Peyton Manning Needs Help on Offense If Broncos Expect to Reach Super Bowl

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJanuary 12, 2014

USA Today

For the Denver Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning, beating the San Diego Chargers 24-17 is just the start of what they hope to accomplish this postseason. Anything less than winning the Super Bowl is a failure.

If the Broncos play like they did against the Chargers, a business trip on Feb. 2 to New Jersey isn’t going to happen. There were too many miscues and missed opportunities on offense for the Broncos to conquer a New England Patriots team that beat up on the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Despite not punting against the Chargers, the Broncos offense needs to elevate its game. Every one of the Broncos’ offensive playmakers made costly mistakes against the Chargers—mistakes on which the Patriots will almost certainly capitalize.  

Late in the first half, wide receiver Eric Decker had a pass bounce off his chest in the end zone that Chargers linebacker Donald Butler then intercepted. The play took at least a field goal off the board and would have made the late comeback attempt by the Chargers even more difficult. Had the miscue come at any other time than the end of the half, it would have also given San Diego an extra opportunity to score.

Decker finished the game with just 32 yards on two receptions. If the Patriots successfully take away the Broncos’ other primary passing options—often a smart plan—Denver will need Decker to produce a lot more than 32 yards.

To solidify Decker’s poor performance, he also tripped on his own feet on a long punt return and was responsible for the Chargers’ successful onside-kick recovery. Giving opportunities to the other team and leaving possible points on the field is not the way to beat a good team in the playoffs.

Slot receiver Wes Welker also had a rough return after missing three games with a concussion. Welker had two key drops and finished with six catches for just 38 yards. In this case, it’s not like Manning’s other targets were gobbling all the opportunities.

"I'll be going over that one play down the middle all night tonight. But it's good to be back out there competing again," Welker said via the Denver Post.

While tight end Julius Thomas had a team-high 76 yards on six receptions, he also made several big mistakes, the biggest of which being a fumble in the first half. Luckily for Thomas, the Chargers couldn't capitalize on the turnover.

Slot Receiver Splits
SplitPlayerReceptions Per GameYards Per GameTouchdowns Per Game
In LossJulius Thomas5450.33
SeasonJulius Thomas5560.86
SundayJulius Thomas6760
SplitPlayerReceptions Per GameYards Per GameTouchdowns Per Game
In LossWes Welker4570
SeasonWes Welker6600.77
SundayWes Welker6381

Thomas also had an unfortunate series on Denver’s first drive of the third quarter. The Broncos had to burn a timeout because of a mistake Thomas presumably made that caused Manning to use profane language. On the following play, Thomas committed a false start that turned a 3rd-and-6 into a 3rd-and-11, and the Broncos settled for a Matt Prater field goal that was barely good from 45 yards out two plays later.

Decker’s mistake took at least three points off the board, Welker’s big drop in the third quarter turned a probable touchdown into a field goal and Thomas’ fumble may have prevented another score. Thomas’ other miscues in the third quarter turned an eventual touchdown drive into a field goal.

If you add up all those mistakes, the Broncos left a lot of points on the field. It’s hard to quantify, but it was probably between 10 and 24 points on offense alone.

Even star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas didn’t have the most productive game with just 54 yards on eight receptions. Thomas’ longest catch was just nine yards, which is very uncharacteristic for him.

Wide Receiver Splits
In LossDemaryius Thomas5610.33
SeasonDemaryius Thomas6890.88
SundayDemaryius Thomas8541
In LossEric Decker5660.33
SeasonEric Decker5810.69
SundayEric Decker2320

If the Broncos are going to beat the Patriots, they are going to need better play from all of their offensive weapons. Manning finished 25-of-36 for 230 yards, but he could have easily had a much better numbers. Manning got the ball to his receivers—they just didn't make the plays they normally do. 

More importantly, the Broncos could have really run away with the game early and made any comeback attempt nearly impossible. Instead, they left the door open and the Chargers barely ran out of time to capitalize on it.

Leaving the door open for opponents is an easy way to lose to good teams. It’s what got the Kansas City Chiefs beat last week, and it’s exactly what happened to the Broncos earlier this year in New England. The Broncos collapsed in the second half against the Patriots in New England and eventually lost 34-31 in overtime.

Given that the Broncos defense took a giant step forward on Sunday until cornerback Chris Harris Jr. left the game with an injury, it was surprising that the offense played as poorly as it did. The Broncos may have beaten the Chargers, but going into next week, it’s hard to say they are playing their best football of the season.