The feeling still hasn't worn as this Monday has progressed. What we all witnessed from #18 was nothing short of masterful. From the 2nd Quarter on, when we had the ball running the "no-huddle" I was in constant awe of what I was witnessing. Others have said it and I'll echo it here, it sure is great to be on the winning side of Peyton Manning!
Coming into this game I had some questions and thoughts about the our team. Though this is only week 1 and there is a lot of ball yet to be played, I want to re-examine those thoughts and see what yesterdays game provided us in the way of answers.
1) Strategically, run the no huddle early and often?
I think we should from now on...especially at home. Our first three drives of this game however started off pretty bland. Until we moved to the no huddle on the fourth drive in the 2nd Q, we had run the ball on first down five straight times. Once we moved to the no huddle however, the results spoke for themselves. The chess match turned and the Steelers D really had no answers. It will be interesting to see if we come out of the gate with it in Atlanta this week, and perhaps more importantly, how crowd noise will affect it.
2) Balance, Balance, Balance....yeah we have PFM, but wouldn't it be cool to rush the ball 35 times at 4.4 yards per clip to take some of the pressure off his shoulders? Think 97/98 Broncos fans!
We didn't quite hit 4.4 yards per carry, but if you don't count the three Manning kneeldowns to end the half (which you shouldn't since it is indicative of strategy and not a marker of ineptitude) then we made it to 4.1 YPC (24 rushes 98 yards). Play selection was extremely balanced in the game: 24 rushes (27 w/kneeldowns) to 28 pass attempts (includes 2 sacks). So that boils down to about 46/54 run/pass ratio which is essentially a coin flip over the course of the game.
3) Take what you can get. Be patient and don't force things. The Steelers are likely to test Manning out by giving him a variety of looks so let's play small ball football, move the ball efficiently, and punch it in the endzone when we get close.
Really rang true with this game. They brought a ton of looks to Manning throughout the game and after the first couple of drives, he answered every one of them by picking apart their scheme bit by bit. Three 80 yard TD drives and the fact that outside of the DT checkdown that went for 71 there wasn't a pass completed for more than 20 yards pretty much sums it up. The only deep throw was on 3rd and long when Manning hurried the snap to catch 12 defenders on the field (thank you very much refs for missing that one).
4) Can our front 7 handle the running game and more importantly shut it down? Until we prove we can do it consistently, this is something to look for.
Very proud of our defense for this effort, they bottled up just about everything. The only thing we need to do now is not over pursue at the second level and break contain like we did which caused a few sure no-gains into some nice yardage. Overall, I count 22 Pittsburgh rushes from their 3 backs to the tune of 68 yards (3.1 YPC).
5) Will our front 4 get pressure on their own?
Mixed bag here. We did have some issues when we rushed four and played zone, but we also got some pressure as evidenced by Derek Wolfe's first career sack. I thought we pushed the pocket well and will continue to build on the solid effort on Sunday night.
6) Can we contain Big Ben and bring him down when we have the opportunity?
Nope. How many times did this guy elude pressure, step up, pump-fake, and fire a rocket to convert a 3rd and long? Too many times my friends, way too many times. That is what Big Ben does and what he is known for---making lemonade out of lemons.
7) Can our coaching staff eliminate some of the mismanagement that occurred last year in regards to the clock and timeouts?
There were some that wanted Fox/Manning to try and score some points before the half with 28 seconds left and 2 timeouts from their own 20 as opposed to taking a knee. I thought that was nuts and stated as much. Go in to halftime down 3, don't chance digging a bigger hole. On the other hand we had the 4th down QB sneak that was given a very generous spot and was not challenged. Today I'm thinking perhaps the coaching staff think it was wise to challenge something as subjective as a spot with replacements missing small things all night long. It is borderline for me, it's not as if the sequence occurred at the end of the game and the Steelers were marching for the win. Remember Fox is conservative, and this was one of the situations where it showed. I personally don't fault him for the no challenge.
8) Will our offense all be on the same page when Manning checks to something else?
Only one word needed here: ABSOLUTELY!
9) Can we minimize mis-communications across the board?
There were some definite breakdowns in the secondary late in the game. On one play in particular Mike Wallace was left streaking down the field for what would have been an easy TD...except Ben was pressured and flushed to his left and out of the line of sight. We will have some growing pains as we go on, but I really didn't witness any on the offensive side of the ball.
10) Will Rahim Moore start to play like a starter?
He made some very good plays and showed off his range. If he would have held on to that pick coming across the field, it might have been game over at that point. I'm not going to eat his lunch for his personal foul penalty, except to say he could have let up a bit. From one angle it looked like he lead with the shoulder so it remains to be seen what comes of that from the league.
11) Will our team be able to handle the physicality of the game for an entire 4 quarters better than the Steelers? Fatigue will be a factor for someone.
We have an extremely tough defense ladies and gentlemen. From a stretch spanning the 2nd Q to the 4th Q, they had been on the field for 20:46 out of a possible 21:50! And we were tough and physical every step of the way. Where it hurt us a bit was tracking Ben on 3rd down, but like I said, that's what he does.
Overall I think we learned our team can hang with anyone offensively (we'll really get to see if this is true against New Orleans and New England), and outside of some coverage mistakes at linebacker, we have a fast, tough, physical, and swarming defense. Manning may not have the strength he once had (who's to say it won't get better throughout the year) but his mind and anticipation are as sharp as ever which gives him a chance against any defense in the league. This is what we've missed all this time and dare I say even with Elway something that we've never experienced before to this extent.
Going forward I've taken apart the game log and will keep track of some things as the season progresses. I know stats can be cumbersome but let's not allow a few charts to get in the way of some good meaning;)
The first thing I want to track is the success of our running game. What follows is a detailed breakdown of the yardage gained by each back to each direction. There aren't any names on the chart, but it reads left to right as follows Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, and Lance Ball:
In total, the Broncos rushed with remarkable discipline to all sides of the defensive front. 8 to the left, 8 in the middle, and 6 to the right. McGahee continues to be a bruiser up the middle. Overall, the Broncos managed 3.5 YPC to the left, 5.9 YPC to the middle, and 4.0 YPC to the right.
The next one I will keep track of is the play selection per down as well as the yardage and averages for both our offense and defense.
Offense: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down
Here again we see the balance from down to down. What helped us a bit in this game was the fact that we gained consistent yardage on 1st and 2nd down leaving very manageable 3rd downs (we'll see this breakdown shortly). The passing average on 2nd down is skewed a bit due to the 71-yd TD.
Defense: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down
Our defense was absolutely killer on 1st down allowing a paltry 2.6 yards per play (rushing or passing). 2nd down was also good though the Steelers had a bit more success through the air. 3rd down as we all witnessed is what killed us. Look ahead to mobile QB's on our schedule, this is what they are capable of doing to us.
Next up are 3rd down numbers for our offense and defense broken down into specific ranges by run and pass. From left to right, we have 3rd and short (3 yards or less), 3rd and medium (4-7 yards), and 3rd/long (8 yards +).
3rd down Offense
Generally speaking, Manning led offenses have converted 67% of 3rd and shorts, 50% of 3rd and mediums, and 30% of 3rd and longs over the course of his career. Here we tended to run on 3rd and short converting 75% overall, and were perfect on our two tries from medium distance. 3rd and longs are losing propositions (unless you're Big Ben haha) so don't get caught up in 0/3 for right now, besides it is a big victory to have so few of these to convert. Still too small a sample size as is the case with most of this stuff where it stands.
Our defense was superb on 3rd and short, stopping the Steelers on 5 of 8 overall opportunities (63%). We were gouged on third and medium and long through the air to the tune of 8 conversions out of 11 opportunities (that's a 27% stop rate for us). Let's keep an eye on this going forward.
This one is simply the redzone success on offense and defense. With the Redzone we have a few questions to guage success. 1) When you get there are you converting almost all of your opportunities into points? Success here is no worse than 90% of all scoring opportunities (9/10) into points. 2) Are you making the most of your opportunities by scoring TD's? Here, what I look for is for teams to convert a RZ opportunity into a TD 2/3 of the time (67%).
Meets both criteria here.
We were most definitely bend but don't break. Would like to see less opportunities for opposing offenses going forward. We had a few nice stands that saved points early on.
Finally, I'm going to track Peyton Manning, here are his numbers by quarter:
It is truly amazing and humbling to have him on our team! So folks that's about it for me this time. Hope you enjoyed it, let's discuss some questions you might have about our team and savor the victory for another day or two! Come Thursday, my focus shifts to Atlanta, Go Broncos!!!