DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 09: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos is the focus of the media after facing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 9, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Steelers 31-19. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Ty Warren's reinjured triceps occurred at a time roughly corresponding to the first of several early uses of the base no-huddle offense that Pittsburgh is attempting to roll out this year under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, a standard 1 TE, 1 RB formation that would go on to give the Denver defense fits all evening. And while it netted a quick first down before being shelved until the fourth drive later that evening, Fox seemed to feel that Warren's absence didn't prompt Pittsburgh to change styles.
"The Steelers came out trying to establish a run," Fox said. "They kind of switched gears offensively as well. They started going no-huddle. We may or may not have reacted as well as we can. Being a first game, there are going to be some areas that don’t go as well as you like. I’m not sure that had much to do with Ty."
Fox was also sure to point out that in Warren's absence Mitch Unrein filled in solidly and " was mentally prepared because he executed his job well." With Warren's injury likely to be season ending...again...Unrein's unexpected rise up the roster over the past 4 months couldn't come at a better time.
As part of what Fox called a "wave," Unrein was part of the second crew on the DL, consisting of Ayers, Unrein and Vickerson, responsible for spelling the starters and keeping snap counts at a reasonable number. Broncos fans have long known that such an effective "wave" concept was critical to the continued emergence of the defense, and Fox, in a somewhat sidehanded comment, acknowledged progress on that front, noting that, "One of the things that’s helpful this offseason is that we’ve been able to add depth to that position...We’ll adjust and, ‘Next man up.' "
The next step will be coming up with a decent rotation for the linebackers, where Brooking was supposed to be spelling, but sustained a minor injury and forced Denver to choose between running the inexperienced rookie standout Danny Trevathan out onto the field, or watching the starters' snap counts spiral into the sixties and beyond. "We probably didn’t do as good a job a job of spelling our starting three [linebackers]. They were up in the 70s as far as [play] totals," Fox said. And Trevathan? Fox indicated that he would be "brought along," with no indication of Danny's readiness for that responsibility. With Mays once again oft-targeted in the quick passing game, including a 4 yard score to TE Heath Miller, experience or consistency would seem to be the order of the day, especially until DJ Williams returns from suspension. Hopefully Brooking will continue to firm up into football shape throughout the next week, since high defensive snap counts versus no-huddle will likely continue to batter the linebacker corps. Fox pointed out, "We’re going to see the same thing in Atlanta this week because they utilize it. A lot."
On offense, Fox wasn't divulging much in terms of where the team's offense was, though he did indicate where his heart always has, and continues, to lie. " The no-huddle’s something that I know [QB] Peyton [Manning] has a lot of confidence in, a lot of background in. I thought even late, he did a good job of even eating clock in the no-huddle. It wasn’t a hurry-up no-huddle per se, but I think it kind of puts the defense on their heels a little bit." As always, Fox is most interested in control of a ball-game, and controlling the clock is a huge part of that. To see Manning milking time away from the Pittsburgh comeback effort had to have been a huge confidence builder in terms of what kind of opening salvos Fox will be willing to allow, since, as he stated with emphasis about the running game, "Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’ll leave it at that."
In the final analysis, the Denver offense, expected to be a melding of Fox's 2 back, pounding running style punctuated with "explosives," and Manning's up-tempo, quick passing game single back attack, is still a work in progress, looking for some balance between the two ideas, but not finding a lot of common ground. So far, all I have seen is a lot of either-or, with a handful of complementary concepts thrown in, such as protection adjustments for play action out of the Iso.
Fox and McCoy are unsure of this tenuous balance, that much is certain.
"I think at the end of the day, we’re kind of finding our identity, really as a football team. We’ve only played one game. We do have a new quarterback; I think that’s pretty well-documented. It’s just kind of feeling our way."
I think that Manning can be as demure as he wants to be when approached with the idea about being the best player on a team, or in a league, or in history. In the end, I doubt the Broncos' search for offensive identity needs to look much further than number 18.