Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

The Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 28-20 in Week 10, and the team now looks forward to a huge matchup against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

The Broncos offense got off to a hot start against the Chargers. It only had the ball for 7:31 in the first half yet was still able to score 21 points.

Peyton Manning had an outstanding day statistically, finishing the game with 330 yards passing and four touchdowns. However, toward the end of the game, he was injured on a pass play to Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos had an MRI scheduled for Manning on Monday and Broncos fans were on the edge of their seats waiting for the results. On Monday afternoon, we got an update from Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

Fans breathed a sigh of relief, as early signs point to Manning playing against the Chiefs.

I interviewed Klis Monday on ESPN Denver, and he suggested the Broncos could limit Manning in practice this week. We have to assume that will be the course of action for the Broncos going forward as Manning deals with this ankle injury.

Later on, we heard from interim head coach Jack Del Rio. He also confirmed that Manning will play against the Chiefs.

Del Rio also commented on the possibility of resting Manning during the week of practice. “We’ll work into that like we always do. He’ll get an occasional day off here and there. We’ll decide when that makes sense or not. We’ll do that with a lot of our veteran guys. If we feel like they would benefit more from a day’s rest, then we’ll opt to do that. We’ll manage that as we get closer to Wednesday, Thursday and all those things. But he’ll definitely play this week. He’s ready to roll and that was great news.”

Denver’s 371 points are the most ever for a team through nine games. Manning’s 3,249 passing yards are the most ever for a quarterback through nine games. His 33 passing touchdowns are tied with Tom Brady (2007) for the most ever through nine games.

This is Manning’s eighth season with at least 30 passing touchdowns. Only Brett Favre (9) has more.

Manning continues on his record pace this season. Currently, he’s on pace to throw for 5,776 yards and 59 touchdowns. Both would be NFL single-season records.

Knowshon Moreno ran angry (as usual) against the Chargers, and he finished the game with 65 yards rushing. Moreno also led the team in receptions with eight catches on Sunday.

Demaryius Thomas was nearly unstoppable against the Chargers. He caught seven passes for 108 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. This was the first time a Broncos receiver had three touchdown grabs in a game since former All-Pro Shannon Sharpe caught three (against the Chargers) in 2003.

In Week 11, the Broncos offense will have to face arguably the league’s best defense. The Chiefs currently lead the NFL with 36 sacks so far this year. They have elite talent at every level of their defense.

Poe has developed into one of the best in the league.

Up front, they are incredibly pleased with the play of second-year defensive tackle Dontari Poe. His size/strength combination makes him a force as a run-stuffer or interior pass-rusher.

Outside, they feature two elite pass-rushers in linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Both play with incredible burst, bend and speed to get after the quarterback.

Inside, the defense features Derrick Johnson. He’s a quality player who can quickly diagnose where plays are going and fly to the football.

The stars of the secondary include cornerback Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry. Flowers can blanket cover an opponent’s best receiver. Berry reminds many in the NFL of a young Ed Reed. He can play close to the line of scrimmage to help the run defense, and he can also turn to cover receivers down the field.

The Chiefs defense is a world-class unit, and it will be interesting to see how it game-plans for the Broncos.

Miller's return has inspired the defense.

Each week since the return of linebacker Von Miller, the defense has shown improvement.

The Broncos entered the game against the Chargers allowing an average of 287.9 passing yards per game. Denver got plenty of pressure on Philip Rivers and held the Chargers to only 218 yards passing.

Miller added more muscle to his frame during his suspension, and that’s helping him become a better run defender. He’s already an elite-level pass-rusher, but now he’s able to stuff the run regularly. Miller has become a better all-around talent, and the Broncos defense is reaping the rewards.

The Chargers easily owned the time of possession against the Broncos, but there wasn’t a point during the game when the Broncos defense seemed gassed.

The Broncos won’t be facing a high-powered Chiefs offense in Week 11. Instead, they’ll have to focus on shutting down Jamaal Charles. He’s one of the best in the game today and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.  

It’s not going to be an offensive showdown, as the Chiefs are not built to win a shootout. Alex Smith is 30-5 in his last 35 games as a starter. He’s a winner, but he’s not known for lighting up the field through the air.

When opponents have scored 25 or more points against a team led by Smith, his career record is 2-23. The Broncos are averaging 41.2 points per game in 2013. Their lowest scoring total this year happened on Sunday (28 points) against the Chargers.

This game is going to be a case of the immovable object against the unstoppable force.  

 

Division Standings

Team Wins Losses
Kansas City Chiefs 9 0
Denver Broncos 8 1
San Diego Chargers 4 5
Oakland Raiders 3 6

The Chiefs are still at the top of the AFC West. They had a bye in Week 10 and will use that extra time to get ready for their Sunday Night Football showdown against the Broncos.

The Chargers lost to the Broncos at home and now have a 4-5 record. The offensive line needs to get Rivers more time to throw. Entering the game, they averaged 288.7 yards passing per game. Rivers was under pressure most of the day, and he could only muster 218 yards through the air against Denver.

San Diego ran for more yards (131) than its season average (106.8) in an attempt to keep Manning on the sidelines. The strategy worked, as it dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for over 38 minutes against the Broncos.

The Chargers defense came up short against the Broncos in key situations. San Diego will attempt to get back on the winning track against a Miami Dolphins team that is in disarray. It travels to play the Dolphins in Week 11.

The Raiders bring up the rear in the division, as their season is continuing to unravel. They lost to the Giants 24-20 in Week 10 and now have a 3-6 record.

Terrelle Pryor played through his minor knee injury on Sunday. It’s clear to see how this injury is negatively affecting him as both a passer and a runner.

The Raiders defense didn’t allow seven touchdown passes like it did in Week 9, but it couldn’t stop Giants running back Andre Brown on Sunday. Brown was playing in his first game of the year and rushed for 115 yards and one touchdown against the Raiders.

Oakland travels to Houston to play the Texans in Week 11.

 

Injury Report

Manning gave Broncos fans a scare on Sunday.

The injury report has to start with the news on Manning. He re-aggravated his ankle sprain against the Chargers, but he’s going to play against the Chiefs.

On Monday, Del Rio talked about Manning’s availability for practice. “Manning will practice. We’ll see as we get through the week how much each guy gets. Right now, we’re day after the game—guys that are getting treatment, need to get treatment, we’ll do that today and tomorrow. We’ll assess where they are and make the determination on Wednesday. Right now, we just finished grading the game, meeting with the players, putting this game behind us, making sure that we understand things that we need to do better looking forward, making corrections, handing out game balls and all that kind of stuff. About 2:05 p.m., we’ll turn our attention to the Chiefs.”

Manning is not a mobile quarterback, so an ankle injury isn’t as devastating for him as it is for others. After the game on Sunday, Manning talked about how his injury could slow him down. “4.4 or 4.5 [40-yard dash] won’t make much of a difference. Like I said, I thought I made a little headway with the bye week and was feeling a little better, but I imagine I’ll be pretty sore tomorrow.”

The other injury during the Chargers game was to reserve linebacker Nate Irving. He suffered a shoulder injury on Sunday.

Del Rio said the team received good news on Irving. “Yes, we did. Not sure exactly when he’ll be able to practice, whether it’s Wednesday, [but] it could be. It was good news in that there wasn’t any significant structural damage or anything. He’s definitely going to be a little bit sore, but at this point there is a possibility we’ll get him back for practice this week.”

The team played against the Chargers without cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle).  

Ihenacho was close to returning to the field, but the team decided he needed another week of rest. Most expect him to play against the Chiefs.

Bailey continues to rehab from the foot injury that has bothered him all season. The team is not going to rush him back, and it will continue to monitor him closely during the week of practice. He’s considered a long shot to play against the Chiefs, but some expect him to be on the field in Week 12 against the New England Patriots.

 

What Must Improve

The most important area the Broncos need to improve on is their most critical one. The team has to do a better job of protecting Manning.

With Manning, they have a shot to win the Super Bowl. Without Manning, they could struggle to make the playoffs.

After he started out strong in the place of an injured Ryan Clady, we’ve seen Chris Clark struggle mightily over the last few weeks. The Broncos have to protect Manning’s blind side so they don’t give up another strip/sack like they did against the Chargers. This is the third game in a row Manning has fumbled the ball due to a pass-rusher getting by the offensive line.

The picture below shows Tourek Williams getting around Clark with ease. He’s able to bring down Manning before the ball is out. The ball is fumbled and Donald Butler recovers it for the Chargers.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

From earlier in the game, this picture shows Larry English getting a sack by pulling Manning down by his ankle. This certainly doesn’t help as Manning deals with his ankle injury.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Even when Manning is not sacked, we’re seeing teams put a greater emphasis on hitting him as the ball is let go. This picture shows Manning after a big hit and a pass that fell incomplete.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Late in the game, this picture shows the hit by Corey Liuget that ended up re-aggravating Manning’s injury.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

After the play Manning got up, but then he fell back to the ground. Here Moreno checks in to see if his quarterback is OK.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

During the confusion after that play, we begin to see Brock Osweiler warming up for the Broncos. Fans don’t want to see Osweiler on the field just yet.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

It’s simple really. The Broncos need to protect Manning at all costs.

Both Moreno and Montee Ball were averaging four yards per carry against the Chargers, yet they only combined for 20 rushes between the two.

Moreno is the most-trusted back on the roster, and he helped the Broncos greatly on Sunday with his eight receptions out of the backfield. Perhaps he’s maxed out in terms of production level. That still doesn’t explain why the team didn’t turn to Ball to do more against the Chargers.

Ball could be getting a larger role in the near future.

Experience is the best teacher. Right now, Ball needs to learn a lot of lessons. He could be an important cog in the offense moving forward if the team decides to run the ball more in order to help protect Manning.

The Broncos would be best-served to get Ball as much experience as possible before the playoffs get here. Getting him 10-15 carries per game should not be out of the question. In fact, it should be part of the game plan going forward.

It’s not only pass protection that needs improvement for the Broncos. They also have to play with more discipline defensively.

The team has improved each week since Miller has returned, but there are two young players who were playing a bit out of control against the Chargers.

Rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster has been a great find. The third-round pick has impressed with his physical style and nose for the football.

However, he’s rigid when turning his hips to run with receivers downfield. This lack of quick change-of-direction ability is highlighted on the play below.

Here we see Webster playing tight coverage against Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

As the ball is snapped, Allen is able to easily beat Webster to the sideline. Webster essentially missed on his jam at the line of scrimmage.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Allen is showing the looks of a 9-route here. He even shows savvy by turning to look for the football even though it was not yet thrown. This move gets Webster to bite on the fly route, and he sprints at full speed to catch up to Allen.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Once Allen gets past the first-down marker, he puts on the brakes.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Allen then comes back to the football, easily enjoying a three-yard cushion on Webster.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

After the catch, Allen turns upfield and Webster misses the tackle. This play was good for an 18-yard gain.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Webster isn’t the only young player who needs to clean up his game. Second-year linebacker Danny Trevathan must also play with more discipline moving forward.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Here we see Trevathan burned on a seven-yard touchdown grab by running back Danny Woodhead.

This picture shows how Trevathan struggled to anticipate the route.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Getting burned by Woodhead is not a rare occurrence, but Trevathan needs to better diagnose what routes may be coming his way.

In addition to mistakes in coverage, there were also a few plays where Trevathan would overrun the play. This is simply lack of discipline. He can’t get too far out of position or teams will simply wash him out of the play.

 

Summary

The Chiefs will have had two weeks to prepare for this game. They will be more than fired up, as they want to prove the doubters wrong. Even though they’re undefeated, there are several fans and analysts who believe the Chiefs to be frauds.

Their passing game is going to have to make plays in order to keep up with the Broncos. The Chiefs currently rank 27th in the NFL with an average of 198.3 yards passing per game. If they finish with fewer than 200 yards passing, the chances of beating the Broncos are slim.

Jamaal Charles can dominate a game, and the Chiefs will lean on him heavily in Week 11. Expect the Chiefs to have a similar game plan to what the Chargers tried. They’ll try to run the ball in order to keep Manning and the Broncos offense on the sidelines.

Defensively, the Chiefs are going to try to get Denver to go three-and-out as much as possible. This will prevent the Broncos from getting in a rhythm offensively and may disrupt the timing that is crucial to the Adam Gase system.

The Chiefs will also employ a strategy that has become the blueprint when facing Denver. They will play press on the outside and send extra pressure after Manning.

They have the pass rush to make a long day for Manning. They also have the secondary to play one-on-one with guys like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

The difference-makers for the Broncos could be guys like Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Moreno and Ball.

Welker is difficult to cover, even for the best defenders in the league. His short routes should provide Manning with a relief-valve receiver against the Chiefs' outstanding pass rush.

Julius Thomas is too fast for linebackers to cover, and he’s too big for safeties to cover. Like Welker, he’s going to be an important safety-valve receiver for Manning.

Moreno’s role may be the same this week as it has been all year long. However, his touches are more critical than ever before. It is imperative for the Broncos to use Moreno effectively as a receiver out of the backfield. Catching screen passes that turn into big gains can help slow down the Chiefs pass rush.

Ball may be counted on when the team gets near the goal line. Field goals are OK, but scoring touchdowns in bunches will put nearly insurmountable pressure on a Chiefs offense that isn’t built to make a comeback.

Get your popcorn ready, football fans; this should be the game of the year. Make sure to have a reserve bucket of popcorn near the couch, as you don’t want to miss a minute of this one.  

 

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

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