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Horse Tracks: Chasing records, rushing passers, running better

As the Broncos host the undefeated Cardinals at Mile High this weekend, there's a lot at stake for both teams - improving and winning. But mostly the winning. Definitely the winning.

Steve Dykes

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Get the strongest coffee you've got and strap in because we've got more topics than the Green Bay Packers had scores last night.

And that's a lot!

Records, records, records

You may have heard - Peyton Manning is close to breaking another NFL record, and he'll likely get ever closer via a major milestone this Sunday.

Manning - aka PFM, The Sheriff, and now, the Piranha - is one passing touchdown shy of 500, adding him to a very short list of quarterbacks who have done that.

John Elway - arguably one of the greatest of all time - is seventh on that list with 300. Dan Marino is way behind Manning at 420. The only QBs in the top 5 still playing are Drew Brees (370) and Tom Brady (363) - not. even. close. Brett Favre, of course, sits on top with 508, but it would just be silly to think he's staying there.

Give Manning another two, maybe three games.

There are only so many guys with 250 touchdowns and Peyton Manning's got almost 500. It's unbelievable and it just feels like it's normal.   -Adam Gase, offensive coordinator

"There are only so many guys with 250 touchdowns, and the guy's got almost 500," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said about Manning's milestone. "It's unbelievable and since he's been here it just feels like it's so normal. I guess I'll look back one day and be like, ‘That was special.'"

Exactly. It just seems so normal. And if you ask Manning, it's almost as if he expects to reach that milestone - not because he wants to break a record but because it would mean he's probably winning football games ... and that's the main goal.

"You want to certainly have touchdowns high and interceptions low. That means you're getting your team in the end zone and that means you're protecting the ball," Manning said. "I think that particular statistic usually leads to winning football games. That's what I've always thought about."

Though his receiving corps didn't admit to fighting over who gets to catch the 500th pass, they're all excited about Manning hitting the number.

"It would be special, but if I don't, somebody will," Demaryius Thomas said, adding it will be a team honor but Manning will more than deserve the record. "He's been playing for a long time. It's paid off and he's put in the work, and the numbers show. I'll be very proud for him and happy for him."

While Wes Welker and Julius Thomas were quieter about wanting to share the milestone with Manning, Terrance Knighton put out the challenge:

He'll probably brush it off like it's another touchdown, but I know it means a lot to him. It'll mean a lot more to him to reach that and leave the game with a 'W.'  -Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle.

"I hope they throw it to me," joked the defensive tackle. "I'm just happy to be a part of it and to watch him. He'll probably brush it off like it's another touchdown, but I know it means a lot to him, and ultimately it's about winning. It'll mean a lot more to him to reach that milestone and leave the game with a ‘W.'"

Yes. And in fact, Manning said, if the Broncos need to run for their scores, he'll be just fine waiting on his 500th.

"Whatever we have to do to win this football game," Manning pointed out. "If Montee [Ball] wants to run for five touchdowns, and we don't throw any and we win the game, I can assure you I'm fine with that."

While Wes Welker thinks it would be cool to catch that pass from Manning, the slot receiver is chasing a record of his own, one he could also reach on Sunday.

Welker needs just three more catches to surpass the great Rod Smith for most catches by an undrafted player. Smith has 849.

"Just really being in the same sentence as Rod Smith is something I never dreamed of," Welker said. "I've got all the respect in the world for that guy and what he's been able to do and what he's overcome through his career. It's pretty astounding the numbers he put up and where he came from to get to that point."

Trevathan, Green back in to help

Two players are set to return from injuries this weekend that make this Sunday's roster the most complete starting lineup since before last season, and that means scary good things.

Danny Trevathan returns to the defense since breaking his lower leg in training camp more than a month ago.

This is firing up an already hot defense.

"We haven't had our whole 100 percent on defense yet, so it's going to be scary to see what we look like," said Chris Harris, Jr. "I'm excited for Danny, just for really everybody."

Von Miller and Terrance Knighton both indicated that Brandon Marshall was an excellent replacement while Trevathan rehabbed but the veteran linebacker's experience is great to have back.

"Obviously having Danny back, that makes your defense better and allows you to play faster and physical because that's the mentality he brings to the group," Knighton said.

Miller added that Trevathan's leadership is also an important return.

"He gives us all a cause. He's always the guy with those words of encouragement during the game. That's his role," Miller said. "And for me, personally, he's fast on the field. ...He's been doing it for a long time and having him on the field, it'll just be good."

And while the bye week was crucial getting some of the banged up players back to full strength, it was also a good time to step back work on little things.

"A lot of mistakes have come from mental errors, just not everybody being on the same page," Harris, Jr. said. "That's what we learned, that we beat ourselves a lot more than other teams beat us."

Pocket passer means 'aggressive' rushers

And this defense is going to need to eliminate mental errors when it goes up against Arizona this weekend. Though the Cardinals' quarterback situation is not known, the type of quarterback is - a pocket passer - and the Broncos have to get ready for that.

"They're operating well, efficiently, not turning it over," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They're aggressive, taking shots down the field. They've got really good weapons that they're throwing to."

Between Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown, the Cardinals have three top wide receivers in the game right now. Floyd leads the league in average yards per catch at 22.3.

Aqib Talib agrees that this trio might be one of the toughes the Broncos' secondary will go up against.

"These guys, they get vertical and they catch that ball." Talib said. "As a DB, that's the ball you don't want caught on you, and that's the one they're going to throw 8-10 times. It doesn't matter who the quarterback is, he's definitely going to throw that ball downfield."

And even though both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton are pocket passers that should help our defensive scheme, DeMarcus Ware notes the pass rush is only part of their job.

"Having a stationary target at quarterback is always a lot better so then you can be a lot more aggressive on the rush," Ware said.  "But at the end of the day, you have to stop the run. They've been running the ball effectively, and that's how they get you for those chunk yards."

Running game aiming for efficiency

On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Virgil Green should return after suffering a concussion early in the game against Seattle, and Coach Fox noted that Green "has looked very good" since finishing his concussion protocol.

Julius Thomas added that Green's return adds an important dimension to the Broncos offense.

"Having two tight ends out there really allows us to open up the playbook, do some different things to try to disguise some things we've done and will continue to do," Thomas said, adding that Green's exit in the Seattle game hindered that game plan. "'Virg' does a great job of helping us in our run game. He's a guy that goes out there and gets after it every single play. We can count on him to be a guy that's going to set the tone, that's going to give his all on every play."

I still have to do a better job of executing my assignments and then taking care of my guys, but I'm not discouraged by how I've done this year.   -Julius Thomas, tight end

Thomas also added that he is working to improve his blocking, an obvious weakness for an otherwise dominant tight end.

"I still have to do a better job of executing my assignments and then taking care of my guys, but I'm not discouraged by how I've done this year," he said. "I think it's growing and getting better like my game in general is."

Manning and Co. are certainly looking forward to that as the run game is still a pretty important part of the Broncos offense. But from Fox to Gase to the players, all insist the personnel is not the issue. Communication and timing are the main things to improve.

"It only takes one guy to tackle the ball carrier and to keep a run from going as a touchdown. Every time you draw up a run it's a touchdown," Thomas added. "We haven't exactly been going up against a bunch of slouches up front, so it's always going to be tough to execute and play at a high level in this league."

Gase says he evaluates the run game by its efficiency more than its total yards.

"For us, first and second down we're looking for four yards-plus, but when we get like 2nd and 2 and get the first down, that's an efficient run," the offensive coordinator said, noting that the Broncos efficiency against Seattle was "terrible."

"We have a lot of room for improvement; we'll get there," Gase said. "Arizona's going to be a tough team for us to run the ball against and that's going to be a challenge just like last game out. That's a good team versus the rush and you got to try to find your spots and make the most of it."

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