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Broncos 'adjusting' to balanced offense, not taking any 'Ws' for granted

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The running game is solid, Peyton Manning is fine and the defense is creating big plays. This is where this team needs to be right now as it heads into the final stretch of the regular season...and ultimately prepares itself for a postseason that needs a solid team on all sides of the ball.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

12/7/14

Dear Santa:

For Christmas, we would like a balanced offense with both a running attack and a return-to-awesomeness by our passing game. And is it too much to ask for the defense to play tough the entire game?

As fans we've been really good all year - well, at least since March (and you really can't blame us for the bad moods we were in for a few days, er, weeks after that Super Bowl, can you?), but given that, instead of asking for an outstanding special teams unit, we just want to ask for a kicker we can believe in and some ST tackling.

Thank you,

Broncos Country

12/8/14

Dear Broncos Country:

Did you watch your game last night? Two different runners plus a receiver scampered for 133 yards and your quarterback was still 70 percent with 173 yards. I'd say a 57-43 pass-to-run ratio is pretty balanced.

You scored three touchdowns and a field goal and never had to play catch-up.

Don't worry about your quarterback and his rhythm. He's doing what he needs to do to run the offense and win games. If the game is on the line, his arm will be fine.

Trust me.

I'll have a chat with the defense, but you should be more appreciative of the Christmas present I brought you three years ago in Chris Harris, Jr. He had an interception to start that game off right yesterday and logged a sack plus five tackles in the effort to hold off the Bills in a game that was never really on the line.

And what about the sleeper gift I brought in 2012 with Brandon Marshall, who had nine tackles yesterday, including three passes defended and an interception? Don't even get me started with the presents I've provided in Von Miller, Terrance Knighton and DeMarcus Ware.

Stop worrying about your team. If you want to ask me for a present this Christmas, ask for the Patriots to have a bad game against the Dolphins, Jets and Bills.

That's the "present" you're going to need.

Merry Christmas-

Santa Claus

How can you argue with Santa?

And he makes a good point. Our offense is figuring out its balance, which is exactly what we asked for after that St. Louis debacle.

And our defense has been consistently winning the game or keeping us in the game, which is exactly what we asked for after the Super Bowl debacle.

"I think we did the things - game plan and execution on offense - that we needed to do to find a way to win the game," Coach John Fox said after the game. "Really, that's the No. 1 objective."

I think Peyton cares about one stat and that's winning. I can't speak for the 51 but I know we've won three in a row and that's very important.   -Head Coach John Fox

And the Broncos did it without a gun-slinging Peyton Manning, which ought to make us more giddy than worried.

Manning ended his streak of 51 games with a passing touchdown. So what?

The future Hall-of-Famer is chasing so many records, even he can't keep track of the milestones. He only cares about the one record that has eluded him late in his career - a victory in the Super Bowl.

"I think Peyton cares about one stat and that's winning," Fox said of the streak. "I can't speak for the 51 ... I know we've won three in a row, and this time of the year I think that's very important."

Rest assured, so does Manning.

"I've broken a lot of records and set a lot of records due to playing for a long time and playing well at times, but it's never been something that I've been about," Manning said of his streak coming to an end. "So I don't need to break or set another record. It was important to get a win tonight."

But with every change comes some growing pains.

Suddenly moving from a pass-heavy offense to a committed running game takes its toll on the entire offense as it learns to adjust. Including - and possibly most notably - to Manning.

The quarterback acknowledged that there's a game rhythm that gets interrupted for him.

"Every game takes on a different formula, different ways to win, and that is the way this game worked out," Manning said of adjusting to a run-dominated game. "But yeah there is no question it's been a little bit of an adjustment. Everybody has to adjust to it and be ready and still trying to do their job."

Every game takes on a different formula...but yeah, there's no question it's been a little bit of an adjustment.   -Peyton Manning on the run emphasis of the offense.

Arguably there are places Manning and his offense could do their jobs better. Fewer interceptions, dropped balls and fumbles would be a good start.

"In a game like today when you don't throw it that many times, you have to be efficient when you throw it. You have to protect it better," Manning said of his two interceptions.

One he acknowledged was clearly underthrown to Emmanuel Sanders, and the other he claimed was a good play by the defender. "But I'd like to protect it better. And certainly the fumble down there in the red zone probably kept us from another touchdown."

But while the offense is adjusting and getting comfortable with the balanced attack, everyone out there is still happy since the plan resulted in a win.

"I'm comfortable winning," Manning said. "That is what I'm comfortable with and that is what I'm pleased about."

Juwan Thompson actually logged the most rushing yards on the day with 63, including a spectacular 47-yard run in the first drive of the third quarter that led to C.J. Anderson's third touchdown on the night.

"I just hugged [Thompson] and told him, ‘Thank you,' because he got me down there," Anderson said of his touchdown, while also giving props to the offensive line that didn't allow any sacks and helped its backs get some big yards. "Juwan played a hell of a game today. You have to give it up to 40. He just sits there and he's been great all year. When he gets his opportunity, he always makes the best of it."

That can certainly be said of No. 22 also. He's been so good that even Manning - who is all about precision play - has gotten docked by coaches for watching Anderson run instead of following through with his assignments.

"It's impressive to watch. Sometimes I get a minus on my grade sheet for not carrying out my fake, but I like to watch," Manning admitted. He makes a lot of guys miss. That is one of those things like I said last week that is hard to coach. It's nice to have as a running back in your arsenal."

Yes, an arsenal. That is what it will take to win down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Thompson noted that part of the issue with the balance has just been getting 11 players all on the same page.

"It just took time to really get everyone on the same page, because at the end of the day you need all 11 on the same page to excel," said the undrafted rookie, adding that this balance is really going to be useful. "It helps a lot. You don't want guys just dropping into coverage every down because they know it's a 95 percent chance we're going to pass the ball. Now it's 50-50, so we keep everybody on their toes."

Whether the win comes on the ground or in the air, the entire offense is playing to win the game, not necessarily the stat sheet.

"Like Coach Fox said, as long as we win, that is all we care about. He doesn't care how it gets done, as long as it gets done," said tight end Virgil Green, who has been a key blocking component in the run game's success. "So you got to tip your hat off to our defense and what they did tonight. On offense, we can certainly get better and we're looking forward to next week."

Whether next week in San Diego showcases Thompson or Anderson or Sanders or even Wes Welker, whose presence yesterday was huge, Green says the offense has a lot of players it can rely on.

"It does [look different], but we have a lot of versatile guys out there and C.J.'s playing outrageous and that's all we can ask for."

Several reporters referred to the game as "boring" or "old school" because of the emphasis on hard runs and a reliance on the defense to keep Kyle Orton and the Bills from any big offensive plays.

While Fox quickly discounted the fact that a win is ever boring, Malik Jackson dismissed the old school theory.

I didn't know the offense was going to run the ball all day, but I knew on defense we were going to go and get after them and let the DBs drop back and do their thing.   -Malik Jackson, defensive end

"I think that was just our plan (to create big plays on defense)," said Jackson, who had a big day with six tackles, including a sack and two tackles for a loss. "I didn't know the offense was going to run the ball all day, but I knew on defense we were going to go and get after them and let the DBs drop back and do their thing."

One of those was Brandon Marshall, who had a huge game with nine tackles and one interception.

Coming in as a backup when Danny Trevathan went down with an injury early in the season, Marshall has been a fantastic addition to the defense. But Von Miller noted that Marshall's play was no surprise to him.

"He's definitely stepped up in the absence of Danny, and at the beginning of the season when he came in, I knew what type of player he was going be and I knew what type of plays he was going to make for us," Miller said yesterday. "Everything that he's doing is not a surprise to me because I've seen him do it week-in-and-week-out in practice."

Terrance Knighton had said last week that the defense's goal was to outplay the Bills' D, which boasted the NFL's top pass-rush.

"We just wanted to outplay their defense," Knighton said. "We knew the strength of their team was their defense, their defensive line, we wanted to get more sacks. We talked about it earlier in the week, every time their defense made a play we wanted to make a better play."

And they certainly did.

The Broncos took Orton down four times, compared to the Bills' defense logging exactly zero sacks on the day. And even though the Broncos' offense had to own two interceptions and a fumble, the defense responded with forced turnovers of its own - INTs by Chris Harris Jr. and Brandon Marshall and a fumble recovery by Rahim Moore after Bradley Roby popped it out tackling Sammy Watkins.

"We've talked about it all year, and the ball finally rolled our way," Knighton said of the turnovers. "The past two or three weeks, the ball has been falling into our hands, and that's on us (because) of how he practice and attack the ball. Guys are just in the right place and doing exactly what they've been working on all week."

Although Jackson acknowledged that the defense "fell off" at the end and allowed two garbage-time TDs for Orton and the Bills, the defensive effort still equaled a solid game.

"We just have to keep it going all the way up until February," Jackson said. "So hopefully we can keep the ball rolling, and we have San Diego up next and we'll get some rest and be happy about the win, but then get back to work on Tuesday."

OK Santa, we're feeling good about our team and promise to be nice.

So how about those Patriots?