Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 14

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Denver Broncos: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 14
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

The Denver Broncos won a big game over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13. Their 35-28 win over the Chiefs gave them a two-game lead in the race to win the AFC West.

The Broncos were down 21-14 at halftime, but they went on to score 21 unanswered points to start the second half. During the second half they also held the Chiefs to seven points.

Peyton Manning passed for over 400 yards for the third time this year. He also tossed five touchdowns against the Chiefs, bringing his season total to 41. This extends his own franchise record and is tied with Tom Brady (2007) for the second-most passing touchdowns through 12 games in NFL history.

Manning now has 13 seasons with at least 10 wins during this NFL career. This also extends another NFL record that he already owns. He also tied Drew Brees’ career record for games with five or more touchdown passes (eight).

With 4,125 passing yards this season it marks the 13th time Manning has surpassed that 4,000 yards in a single season. This marks the most passing yards in NFL history through 12 games.

With an average of 218.7 yards passing each week over the next four games, Manning will throw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. He’s also only nine touchdown passes away from tying Tom Brady (2007) for the most touchdown passes in a single season (50).

The ground game had a different look against the Chiefs in Week 13.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Playing with an ankle injury, we saw a reduced workload for Knowshon Moreno. After 64 carries over the past two games, Moreno only saw 15 carries this week. Moreno only had 18 yards rushing, and he didn’t quite look like himself as a runner.

Moreno’s biggest impact came as a receiver out of the backfield. As a receiver, Moreno grabbed four catches for 72 yards and one touchdown.

On Monday, Moreno said his ankle felt fine during the game. “Fine….didn’t miss a beat. Felt good, felt good the whole game so nothing different.”

Entering the game, many wondered if Montee Ball would receive a sizeable workload after losing another fumble (his third this year) in the game against the Patriots. Not only did Ball receive a hefty workload, he responded with a huge game.

Ball rushed 13 times for 117 yards on Sunday. This was the first 100-yard game of his career, and this type of performance can help build confidence for the future.

After the game, Ball talked about mindset entering Week 13. “For me it was show-up-or-shut-up time today. Sit on the bench and shut up if I don't make plays for my teammates. I was just really focused today, and I just told myself to just be decisive.”

Ball was able to break off a 45-yard run against the Chiefs, the longest rush for any Broncos player this season. In fact, that carry was longer than any carry Moreno has had during his five-year pro career. Ball now has the same number of rushes over 20 yards (two) as Moreno does this season, and he’s done that on 114 fewer carries.

He has 174 yards after contact, and Ball averages 1.98 yards after contact per rush. His intent style has helped him on third downs. Ball has an 83.3 percent conversion rate when he gets a third-down carry.

Moving forward we could see a split of carries like the one we saw against the Chiefs. This split will do two things.

First, it will help keep Moreno fresh as the Broncos get closer to the playoffs. Moreno’s aggressive running style is something the other backs on the roster can’t match. In order to make a deep playoff run, this team needs Moreno as fresh as possible.

Second, a more even split of carries will give Ball more experience. This experience could prove invaluable as the team makes a postseason run. The team can also build confidence in Ball if he continues to take care of the football. All bets are off if Ball fumbles again this year.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The team played without tight end Julius Thomas for the second week in a row, but the passing offense was more than okay.

Eric Decker was nearly unstoppable against the Chiefs. His four receiving touchdowns tied a team record for a single game. Manning kept picking on rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, and Decker was his favorite target.

After the game, Decker talked about being “in the zone”:

Yes, definitely. Once you start getting into a rhythm, you build some confidence. For me, it’s getting into that rhythm, having fun and just remembering it’s just football. That’s what I got back to today. [I was] just playing. Letting things come to me. Not forcing things.

Defensively, the Broncos had a different look in Week 13.

They were playing without both Derek Wolfe (inactive, illness) and Kevin Vickerson (hip, injured reserve). The rush defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season long, but Jamal Charles came close with 93 yards on the ground.

As the Broncos built a lead in the second half, their secondary was tested more by Alex Smith and the Chiefs’ wide receiver corps.

Champ Bailey has missed most of the season due to a foot injury, but he was able to play in Week 13. The veteran cornerback didn’t look like himself, and the Broncos had him on a play count to prevent him from re-aggravating his injury.

In addition to Wolfe and Vickerson, the Broncos defense was also missing cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder). This opened the door for Chris Harris and rookie corner Kayvon Webster. Both had plenty positives and negatives during the game.

In Week 14, the Broncos return to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to take on the Tennessee Titans. They have a one-game lead on the New England Patriots for the top seed in the AFC. In order to win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Broncos need to win the final four games of the year.

The Broncos will be greatly helped by the return of head coach John Fox.

Fox has missed the past four weeks due to heart surgery. He had open-heart surgery in early November to replace his aortic valve, and the Broncos used Jack Del Rio as the interim head coach.

They went 3-1 with Del Rio running the show and now will look to close out the season with Fox back at the helm.

I asked Fox if his time away increased his love or appreciation for the game. Fox’s answer was eye-opening:

Anytime you get something taken away from you, it’s especially hard and it’s something that you love. Sometimes people say you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. Obviously I have great passion for it. I have for a long time so it was hard. Like I said, I had open-heart surgery and watching those games was harder than any pain I felt during that rehab.

Now that Fox is back, the Broncos will continue on their march for a Super Bowl title.

 

Division Standings

Team

Wins

Losses

Denver Broncos

10

2

Kansas City Chiefs

9

3

San Diego Chargers

5

7

Oakland Raiders

4

8

The Broncos now have a stranglehold on the AFC West. So long as they win out, the Broncos will not only win the division but also get a first-round bye as the AFC’s top seed.

The Chiefs have now lost three in a row since starting the season 9-0. They will likely enter the playoffs as the fifth seed in the AFC. This means they will travel on Wild Card Weekend to play the fourth seed.

Kansas City needs to get better play from its wide receivers. Smith was making tough throws against the Broncos in Week 13, but his receivers let him down by dropping too many passes. If the Chiefs want to make it far in the playoffs, then their receivers must do a better job of securing catches.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The Chargers have now all but fallen out of the playoff picture. In Week 13, they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals at home. Their offense has plenty of firepower, but their defense has many holes that can be exploited by better teams.

They’re not completely out of the playoff picture, but it would take quite a bit for them to make the postseason as a sixth seed.

The Raiders lost on Thanksgiving to the Dallas Cowboys. They may have found something in undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin. He’ll likely have the rest of the season to prove if he can be the quarterback of the future.

 

Injury Report

There are a few injuries to keep an eye on as the team prepares for their Week 14 matchup against the Titans.

Trindon Holliday suffered a shoulder injury early in the game against the Chiefs. Per Ian Rapoport, from NFL.com, the injury is not considered serious:

Getting Holliday back for the game against the Titans would be a boost for their return game. He’s a dangerous return man who can flip the field in one play.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie missed the game against the Chiefs due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the Week 12 game against the Patriots. He was close to returning last week, and the team will continue monitoring him closely as the week of practice continues.

Julius Thomas was a late scratch for the Chiefs game in Week 12. His knee injury tightened up a bit over the weekend, and the team felt it was best to shut him down. Thomas moved well in practice during the week, and he could be back for the game against the Titans.

Derek Wolfe didn't travel with the team to Kansas City. Instead, he was taken to the hospital for further testing after dealing with "seizure-like" symptoms.

Fox gave us a positive report on Wolfe’s status:

They’re still running tests. He’s out of the hospital. He’s actually in with [Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos] "Greek" right now. I think they’re still trying to get a handle on what happened and compare it. I’m not saying it’s nearly the same, but some of the same things we went through with [former Broncos CB] Tracy Porter a year ago. This is the medical people. Right now we’re not thinking about his availability or any of that stuff we’re just concerned about his health and medical people are working through that as we speak.

If Wolfe cannot return for the game against the Titans, then we’ll likely see Malik Jackson in the starting lineup again.

Teams that make it to the Super Bowl tend to get healthy near the end of the season. At this time, the Broncos are on track to do just that.

 

What Must Improve

A positive sign for the Broncos is their track record when dealing with problem areas.

A few weeks ago, they were allowing Manning to get sacked and hit too many times. Over the past three games, we’ve seen them clean that up. Manning wasn’t sacked at all in two games against the Chiefs.

Ball security has been a constant issue for the running backs, specifically Ball. The team did extra drills in practice last week with Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Holliday to help them secure the football better. Ball received a sizable workload against the Chiefs, and he did a good job covering up the football with two hands. He did not fumble in the Chiefs game, and Ball earned some of the trust back from the coaching staff with his performance.

I listed the 10 things the Broncos must do to win the Super Bowl. Some of those question marks are still problem areas for the Broncos.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

One trouble spot I did not list was the team’s propensity to get penalized.

The Broncos rank third in the league with 88 penalties this season. Offensively, they rank 16th in the NFL with 33 penalties. Defensively, they rank third in the league with 39 penalties. Denver also ranks sixth in the league with 16 special teams penalties.

Denver ranks third in the NFL with 774 yards penalized so far this season. The Broncos have allowed a league-high 35 first downs from penalties.

Their penalty margin of plus-12 is tied for 26th in the league with the Titans. Denver also ranks 26th in the league with a penalty-yardage margin of plus-135.

If the team wants to win the Super Bowl then it has to limit the number of penalties going forward. A stupid penalty at the wrong time in a game can sway momentum toward an opponent. That type of momentum shift is incredibly dangerous in the playoffs.

 

Summary

The Broncos won’t overlook the Titans. With Fox back in command we should see an even sharper focus on the big picture.

The Broncos want to make a Super Bowl run in 2013. In order to aid that march they’ll need to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This means the Broncos will have to win out over the last month of the season.

It will be good to kick off the final quarter of the season at home. The Broncos control their own destiny. Beating Tennessee will help make their goals a reality.

 

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

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