last year and may prove to be the toughest competition in the division. Their defense is one of the few in the NFL that has a chance to slow down the high-powered Broncos offense.

The Chargers are also better than people expected. The offense has seen a spark under new head coach -- and former Broncos offensive coordinator -- Mike McCoy. Philip Rivers looks more comfortable than he has in years, and the team has proven they can score points in bunches. However, their defense remains a big weak spot in 2013.

The Raiders had to start backup quarterback Matt Flynn this week since Terrelle Pryor was concussed in the Week 3 game against the Broncos. They also saw running back Darren McFadden go down with a hamstring injury in Week 4.

On Monday Fox commented on the strength of the division.

I think it’s what makes this game great. In the National Football League, people go from the outhouse to the penthouse and the penthouse to the outhouse it seems like overnight. Everybody says, ‘Well, how do you like your schedule?’ Well, you know what? This year’s schedule doesn’t have anything to do with last year’s. Teams change. Records change. Two years ago, I remember the NFC West was the laughing stock. Now, there are two teams in that one people talk about as Super Bowl contenders. It changes from year to year, and drastically in many cases. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

The Broncos are still the favorite in the division, and are likely to win their third straight AFC West title. The Chiefs could push for a Wild Card spot if they continue their winning ways.

 

Injury Report

The Broncos made it through the game against the Eagles without any player getting banged up. Entering the game they did have a few players playing through minor injuries.

Standings via NFL.com

One of those players was strong safety Duke Ihenacho, who was limited during the week of practice with an ankle injury. I interviewed Ihenacho after the Eagles game on the No BS Broncos Post Game Show and he provided a situation report on how he's feeling. "I feel better after this game than I did last week." The team will continue to monitor Ihenacho closely as he's one of the most important young players on the defense.

Tight end Joel Dreessen played for the first time in Week 4 after missing time due to two offseason procedures on his knee. He played as a backup blocking tight end, and he did not re-aggravate his injury. As he maintains his health we could see Dreessen get an expanded role moving forward.

Linebacker Paris Lenon did not play against the Eagles as he continues to recover from a thigh injury. When he's ready to play we'll see Lenon as a backup linebacker and special teams player.

Cornerback Champ Bailey did not play against the Eagles either as he is still slowed by a foot injury. He was limited in practice all last week, and Bailey should have the same practice status this week. With the way the Broncos secondary is playing the team doesn't need to rush Bailey back onto the field. He's getting closer to returning, but the team wants to make sure he's as close to 100 percent healthy as possible.

 

What Must Improve

It's difficult to nitpick the Broncos, but they still have things they need to work on. First, they need to stay grounded on their quest for a Super Bowl.

This team was built to make a Super Bowl run in 2012 but fell short in their first playoff game, losing to the Ravens in double overtime. That sour taste still lingers, and the Broncos need to maintain their edge as they build for another run.

After the Eagles game Manning talked about staying grounded despite the record-setting 4-0 start.

Well, it’s really not hard with our schedule. We have a tough road game next week – another unfamiliar opponent. When you play these NFC teams, especially with new defensive coordinators, they are tough to prepare for because you prepare for the short amount of film that is available and you have to be prepared for a lot of unexpected looks. It’s really not hard – every week you have to prepare hard and grind to get ready for the next opponent.

Even Fox chimed in on Monday. He talked about whether or not it's Super Bowl or bust in 2013.

Again, we’re just in the race. We’re one quarter into the race. Our goals are high, make no mistake about it. It felt like we had that opportunity a year ago and let it slip through our hands. I think, as I mentioned even after that, there should be a fire in everyone’s belly to work hard to improve on that.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Duke Ihenacho was limited all week in practice, but played well on Sunday.

Another area the Broncos need to improve on is minimizing mistakes at key times.

In the game against the Eagles, running back Knowshon Moreno got a personal foul penalty in the second quarter that moved them out of field goal range.

Fox says that's an area that needs work. "A personal foul penalty knocked us out of field goal range and out of the scoring zone. I think it was right before halftime."

In blowout wins a play like that may be forgotten by some fans, but the coaching staff knows those kind of mistakes can cost you a game in a closer contest.

One area the Broncos continue to work on is the rushing attack. Fox feels the need for more consistency here, and he talked about that on Monday. "Well, I think we can be more consistent running the ball. We left points out on the field yesterday."

The picture below we see the Broncos run to the outside on first down. Ronnie Hillman gets the ball and has two choices in front of him as the play flows to the right.

The veteran back makes a mistake by drawing a personal foul penalty.

He can bounce the play outside if right tackle Orlando Franklin has shaded his man to the inside. Hillman can also find a cutback lane to the inside if the outside lane isn't there.

Hillman correctly bounces the play inside to run in between Franklin and right guard Louis Vasquez. This is a rare bad block by Vasquez, and he doesn't control his man at the point of attack. The man Vasquez was supposed to block, Mychal Kendricks, ends up making the play.

What could have been a big run with Hillman getting to the second level instead becomes a mere gain of three yards.

If the Broncos want to be more consistent then they need to make sure all blocks are maintained for as long as possible.

Another area that needs in improvement is fourth-quarter focus. Fox commented on that issue on Monday. "We kind of go into a little bit of a lull sometimes in the fourth quarter that we need to get worked out. There’s plenty that we need to work on."

The Broncos are getting huge performances from their passing game in the second half. This forces an opponent to go into a pass-happy mode in order to attempt a comeback.

This is one of the reasons why the Broncos have the top rated rush defense, but the 30th ranked pass defense. Some will ignore this problem and chalk it up to garbage time, but the coaching staff knows this is how fourth-quarter comebacks are created.

The Broncos need to maintain their defensive discipline, even when they have a big lead.

 

Summary

It seems like every week the Broncos are setting more team or NFL records. The passing game is on point, and Peyton Manning is making it look easy on the football field.

It truly is pick your poison when trying to defend the Broncos passing attack. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas give opposing defensive coordinators on a weekly basis.

With fourth-quarter leads we'll see more from the ground game to close out games. This means the team could lean on Moreno, Hillman and rookie Montee Ball to be their finishers.

The defense continues to play stout against the run. They are drawing energy from fiery players like Ihenacho and Wesley Woodyard. The special teams is also on point with quality players like Trindon Holliday, Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt.

This team has their eyes on the prize. They know how special they can be, and the Broncos want to continue playing stronger as the season goes on.

This is a dream season for the Broncos, but they give opponents nightmares every Sunday.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.

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