The Denver Broncos are 2-0 to start the 2015 season. They started the season with an important win in the conference over the Baltimore Ravens, and in Week 2, the Broncos came back for a huge win in the division over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Through two weeks of action, the Broncos defense has ultimately won each game. Against the Ravens, it was a pick-six by cornerback Aqib Talib that turned the tide in favor of the Broncos. In the game against the Chiefs, a fumble recovery by cornerback Bradley Roby was returned for a touchdown to seal the victory in the final minute.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak talked about his emotions in a postgame speech after the team's win.
“Not many teams can play through being 14-down on the road at Arrowhead, having to go 80 [yards] at the end of the game, those type of things. I was so proud of how hard we played at the end of the game. We talk about playing hard all the time.”
Kubiak explained, “With 40 seconds left in the game, when you think a game's going to overtime and your last play's a formality, we were playing hard. That's why we made a play. Yeah, I was very emotional and proud of the way we fought through what we did.”
During these first two games, quarterback Peyton Manning has struggled at times to move the ball through the air. Fortunately, the Broncos defense has gotten the ball back to the offense (or scored themselves), as the passing game has stumbled. That has been their recipe for success over these first two games, but it may not be something the team can rely on each week. They need to get Manning and the offense on track if the Broncos want to make a deep postseason run in 2015.
Will the Broncos' defensive dominance continue to take pressure off of Manning? Let’s take a look.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen a different start for the Broncos offense. In Week 1, the Broncos came out in the shotgun trying to get Manning into a rhythm. The passing chart below reveals that that philosophy didn’t necessarily help.
One way they could get Manning in his comfort zone is to keep throwing inside the numbers.
Manning had a 69.6 completion percentage with three touchdowns and no interceptions on passes inside the numbers against the Chiefs. His completion percentage dropped to 45.5 with no touchdowns and an interception on passes outside the numbers in Week 2.
The passing chart below shows a much more effective Manning against the Chiefs.
The Broncos also did a better job of utilizing their tight ends against the Chiefs.
In Week 1, Owen Daniels and Virgil Green were only targeted a combined three times. In Week 2, that duo was targeted eight times, including one that went for a touchdown to Green. Moving forward, the Broncos need to make sure they keep going to that position and trying to create mismatches underneath for Manning.
Kubiak explained how the tight ends can help as blockers and receivers.
“We've been having to keep some of those guys in to protect because of some of those issues. I think that Owen [Daniels] and Virgil [Green] can help us, but keeping our quarterback upright is of the utmost importance. It's kind of a double-edged sword right there. We need to get them more involved, get them some more touches, and I think that will come as we evolve.”
How the Defense Can Help
As we’ve seen over the last two weeks, this Broncos defense is an aggressive, swarming unit that can turn the tide of a game. The turnovers have helped propel the Broncos to victory in both games to open the season.
The defense can help take the pressure off of Manning by getting the ball back to the offense without a deficit. If the defense can consistently return the ball to the offense, the Broncos can start to get more out of C.J. Anderson and their rushing attack.
Kubiak knows they need to do just that.
“It just has to be demanded. If you're going to be physical as a football team, then you've got to stay committed and demand it. It's not good enough. I'm very disappointed.”
Kubiak explained, “I look at myself. 'Okay, what are we doing?' I go to the coaches. 'Are we putting ourselves in the right positions?' And I go to the players and say, 'This is either good enough or not good enough.' That's our approach, and I'm going to demand that we be a physical football team and that we line up and can get a yard. I'm not going to run away from that. Regardless of what happens, we're going to work through that and demand that we get it done.”
With how much the defense has turned up the pressure in 2015, opponents will certainly fear the pass-rushers the Broncos bring to the field.
Kubiak knows how pressure defense can help the entire team.
“That is so encouraging right now. The difference between the good and the great players are guys with ball skills. We have a lot of ball skills on our back end. That gives us a chance to not just get an interception but to make some big plays.”
In years past, the Broncos defense has been an afterthought. Manning and the offense could score a ton of points, and the defense just didn’t have to choke. The Broncos won a lot of games by a wide margin, but they weren’t necessarily battle-tested when it came time for the playoffs.
Now, Denver has gone through two teams that are of playoff caliber. Both of these contests have had a playoff feel, and the Broncos have had to scratch and claw to get the win. That experience could be a great help when Denver gets to the postseason.
The Broncos have to find a way to jump-start this offense without falling behind 14 points. That’s the biggest way the defense can help. They can get the ball back to Manning as quickly as possible in order to prevent the offense from getting cold when an opponent has a long, drawn-out drive.
Kubiak admitted he anticipated growing pains for the offense.
“I want it to be right all the time. That's the nature of coaching. You want everything to be right. Did we know we had some young guys up front? Yeah, but some of our young guys are playing very good, too. Our left tackle [Ty Sambrailo] played very good for a rookie left tackle going in there.”
Kubiak expanded, “If we find a way to stay on the football field offensively, we can improve physically and do that. With our defensive football team, it should help us in the long haul. Like I said, we're going to stay committed to that. We're never going to run away from what our quarterback does best, but we've got to find a way to be physical as a football team.”
The Broncos are certainly physical on the defensive side of the ball. Their intimidating defense has become the identity of the 2015 Broncos.
Now, the team needs to find that physicality on the offense. This means getting Manning into a comfort zone as a passer, but it also means this team has to figure out their rushing attack. They’ve struggled to run the ball over the first two weeks of the season. By running the ball more effectively, the Broncos should be able to get even more out of their passing game, as opposing defenses will have to adjust.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.