The Denver Broncos are on a mission this season. Their mission fell short last year as they were beaten by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 in the Super Bowl. This season, the Broncos want to get back to the Super Bowl but finish it with a different outcome.
They will be tested along the way by the teams from arguably the strongest division in the NFL, the NFC West.
This year in the preseason, the Broncos are getting a taste of what is yet to come as they’ve faced both the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers in the first two weeks. The Broncos were able to beat the Seahawks 21-16 last week, and they flat out dominated the 49ers 34-0 in Week 2 of the preseason.
So does this preseason dominance cement the Broncos as the team to beat in the NFL? Let’s look at the players and direction of the team in 2014.
There were many standout players for the Broncos in the game against San Francisco. Both sides of the ball featured players who were nearly unstoppable on Sunday.
|vs Seattle 8/7/2014||19||78||11:50||7|
|at San Francisco 8/17/2014||22||127||10:07||10|
Peyton Manning was incredibly precise in picking apart the 49ers, as seen in the graphic below.
|vs Seattle 8/7/2014||10-of-13||76.9||78||0|
|at San Francisco 8/17/2014||12-of-14||85.7||102||1|
He made several plays with his arm, but Manning also tried to scramble up the middle against the 49ers. Manning explained why after the game.
"Yeah, it’s a tendency breaker. You try to catch them off guard. It’s probably not really high on their alert game plan sheet, ‘watch for the quarterback run.’ I thought I was going to score but I got one yard. Kind of humbling."
Running back C.J. Anderson returned to practice earlier this week after a concussion knocked him out of Week 1 preseason action against the Seahawks. Anderson had praise for Manning after the game, and he explained how the veteran quarterback makes it easier for teammates around him.
"It is amazing. He makes the game so much easier for you when you are in there. By slowing the game down and you can see everything, especially it is my second year in, knowing the offense just helps out tremendously. Having a quarterback like 18 means everything."
Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas just looks so darn easy.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) August 17, 2014
Julius Thomas caught his first passes of the preseason, and he finished the game with three catches for 35 yards and one touchdown. He’s proud of what his teammates did on defense in holding the 49ers scoreless.
"Really great job by our defense in holding those guys scoreless. It’s exciting for me. I’m proud of them. We knew this is still a preseason game and we play them later on in the season and we know they’re going to give us our best shot but it is great to come out and have a good performance all around."
Demaryius Thomas continued his dominant play. He maintained proper perspective when talking about the team’s success this preseason against two of the best teams in the NFL.
"It’s been great, and our main thing is just to keep going, preseason or not. We want to go into the regular season doing the same thing. We’ve still got some things to work on, but it’s been good so far."
Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer has looked great in training camp. He caught his first pass of the preseason, and it was for a 33-yard touchdown.
Brock Osweiler likes what Latimer is doing on both the practice and the playing field.
"Cody’s been having a great fall camp for us," Osweiler said. "I just saw a one-on-one matchup there and there was just a single high safety in the middle of the field. I did my best to hold him for as long as I could so he couldn’t go over there and help make the play. Then Cody just did a tremendous job of running by the corner and making a great catch in the end zone."
Strong safety T.J. Ward has become a new leader on the defense. He was added in free agency, and his arrival in Denver makes the defense tougher than they were before. Ward knows that going up against the NFC West is a challenge.
"I don’t think it matters if you approach everyday with the same attitude to improve to get better the next day," Ward said. "It doesn’t matter who your opponent is. We know that division has been tough the last few years and it has been known to be a bruising division, but we pride ourselves on being tough too. That is what we are bringing to the table this year."
Linebacker Brandon Marshall is starting at weak-side linebacker while Danny Trevathan is out with a broken bone in his leg. Marshall led the team in tackles with five, and he praised the big men in front of him on the defensive line after the game.
"I have to take those guys out for shrimp and steaks or whatever they want. Those guys did a great job of keeping us clean. Any great linebacker has good defensive linemen in front of him. I’m just happy to have those guys in front of me."
The Broncos didn’t get through the 49ers game unscathed. They were already playing shorthanded at several positions with starters like Chris Harris, Von Miller and Danny Trevathan missing on defense. On the offense, the Broncos were playing without starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
The team lost two more players to injury in the game against the 49ers.
Gerell Robinson is fighting to earn a roster spot as the fourth tight end. The converted wide receiver made a position switch earlier this year, and he’s been making a few plays out at training camp. Robinson suffered a sprained knee against the 49ers that could keep him out of practice for a few weeks.
Rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow left the game with what looked like a much more serious injury. Barrow was later diagnosed with a bruised leg, and he could be limited in practice this week.
TE Gerrell Robinson out two weeks (knee sprain); LB Lamin Barrow (leg bruise) will be out for limited practice tomorrow— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) August 18, 2014
Barrow has a good chance of making the final roster, but Robinson may find it difficult to earn a spot now that he’s hurt. The Broncos have good depth on both sides of the ball, but that depth has been tested this preseason.
Are the Broncos the team to beat in the NFL?
Yes, these preseason games don’t count—but they do matter. The Broncos are currently building confidence during the preseason, and they hope to carry that momentum into the regular season.
They way they’ve performed this preseason indicates they will be able to compete at a high level once again in 2014. Three of the best teams in the NFL (Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos) have played this preseason, and the Broncos have come out on top each time.
This doesn’t mean they automatically are going to win the next time they face one of these foes in the NFL. However, it does give us clues as to how different this team looks this season.
The Broncos offense is going to have a bit more balance this year. We’ll see more of an emphasis on the ground game than we did last year, but the team is not taking the ball away from Manning. Pounding the rock up the middle will soften up an opposing defense, and it will help set up better looks for the passing game.
The Broncos defense is tougher than it was last year. They will play with a more physical style this year, and their swarming presence will make it difficult for opponents when they fall behind and have to play catch-up football.
Nobody can definitively say the Broncos are now the team to beat in the NFL, but after these preseason performances, they cannot be immediately written off because they were blown out in the Super Bowl last year.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.