The Broncos are making history with their offense every week. Peyton Manning is playing at a level he never has before during his illustrious NFL career. The design of the Adam Gase offense is making it look easy for Manning every week.
After six weeks, the Broncos have scored more points (265) than any other team in NFL history. The Broncos are averaging 44.2 points per game so far in 2013, the most by a team through six games in NFL history. They’re averaging nearly two touchdowns more per game than the next best team (Cowboys, 30.5 points per game).
They have the No. 1 passing offense in the league, averaging 360.7 yards passing per game. Manning has 2,179 passing yards this season. That’s good for the second most in league history through six games, trailing only Kurt Warner in 2000 (2,260).
On Wednesday, Manning talked about if he’s playing his best football ever at this point:
"I can’t—I just don’t compare to other years. The only thing I compare to probably is maybe somewhat of last year, because that’s more of my current baseline. But people make comparisons to other receivers in other years in other teams, and that’s just too hard when you’re in a different place in a different organization with a different culture.
"So I feel better than last year. I still have some things that are different post-injury. But I’ve made some improvements from last year. I’ve put a lot of time in. I think any time you’re in a second year of a new chapter you have more familiarity with the culture, you know [WR Eric] Decker and [WR Demaryius] Thomas are two receivers [I’m more familiar with]. But like I’ve said over and over again to you and the folks from Indianapolis—it takes years to develop timing with receivers—really good timing.
"And [Wes] Welker and I are trying to figure it out on the run. [Julius] Thomas and I are trying to figure it out on the run. I’d love to have more time to work with those guys, but [NFLPA Executive Committee member/former Colts C] Jeff Saturday took care of that for us with the union negotiations.
"You know, he gave us very little time with the quarterbacks and receivers (laughing). So it’s a challenge that you don’t have as much time as you used to in the offseason to work with those receivers. So we’re still figuring that out. We’ve done some things well early, but I still think there’s a lot—we’re far from being a well-oiled machine by any means. We’re still working out a number of kinks in my opinion."
Running back Knowshon Moreno leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with seven scored so far this season. Moreno only needs one more rushing touchdown to set a career high. He’s enjoying a resurgence in his fifth season with the Broncos. Moreno’s tough running helps to spark the offense, and his fiery attitude is infectious.
Wes Welker leads the NFL with eight receiving touchdowns, including one in every game. He is the first player in NFL history with a receiving touchdown in each of his first six games with a new team. Welker is difficult to stop on jerk routes, especially near the end zone. With another touchdown catch he will match his career high from 2011.
Demaryius Thomas is an elite level prospect. His size/speed combination makes him tough to beat on short, intermediate or deep routes. Manning is being patient when looking Thomas’ way. The Broncos will use short routes like wide receiver screens when the defense is playing back. If a defense dares to play Thomas with single coverage, then Manning will take a shot deep.
Eric Decker is making plays against single coverage. Defenses are primarily focused on bracketing both Welker and Demaryius Thomas. This leaves Decker by himself against a lone defender. Decker is one of the better route-runners in the league and can get open with ease. Manning’s favorite target is the open guy, and that is often Decker.
The emergence of Julius Thomas has been huge for this offense. The Broncos can use him in a number of different ways to create mismatches on offense. Thomas is too big for a safety to cover; plus he’s too fast and athletic for linebackers to cover.
So the question becomes, is there a way to stop (or at least slow down) the Broncos' high-powered offense?
Nobody has had an answer yet, and Denver looks unstoppable on offense. Let’s examine the way a team should build its game plan when facing the Broncos.
Be The Bully
It sounds simple, but this is more difficult than it appears. Football comes down to imposing your will on an opponent. Defenses can’t play scared against the Broncos. Instead, they need to play with intensity and an intimidating nature.
This means playing to the whistle and taking shots whenever possible. This does not mean cheap shots well after the whistle. This means hitting with extra force. It means an extra push right as the ball is being thrown. Defenses need to have 11 men get to the ball-carrier and group tackle if possible.
There are many legal and clean ways to be intimidating on defense.
Below we see Jaguars defensive end Tyson Alualu get an extra shot in on Manning right as he gets rid of the ball. No flag was thrown, and Alualu hit Manning right above the knees.
A little bit later we see Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin get by right tackle Orlando Franklin with an inside spin move. He hits Manning just a little bit after the release of the ball, and Babin hit Manning a little low. No flag was thrown, much to the dismay of Manning who was calling for a penalty.
These types of hits are the chances a defense will have to take when facing Manning and company. There may be some penalty flags thrown, but a defense needs to get Manning thinking about getting hit. That mindset not only goes for Manning but all Broncos skill-position players.
Blitz Peyton Manning
Yes, you read that right. A defense needs to blitz Manning if it wants a shot to win the game. Manning has faced four or fewer pass-rushers on 77 percent of his dropbacks this season, tied for the highest in the NFL. The Jaguars used such pressure on all but one of Manning’s dropbacks in Week 6.
In the play below we see the Giants pressure Manning with five players. They don’t get a sack, but defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins does hit him as the ball is released. The pass to Welker is a bit off the mark, and the Broncos are forced to kick a field goal.
Forcing the Broncos to kick a field goal is a win for the defense. The more playing time kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt see, the better it is for an opponent.
If Manning has time to throw, then he will pick you apart. Defenses need to throw caution to the wind and bring extra pass-rushers whenever possible.
Play Press Coverage
Defenses need to get physical with the Broncos wide receivers. This means playing close to the line of scrimmage and trying to knock the receivers off their routes.
Below we see the Giants put eight defenders on the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Spencer Paysinger takes a step toward Wes Welker after the snap but then bursts back to the middle to cover Julius Thomas. Manning feels some pressure, and the toss is off the mark. The Broncos had to punt here.
In this play we see the Giants play tight on the outside. Manning likes seeing the single coverage on Decker and tries to fit a pass in deep. It’s knocked away by Prince Amukamara, and the Broncos have to punt.
The play below shows the Jaguars playing close to the line of scrimmage. Rookie safety Jonathan Cyprien plays off Julius Thomas just a bit, but he’s able to stay with him downfield and knock the ball away. Another play with tight coverage and we see another punt by the Broncos.
Manning is a surgeon, and he will slice a defense up if it plays timid off the ball. Forcing Manning to make tougher throws into tight coverage gives a slight advantage to the defense.
The Broncos have been plagued by dropped passes at times this year. Some of those drops have bounced off a receiver’s hands, where a defense could come up with the ball.
Manning only has two interceptions on the season, the first came against the Cowboys in Week 5. Morris Claiborne is known as a gambler, and he takes a chance by reading Manning’s eyes in the play below. He goes to the spot where Decker is going and easily picks off this pass.
It’s rare to get Manning to make a bad throw, but playing aggressively is the key. Defenders will have to gamble and take chances in order to pick off the veteran quarterback.
Having defenders fly to the football, no matter where the play goes, could also help gather in deflected passes. A team will have to play with a high level of concentration against the Broncos, hoping for an impact play.
Ball security has been an issue for running back Montee Ball. He has two lost fumbles this season, and it’s one of the reasons why Ball has only been on the field for 13 snaps in the last two games. He has earned a reputation as a fumbler at the pro level. Defenders are going to be pulling at the football any time he touches the ball.
Ronnie Hillman fumbled three times in the preseason, losing two of them. It’s why he lost his spot at the top of the depth chart. So far during the regular season, Hillman has only fumbled once. It was last week against the Jaguars, and the ball was recovered by Decker. Like Ball, Hillman will get the fumbler treatment by opposing defenses.
In the game against the Jaguars in Week 6 there were two fumbled exchanges between Manning and center Manny Ramirez. Both fumbles were recovered by the defense. One came when Manning was under center, and one came when Manning was in the pistol formation and Ramirez snapped it low.
These turnovers are not acceptable, and they’re something the Broncos need to clean up. They can get careless with the football in easy matchups, but in the postseason this could cost them a win.
Taking down the Broncos is not going to be easy. It’s going to take near perfect execution by a defense and honestly a little luck.
It truly is pick your poison when playing the Denver Broncos. An opponent needs to take chances if it wants to give itself a better chance to win.
This means playing to the echo of the whistle and getting physical with the skill-position players. Drawing a penalty or two could be worth it if the Broncos start to worry about getting hit instead of executing a play.
If a defense plays back against Manning in umbrella coverage it will get burnt. Manning is a master of picking defenses apart. The only way around that is to try and bring pressure whenever possible. This could force a few errant throws or lead to sacks and forced fumbles.
Denver has won 17 straight games, tied for the fourth-longest regular-season win streak in NFL history. That streak is likely to continue if opponents don’t play with boldness when facing Manning and the passing game.
The only one who can stop the Broncos is themselves. A defense wants to at least slow them down, play physical and force turnovers. This may be the best (and only) recipe for success against this high-powered offense.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.