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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 9

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 9

The Denver Broncos got back on the winning track with a 45-21 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 8. They scored a franchise-record 31 points in the fourth quarter which allowed them to overcome mistakes and get the win.

This game was a cautionary tale for the Broncos.

The team did not look focused offensively to start the game and fell behind 21-7 near the beginning of the third quarter.

The fourth-quarter explosion helped seal the victory for the Broncos, but they need to do a better job of starting out strong. This team can’t rely on coming from behind in spectacular fashion each week.

They need to do a better job of being more consistent at the beginning of the game. The Broncos also need to cut down on their mistakes offensively. Penalties and turnovers have plagued this team over the last two weeks, and those are problems that need to be cleaned up.

Peyton Manning finished the game with 354 yards passing, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Manning extended the NFL record for most games with at least four touchdowns, setting that mark at 26 games.

Manning’s three interceptions on Sunday doubled his season total going into the game. He now has six interceptions this season, four of which have come when attempting a pass 15 or more yards downfield.

Knowshon Moreno came through in a big way on Sunday. He led the team in rushing with 14 carries for 44 yards. He also led the team in receiving with six catches for 89 yards and one touchdown.

With Ronnie Hillman inactive we saw more carries for 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball. In the three weeks prior to Sunday, Ball had only played a total of 14 snaps. Against the Redskins, he received more work. He responded to the bigger workload by scoring the first touchdown of his pro career and rushing for 37 yards on 11 carries.

Undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson even came in and impressed with 22 yards on four carries. We’ll see if Anderson can continue carving out a larger role as the season continues.

The deep passing game was not on point, so the Broncos resorted to using underneath routes against the Redskins. This meant more targets for Wes Welker. Manning threw at Welker 10 times against the Redskins, and Welker finished with six catches for 81 yards and one touchdown.

That touchdown was his ninth of the season, a number that leads all NFL wide receivers. Through only eight games, Welker has already tied his career-best number for touchdowns in a single season.

Demaryius Thomas saw 11 passes thrown his way on Sunday, and he hauled in seven of them for 75 yards and one touchdown. The team used more short routes in order to get Thomas the ball so often in this game.

The Broncos defense played its best game of the year. On Monday, head coach John Fox commented on their outstanding performance, saying:

Yeah, without a doubt [this was their best game defensively]. Like we said, we’ve gotten more whole. I think for whatever reason we hadn’t executed as well up to that point. We have some real high-character guys in there and they decided they were going to get it right. That was as right as we’ve been up to this point.

In Von Miller’s second week back after a six-game suspension, he helped spark the team’s pass rush. Robert Griffin III was sacked or put under duress on 42 percent of his dropbacks on Sunday, the highest percentage of his career.

The Broncos didn’t even have to get creative in order to get pressure on the second-year quarterback. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio found ways to create duress by only sending four or fewer pass-rushers at Griffin.

After halftime, Griffin was 2-of-7 for 27 yards with two interceptions when facing such pressure. Miller gets so much attention that it opens up the rush lanes for other Broncos defenders like Terrance Knighton or Shaun Phillips.

Fox was certainly happy with Miller’s performance. On Monday, Fox said, “I thought he [Miller] was much better this week than he was last week.”

The Broncos have a much needed bye this week. The players will get to take some time off, and injured players will get a chance to heal.

After the bye the Broncos start into the final half of the regular season against a division foe, the San Diego Chargers.

The second half of the schedule includes five incredibly important division games. The Broncos' performance in these games will help determine playoff standings. Sandwiched in between two games against the Chiefs is an all-important conference game on the road versus the New England Patriots.

Denver still has a lot to work on if they want to win the Super Bowl this season.

 

Division Standings

Kansas City Chiefs

8 0

Denver Broncos

7 1

San Diego Chargers

4 3

Oakland Raiders

3 4

The Chiefs are still the only unbeaten team in the NFL. Their 8-0 record puts them atop the AFC West and above the Broncos. This is the second time in team history that they’ve had this record after eight weeks. The team started the season 9-0 in 2003.

They continue winning with a conservative offensive approach and a world-class defense. The Chiefs are the first team to allow 17 or fewer points in each of their first eight games since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons.

Kansas City goes for the hat trick against backup quarterbacks in Week 9 against the Bills. Over the last two weeks they’ve faced backup quarterbacks in Case Keenum (Houtson Texans) and Jason Campbell (Cleveland Browns). This week, backup quarterback Thad Lewis will have to contend with the league’s best defense.

The Broncos rank second in their division with a 7-1 record. Their performance after the bye will determine whether or not they win the AFC West for the third year in a row.

The Chargers had a bye in Week 8 and are still third in the division with a 4-3 record. They get a chance to beat up on the Redskins in Week 9.

The Raiders came off their bye with a 21-18 win at home over the Pittsburgh Steelers. They now have a 3-4 record.

 

Injury Report

The Broncos lost two key players to injury during their game against the Redskins. Tight end Julius Thomas had to leave the game early with an ankle injury. Strong safety Duke Ihenacho was also bounced from the Redskins game with what the team described as an ankle injury.

The Broncos announced good news about the Thomas injury on Monday. Fox said that MRI results for the injury came back negative. Broncos fans were concerned about this ankle injury, as Thomas has a history with ankle problems.

He suffered an injury to his right ankle during his rookie season in 2011. This injury lingered all season, and he needed surgery to repair the injury after the season. That surgery cost him most all of the 2012 season.

Thomas even took to Twitter to declare the positive results. He also revealed that his ankle injury was not a dreaded high ankle sprain. 

There is no word on the severity of Ihenacho’s ankle injury at this time. The Broncos defense has responded to the attitude that Ihenacho plays with, and they would not be the same without their fiery safety.

The team got a little bit healthier on the offensive line as right tackle Orlando Franklin returned to the field in Week 8. He was not 100 percent healthy but did enough to help improve the protection for Manning.

Their defense also got a little bit healthier as middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard returned to the field after missing two games with a neck injury. Woodyard’s impact did not go unnoticed by coach Fox.

On Monday, Fox talked about Woodyard’s importance to the defense, saying:

First of all, he’s a really good football player, and he was voted team captain by his peers—his teammates. So anytime he’s not in the lineup, you’re adjusting. So we’re just really pleased to have him back.

The Broncos are still playing without veteran cornerback Champ Bailey as he continues to recover from his troublesome foot injury.

Finally, Manning himself seems to be a little bit banged up. He originally injured his ankle in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, then he aggravated the injury in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The injury was bad enough that Manning actually missed a day of practice last week.

 

What Must Improve

The Broncos lead the NFL with an average of 42.9 points per game, yet their offense still needs some work. They have scored 343 points after eight games, an all-time record in the NFL, yet their offense could be even better.

Consistency is what the Broncos need most on offense.

The Broncos are the highest scoring fourth-quarter team (115 points) through eight games since 1940. The team isn’t running up the score, they’re just getting late starts offensively.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Broncos have been down by seven or more points in two games. They’ve been ahead by eight or fewer points in two games. Denver has also had two-score leads entering the fourth quarter in four games this year.

During the games they’ve had a two-score lead entering the fourth quarter, Denver has only scored 31 points in the final period.

Against tougher opponents in the regular season or the playoffs, the Broncos must have better offensive output early in games.

Turnovers continue to be a problem for this team. Manning threw three interceptions against the Redskins, and he also lost another fumble. This brings his season total up to six interceptions and six fumbles.

If there’s anyone in the league who can get a pass for turnovers, it’s Manning. However, playoff football is not as forgiving as regular-season football. This team wants to make a Super Bowl run this year, and everyone needs to start taking better care of the rock.

In addition to turnovers, unnecessary penalties continue to plague the Broncos defense.

Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson is known as an emotional player who can rally teammates with his play. However, over the last two weeks we’ve seen Vickerson’s emotions get the best of him.

Unnecessary roughness penalties for brushing up against a quarterback after the play is over are not smart. Here we see Vickerson knock Griffin to the ground after the whistle. His acting job (Vickerson pretended he stumbled into Griffin) did not fool the referees, just like his chest bump into the back of Andrew Luck didn’t fool the officials in the Colts game.

On Monday, Fox talked about passion leading to penalties on plays such as the one above:

I looked at the tape and sometimes those guys back there maybe are a little more athletic than the guys chasing them. But we’ve got to do a better job of avoiding any sort of contact.

With the way quarterbacks are protected, this penalty will be called almost every time. Defenders need to be safe when closing in on an opposing quarterback. If the ball is released, then defenders must let up.

 

Summary

The Broncos have set themselves up for a deep postseason run in 2013. Before they get ahead of themselves, the Broncos must get healthy and play up to their full potential.

The bye week should allow enough time for guys like Manning and Julius Thomas to get healthy. This will help the offense look better after their week of rest.

The team needs to work as a whole to cut down on penalties. Fox talked about the team’s problem with penalties on Monday, stating: 

We look at all of it. You overcome a lot of different things. I can honestly say I don’t agree with all of them. But that doesn’t matter—they’re there. We’ll do our best to coach out of that, give our self a chance.

I believe that Denver is still the team to beat in the AFC West. In order to win their division they must play with more precision on both offense and defense moving forward.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.

 

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