I'm not going to lie. I was honestly worried about this game. I've respected what has been happening in Arizona for a couple of years now. They have a stout defense and some really great weapons on offense. They may not have their starting QB at the moment, but they are still the kind of well coached team that is tough to beat even when you have them at home.
That being said, my worry was more along the lines of, "if Denver only really plays one good half like they have been all year so far they could easily get beat." I did feel confident that if the offense and defense played sound football, we would be in good shape and stood a decent chance of running away with the game. I'm glad our team didn't disappoint.
A Tale of Two Halves
Even with the game staying close and some turnovers happening, I was ecstatic with our use of the ground game in the first half. We ran the ball 5 times out of 15 (Quick count using a box score...please no pitchforks and torches if I'm off a little). THIS is how the team needs to play. Especially with seven in the box and the linebackers keying off the run so consistently.
The down side was our first half running was absolutely horrific in production. If I recall correctly, the stats flashed at the end of the first half with a whopping total of 5 yards rushing. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is pathetic.
By contrast our 2nd half running was much MUCH more effective. To be fair we mixed in more 12 personnel in the 2nd half. There was even a Paul Cornick sighting at TE (when you only keep three tight ends and only one of them is a skilled blocker, you make do with what you have). We got Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson involved. And get this: Ronnie didn't even fumble! If he keeps this up I may have owe Mr. Hillman an apology (don't hold your breath though Broncos Country).
Here's my big theory on what we saw here: Montee Ball can't hack it right now. Please note how that is worded. I think Montee flat out looks slower and less effective in his running so far this year. There's good reason for it too. He's missed some critical time with a surgery in the pre-season. He may honestly just not be right yet or be back in game shape. Unfortunately with his injury it will be a few weeks before we see if he can retake his place at starting running back.
What is it that Hillman and Thompson had that Montee didn't? Let me first tell you it doesn't have much to do with the quality of the line. Sure, AZ got winded as the game went on. But the holes were there in the first half...Montee just wasn't hitting them. Hillman and Thompson both have more burst and appear to me to not hesitate in their reads as much as Montee does. I believe this may be a problem for Ball dating back to college. He's used to being patient and waiting for a stud line to open up a hole for him and it doesn't work that way at this level...at least not with this team and the way it is constructed / coached. I think we'll see better production in the next few weeks from our running game and I really hope one of our other RBs shows Fox and Gase enough to get a hold on the starting job.
I do want to give all the running backs an "atta-boy" on their pass blocking though. They as a group looked pretty solid picking up the blitz. I thought it was pretty crazy that Manning was positioning Ronnie Hillman in the gaps where the blitz was coming pre-snap so the defenders couldn't pick up a head of steam. Unreal.
We've all seen the crazy stats this team just put up in their passing attack. Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and Wes Welker all broke records. We got chunks of yards at a time and really worked that defense up and down the field. Here's some more No Bull news for you, Broncos Country: Don't think this will be the norm.
You can expect this kind of game when a team wants to play a lot of man to man concepts and blitz a lot. The problem Arizona had here was that that has been their bread and butter all year long and there has been three games worth of good film for Peyton to look at and lick his chops over. Unless you have a three clones of Chris Harris playing corner for your team, that just flat-out isn't going to work on this offense or this quarterback. Manning and his merry-men look more like Manning and the four horsemen of the apocalypse against a team that plays a bunch of man schemes. We wore out the route tree against them and had good success with levels concepts all game long.
It wasn't all roses though. Manning had an atrocious under-throw that got picked off (I know it was windy up here during the game, but don't know if the angle of the throw was such that it would have been effected by a gust, but it is possible). He also over-threw quite a few still. Even greatness isn't perfect though. Another thing I really didn't like was how often Manning was throwing routes short of the first down...let the route develop enough that you have a decent chance of conversion!
I will say that if you do want perfection, go look at the touchdown throws Manning had in this game. The 9-route to DT on the sideline was gorgeous, as was the 5-route to Julius Thomas in the end-zone and the fade Manning threw. Savor our time with Manning donning the blue and orange brothers and sisters. It doesn't always look this easy!
We didn't play completely lights-out, but in today's version of the NFL game this was a pretty darn solid game out of our secondary. They did a very solid job against one of the more dangerous groups of receivers in the NFL. The big play potential of the Cardinal WRs is real...make no doubt. They just need someone to get them the ball and the ball boys to quit putting butter on their gloves.
- Chris Harris, Jr. was on a completely different level than anyone else playing ball. I kid you not, I love that kid and will be heart-broken if we don't keep him next year. Pay that kid Elway! He had two INTs to the house if the ball would have just rolled the right way as he broke on it. I also don't remember any passes being completed on him.
- Bradley Roby looked fairly choppy again in this game...but Larry Fitzgerald will do that to you. I don't knock him much at all honestly. This gives him in-game experience against another great and some more film for him to work with to improve. For what it is worth, I did note some excellent coverage from him on an early 3rd and 10 that saved a first down.
- Aqib Talib wasn't quite as amazing as Chris Harris, but he was still pretty darn serviceable.
- I'm really starting to enjoy seeing our coaches make use of T.J. Ward. He's really another wild-card on this defense like Von Miller...a guy that you can move around to do different things and create surprise match-ups with. Ward's pass rush ability is worth noting from this game.
A Breath of Fresh Air
This defense is so much better with Danny Trevathan back in the saddle. He started the game with a great play and was all over the place when he was in. Our line backer corps definitely looked different. Even Brandon Marshall I thought accounted for himself even better than usual (most likely due to not being fatigued from so many snaps). Nate Irving still irritated me quite a bit with his play on Cardinal TD in the 2nd half. His coverage technique was magnificent...but his awareness appeared to me to be completely missing.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Von freaking Miller appears to me to be back. Not the slow, too-heavy, "missing something" linebacker we saw last year. We have our Ferrari back and it is in tip-top shape. I keep thinking that I've seen everything out of the Book of Pass Rush Moves, but again I'm surprised by Von's creativity. On a 3rd and 9 in the first half, Von blazed to the outside shoulder of his defender, braced himself with his hands on the defender, then pushed off using his momentum and strength to get a boost to the outside for the sack.
Let's take a little time to give some props to Isaiah Burse. To my eyes, he's showing some growth since week one and is doing a better job of when he can and can not call for a fair catch. Even better is that when he gets an opportunity on his punt returns, he's finding the right creases and getting us decent-sized chunks of yardage without turning the ball over.
I was on record when Matt Prater got suspended as saying I hoped whoever we brought in would stay on and I don't honestly regret it. Brandon McManus looked decent enough to me on his kicks. He missed a 50+ yarder which even at Sports Authority Field at Mile High is no gimme. Keep perspective everyone: every time he gets out there is another chance for live practice and him to get comfortable with his job.
I can't end without mentioning the coaching at the end of the half. I should probably be happy that we were so much more aggressive with our passing game this week, but I'm not. We had almost a minute before halftime with the ball with all three timeouts! First of all, why in the world would you re-kick when given the option and lose another 5-10 seconds? And why are we going into the locker room instead of going for the points!? We get the kickoff in the 2nd half. You have Peyton Manning and Co. You really don't think we have a chance at moving 40-50 yards down the field!? Adam Gase or John Fox (whomever made the call) really should get clued in on situational football.
But let's get back to celebrating this win. What a great game for all the true blue and orange fans in Broncos Country to get to enjoy! Go Broncos!