5 Biggest Takeaways from Denver Broncos Week 3 Game vs. Detroit Lions
The Denver Broncos had 10 days between games as they traveled to Detroit to take on the Lions in Week 3. After an emotional win over the Kansas City Chiefs (away from home), the Broncos had several things to fix on offense for their second road game in a row.
Over the first two weeks of the regular season, the Broncos had the 32nd-rated offense in the NFL. Quarterback Peyton Manning was getting questions about his current play due to the team’s struggles on offense. Manning thought the team responded well with a 24-12 win over the Lions.
“I thought we made some progress tonight, and I thought we found some plays that we were calling kind of over and over, some plays that were working.”
Head coach Gary Kubiak now joins Red Miller and Josh McDaniels as the only head coaches in Broncos history to win their first three games with the franchise. After back-to-back games on the road, the Broncos get to play at home in Week 4.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Broncos’ Week 3 win against the Lions.
The Pistol Formation Used Often
The Broncos came out on their first drive in the pistol formation. Before this game, the Broncos had used the formation on only two plays in 2015. They passed twice out of the formation before switching to the shotgun on third down.
That wasn’t just a first-drive look, it was a sign of things to come. The Broncos spent most of the night operating out of the pistol formation. Manning says the team has been working on that scheme for some time now.
“That was something coaches came up with during the week. Green Bay did it last year against them late in the season and had pretty good success with it, so something that we’ve repped throughout training camp. But something they wanted to do this week and I imagine it’ll be a part of the arsenal throughout the season whether we use it next week or two weeks from now, I don’t know.”
This team has struggled to find a balance between the “Kubiak system” and the “Manning system” so far this season. The idea behind the Pistol formation could be the biggest compromise we’ve seen from both sides.
The Pass Rush Is Dominant
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford didn’t have much time to lead the offense on Sunday night. He was sacked four times and turned the ball over three times against the Broncos. The fact the defense gets pressure often is not new news, but it is a recurring theme with the 2015 Broncos.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware made his presence immediately felt. On the Lions' third play from scrimmage, Ware sacked Stafford for an eight-yard loss.
“We really harped on getting pressure on him this week. He’s a quick-passing quarterback and sometimes the sacks, they don’t come, but we’ve got to be able to still get pressure on him, let him know that we’re there to sort of mix up his rhythm. We were pretty effective this game getting pressure on him.”
Shaquil Barrett, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson all got in on the action by sacking Stafford. Von Miller continued to get a lot of attention from the offensive line, but he was still able to pressure and/or hit Stafford often.
In the fourth quarter, safety David Bruton intercepted a Stafford pass to essentially seal the win. Stafford was once again under duress as the Broncos were getting to him most of the night.
The identity of this Broncos team is the defense, and it continued to dominate on Sunday night.
Bradley Roby Continues to Shine
Second-year cornerback Bradley Roby continues to make big plays for the Broncos defense. Last week against the Chiefs, Roby scooped up a Jamaal Charles fumble in the fourth quarter and scampered into the end zone for the game-winning score. This week against the Lions, Roby made an early impact with a first-quarter interception of Stafford.
The 2014 first-round pick continues to shine for the Broncos defense.
Roby’s interception was an amazing play. He read the play, quickly burst into the right spot and snared the pick with one hand. Roby is a physical player who does not shy away from contact, and he’s not afraid to bait a quarterback into a bad throw.
Ware likes the fact the defense can keep the team in the game—and win the game if necessary.
“We said the game had to be won, and especially on defense. The defensive line, we had to be aggressive and put pressure on the quarterback to be consistent week in and week out. This is the type of defense we’re trying to be. We’ve been able to get big turnovers to give the offense short field, and then they’re scoring their points. That’s all that matters.”
Roby would likely start at least a dozen teams in the NFL. With the Broncos, he’s patiently waiting for his opportunity to start. In the meantime, Roby is making big plays as the nickel corner.
Owen Daniels More Involved
The Broncos went out and added Owen Daniels in free agency earlier this year with the idea that he could be a big part of this passing game. Daniels has played nearly every snap of his pro career under the guidance of Kubiak—as his head coach or offensive coordinator. The veteran tight end knows the offense like the back of his hand, but so far with the Broncos he’s been slow to make the expected impact.
This seems to be changing as the season rolls on.
In the season opener against the Ravens, Daniels was only targeted two times. In Week 2 against the Chiefs, Daniels was targeted five times. On Sunday night against the Lions, Daniels was targeted nine times. Only wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (13) was targeted more by Manning in Week 3.
As the Broncos use the pistol formation to charge the offense, we could see Daniels continue to play a big role. Daniels is not as spry as he once was, but he’s still a savvy player who knows where to be in order to make a play.
Daniels believes this offense is finally looking like the Kubiak system.
“It is. We’re running the same run plays. We’ve installed our offense the exact same way we’ve done it the past 10 years. We’ve kept some of what they’ve done in the past here in terms of no-huddle stuff and up-tempo things, so we’re just trying to mesh that together and figure out what we do best.”
Manning looks more comfortable as a passer three weeks into the season. He’s likely more comfortable in the Kubiak playbook as well. That playbook has several plays where the tight end is the focal point. The use of Daniels increasing shows that things are coming together for the Broncos passing game in 2015.
Peyton Manning Aggressive as a Passer
We saw Manning play more aggressively as a passer on Sunday night. With little help from the rushing attack—an all-too common theme this season—Manning had to air it out. Against the Lions, Manning put up “Manning” numbers and looked like he did in the early portions of the 2014 season.
Manning extended his NFL record with his 92nd career 300‐yard passing game (101, including postseason) by completing 31‐of-42 passes (73.8 percent) for 324 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Lions.
Those are great numbers, but one thing that stood out watching the game was how aggressive Manning was being as a passer. The Lions were squatting on short routes, daring Manning to throw long, and he did just that.
Entering this game, Manning had not completed a pass that traveled 20 or more yards in the air. He’d taken several deep shots over the first two games, but none had connected. That changed on Sunday night.
Manning hit on three passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air against the Lions. Trusting his receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Manning let it fly and his receivers didn’t let him down.
It’s amazing the Broncos offense was able to be so efficient and aggressive through the air given the fact it was getting nothing from its rushing attack. As the team continues to build confidence on offense, we should see more deep shots worked in—and connect—as the season rolls on.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information was provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats were via ESPN's employees-only database.