Sunday was good to Eric Decker. He set a Denver Broncos receiving record with four touchdowns in their 35-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He set a personal record with 174 receiving yards. His team now has the inside track to the top seed in the AFC. His season statistics got a lot prettier. A bunch of news outlets used his last name to make regrettable puns. And he's still married to Jessie James.
His performance even inspired one fan to make a surprisingly decent song about him, set to his highlights from the game.
Decker Won't be Overshadowed
Decker, much to the chagrin of his fantasy owners, disappeared last month. In his three November games, he caught a total of nine passes for a 128 yards and no touchdowns, including a disastrous one-catch, five-yard output in arguably the Broncos' most important game last week against the Patriots.
His subpar performances drew the ire of some Denver fans.
@MikeKlis notice how Eric Decker has completely disappeared second half of the season, has PM lost confidence in 87?— Shawn (@PatriotTex) December 1, 2013
Seriously guys, where is Eric Decker? #Broncos.— The Orange Page (@theorangepage) October 27, 2013
But Decker's slump wasn't entirely his fault. On a team with slot extraordinaire Wes Welker, physical specimen Demaryius Thomas and breakout star Julius Thomas, Decker can quickly become the fourth option. He was only targeted 15 times during that three-game stretch.
Decker proved on Sunday that although he hasn't been the go-to guy in the past, and although his role might again be reduced in the future, he's capable of being a top option. On another team, Decker could put up gaudier numbers—perhaps in the 100-catch, 1,500-yard range, to go with a dozen or so touchdowns.
But he has not complained about his supporting role on the Broncos, and showed with his outburst that he can be a top-tier receiver. He cannot be ignored on defense in favor of other targets, which leads us to...
Four Broncos Demand Double Coverage
Facing the Broncos receivers is kind of like pitching to the heart of a baseball lineup with three or four legitimate sluggers. You can't walk all of them, so someone's going to get a fastball in the zone. Against the Broncos, you can't double Welker, both Thomases and Decker. Whoever draws only single coverage is getting that pitch to hit, if you will.
Decker, without the shiftiness of Welker, the size of Julius Thomas or the athleticism of Demaryius Thomas, has often been the one granted single coverage. A four-touchdown performance in mostly one-on-one scenarios means that opposing defensive coordinators might have to rethink that game plan, since accounting for all four of those options—as well as Knowshon Moreno (42 receptions) out of the backfield—is a nightmare.
So Decker's breakout game adds one more variable that opposing defenses now have to figure out. Balancing functional coverage as well as a serviceable pass rush to pressure Manning more and more seems like an impossible request, as some Tweeters picked up on.
"I say double team Thomas and double Decker. One on ones w/ everyone else." - Jim. So that leaves just Welker... V nickel n LB? @VicLombardi— Bacon Lover (@DENVRSportsVent) December 2, 2013
It will be interesting to see how defenses respond to Decker's big game. It's possible that he could see more attention in the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, which might cause his statistics to suffer again while his teammates get more looks.
But he might also be challenged to prove himself against single coverage again, in which case his ability to take advantage of it could be the difference for Denver. Regardless, covering all of the Broncos seems to be near impossible, as it did in the early weeks of the season. Plus it doesn't help that...
The Broncos Deep Game is Alive
The mumblings about Peyton Manning's apparent lack of arm strength reached a new height after his poor performance in New England in Week 12. Manning tossed a bunch of worrisome wobblers through the cold Foxborough night that had his naysayers questioning how far Peyton could still throw a pigskin.
Is Peyton's arm strength beginning to draw concerns? http://t.co/mB68VsO2dH— NFL MondayQB (@NFLMondayQB) November 26, 2013
Brady throws a much tighter ball than Peyton…easier to control in these conditions. Arm strength disparity is very obvious too.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 25, 2013
The victory over the Chiefs should help quell those doubts, at least momentarily.
Check out the two longer touchdowns of the four that Manning and Decker hooked up for.
In the first, Manning releases the ball around the Chiefs 47-yard line, and Decker catches it at the 5-yard line.
The second pass travels even longer, this time starting around the 45-yard line and making it almost to the goal line.
Moreover, the passes were tight spirals with low trajectories, another encouraging sign for the Broncos.
No one is going to confuse Peyton Manning's 37-year-old wing for the shoulder cannons that the likes of Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers possess. But Manning and Decker's long-range connections on Sunday proved that they don't have to rely on quick cuts and timing plays to beat teams. They can still burn you deep. This is something Kansas City needs to address, since...
Decker Exposed the Chiefs Secondary
While the Broncos' victory has propelled them to a likely AFC West title, as they are effectively up two games with just four to play, it's very possible that the Denver-Kansas City rivalry has one more chapter this season.
One of these teams will win the division, and the other will make the playoffs as the first wild card, since the rest of the AFC fringe teams seems content to let the "best" 8-8 squad claim the sixth and final seed. In that scenario, the Chiefs would likely have to win a road game (or two) before getting one last crack at Denver.
Between now and then, Kansas City has to figure out its coverage. The obvious weakness on Sunday was rookie Marcus Cooper, who continued his recent slump by getting roasted by Decker on two of his touchdowns.
But Cooper was not the only problem for the Chiefs, as Manning distributed his menace equally amongst the secondary. Brandon Flowers, supposedly the Chiefs' best cover man, was trailing Decker on both long touchdowns. And safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps each took turns arriving late on their over-the-top help on Decker, frustrating Kansas City fans.
1st thing they teach u when playin safety is always be the deepest man Don't let WR get behind you. I have no idea what Demps was looking at— Joe Dice (@pulseofdachiefs) December 3, 2013
Dear Chiefs secondary, Please quit ruining a great Chiefs season. Sincerely Chiefs Nation— Josh Gannan (@JGannan84) December 1, 2013
The Chiefs would love another shot at the Broncos in the playoffs. But if their secondary was stretched thin covering Decker, how on earth will they manage once Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are at full strength?
Decker probably won't duplicate Sunday's performance any time soon, or perhaps even cumulatively in the final quarter of the season. At the very least, however, he's called attention to his abilities and required future opponents to consider him in their unenviable task of slowing down this impressive Denver offense.