Peyton Manning Has to Be Perfect for the Denver Broncos to Contend

Shehan Peiris@@shehan_peiris_Correspondent IIIOctober 23, 2013

As always, all eyes are on Peyton Manning, but does he have to carry too much of the load in Denver?
As always, all eyes are on Peyton Manning, but does he have to carry too much of the load in Denver?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Despite their red-hot start, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have lost their aura of invincibility. They are still the favorites in the AFC, but the loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7 raised some questions about the team. The most important of which being: Can they win if Peyton Manning isn’t perfect?

To be clear, the sky is not falling in Denver. It was one game, and though they have fallen behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the division lead, those Chiefs still have to play the Broncos twice.

Nevertheless, the loss in Indianapolis was disturbing.

It took a fourth-quarter comeback from the Broncos to make the final score as close as it was. The Colts' excellent pass rush and physicality with Denver’s receivers disrupted the timing of a passing offense that had been firing on all cylinders to start the year.

They sacked Manning four times (including the devastating strip-sack by Robert Mathis that resulted in a safety). In addition, the analysts at Pro Football Focus counted six occasions where Manning was hit to go along with 12 quarterback hurries (subscription required).

Week 7 was clearly Manning's worst game of the year.
Week 7 was clearly Manning's worst game of the year.

It speaks volumes about how phenomenal Peyton Manning has been that his Week 7 performance can easily be singled out as his worst game of the year. The man still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns after all.

But he wasn’t perfect. Manning had been about as perfect as he could be to start the season, putting up historic numbers and a record-setting pace, according to ESPN.

Records Peyton Manning Has Set or Tied in 2013
Most TD passes in a game7
Most TD passes in first two games of a season9
Most TD passes in first three games of a season12
Most TD passes in first four games of a season16
Most TD passes in first five games of a season20
Most TD passes in first six games of a season22
Most TD passes to start a season without throwing an INT19

The result was an overpowering Broncos team that looked like it would steamroll its way to the Super Bowl in a weakened AFC.

That juggernaut has lost some of its luster over the past few weeks because some chinks in the armor have been exposed.

The most glaring weakness has been the defense. It hasn’t been the same stellar unit of last year—one that finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-best defense (subscription required).

Comparing the Denver Broncos Defense in 2012 and 2013
YearOverall Defense (Rank)Run Defense (Rank)Pass Rush (Rank)Pass Coverage (Rank)
2012115.3 (2)73.3 (2)12.1 (13)32.5 (5)
2013 (through Week 7)6.7 (17)18.6 (7)-5.8 (23)-12.2 (20
Pro Football Focus

While the pass coverage has been kept busy due to the high-powered offense demanding opponents try to keep pace, that was also the case last season and the drop-off has been significant.   

Comparing the Denver Broncos Pass Coverage in 2012 and 2013
YearYards Allowed per Game (Rank)Yards per Attempt (Rank)Passer Rating Allowed (Rank)
2012200 (3)6.4 (5)79.4 (9)
2013 (through Week 7)320 (32)8.2 (28)89.4 (19)

Furthermore, they finished last season with 52 sacks, tied for the most in the NFL. That presence hasn't been there this season.

/Getty Images

To be fair, they played the first six games without their best pass-rusher, Von Miller, but they have sorely missed Elvis Dumervil as a complementary pass-rusher (who has 5.5 sacks in his seven games with the Baltimore Ravens).

The good news for the Broncos is that they still have the time and the personnel to improve on defense. Their quest to get better starts this Sunday against a Washington Redskins offense that is starting to get its legs back and put up 499 yards of total offense in Week 7.

While most of the attention might go to the matchup of the devastating Broncos offense against a very poor Washington defense, the more important aspect for Denver is whether their defense looks better. If they don't improve, Denver may once again fall short in the playoffs.

Whatever perspective you have on Jim Irsay's comments in the buildup to last week's game in Indianapolis, one point he made stands out. He told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that the Colts had changed their model because they wanted more than one ring.

While some took that as a shot at Peyton Manning, Irsay claimed he was pointing out the failures of the Colts organization to give him a more balanced team that would have had more success in the playoffs.

Time will tell whether the Broncos are balanced enough, but for right nowjust like it was in IndianapolisManning will have to carry the team and be perfect for the Broncos to make a serious playoff run and contend for a title.




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