At the end of last season I resigned myself to fully embrace the Peyton Manning offense and its incarnation here in Denver. We were never going to be a power running team. The rules had ruined any chance of our beloved zone blocking dominance of yesteryear and the personnel we were getting for our line was not suited for being run-blocking forces of nature.
Color me surprised by the past three weeks...No Bull. I almost feel like I'm dreaming, but even when I go check stats on our games, everything still points toward what my eyes are seeing - our offense has been morphing right in front of us. I'll sprinkle some thoughts on that in the review as I'm not sure where this is going, especially as we get into the playoffs.
The Streak is Broken
All the Peyton Manning haters that like to talk trash about how he pads his stats by throwing all the time in the red zone can pound sand. I didn't see any evidence whatsoever that he was hell bent on keeping his streak of TD passes alive this week. Keep in mind that he easily could have. He can audible to any pass play or route combination in the playbook at any time.
Here's a few thoughts on our HOF QB:
- His first INT was an example of what happens when you underthrow proper inside coverage by a good corner back in the NFL. If he can't get the distance without floating it that bad, he needs to not throw this pass. The easy fix would be for him to release the ball a half-second sooner so it hits Hemanuel in stride.
- His second INT I thought was well-thrown...the problem was our star WR half-stepped his route or was hobbled for some reason. The timing, placement, and angle of the throw was solid, but Demaryius Thomas didn't get there.
- His pass to Wes Welker for 47 yards was straight up filthy. Wes is not a big target, and he doesn't have the big catching radius like we see with DT and even Emmanuel Sanders. For a QB that has been shaky this season, that was as accurate as you can get.
- That being said, Manning had more bad accuracy than good in this game and still looks "off" to me. I don't know what the problem is, but he's being very inconsistent this season, and this game was a great example of it.
Big Props to the Broncos in the Trenches
Let's lump some more praise on our O-Line this week. I can not say this enough: the Bills' D-Line is one of the best in the NFL. Our guys did an absolutely phenomenal job shutting them down. They had no chance at Manning the whole game and we even got off some very nice runs to put the game out of reach thanks to solid blocking.
It wasn't without trouble as Will Montgomery and Manny Ramirez had a lot of trouble blocking well, but again they faced some of the best competition they will see this year. For a couple of what I see as high end back-up quality linemen, they were outstanding (I don't mean this as a slight...they did great, but talent-wise I see them both as spots we can upgrade next season).
The Train Keeps on 'a Chuggin
Last week I mentioned that the one thing I would have liked to see from our offense was a lot more running the ball in the red zone. Well, we got that in spades this week. C.J. Anderson got all three of our touchdowns, and they were all runs inside the red zone. Really without Julius Thomas out there to cause big match-up problems, this is our best option unless the defense gives us man looks with 8-9 in the box...and even then I'd think about it anyway depending on down and distance.
I gave my game ball this week to Juwan Thompson and I'm going to lump on the praise here, too. Sure 47 of his 63 yards were on one play, but even if you take that away he averaged 5.3 yards a carry. Not only does our RB corps look reinvigorated in the past few games, but it looks reinforced. If C.J. gets dinged up, Juwan can bust it up.
Also, I can't believe I'm saying this, but we're about to get back Ronnie Hillman, and I think that is going to benefit our team as well.
Receivers Out of Sync?
Everything for our passing targets looked backwards this game. We were led by Wes Welker (I like this, but who saw it coming?) and Demaryius Thomas had a terri-bad game. Wes looked on fire while Demaryius looked like he was running through molasses at times.
Emmanuel Sanders is still a beast though and is probably the toughest son of a gun on our offense. I can't believe he keeps taking the beatings that he is and is still playing. I'm looking forward to seeing many more years of him on our team.
Last, but not least, my fallen hero Jacob Tamme. This guy is trying to race Andre Caldwell for most useless receiving option on the team. I did hear them mention during the broadcast that he had some bruised ribs. Well, here's the deal Jacob: if they are sore, then go down and get us the yards. You had like three defenders between you and the goal line. Your TD dreams weren't going to happen.
Where's the Pass Rush?
I know we did well as a defense, and I maybe asking for a bit much, but where was our pass rush up front? Most of our sacks came on blitzes. I want to remind you we were playing Kyle Orton: The King of giving up a sack. Of our guys, I though Malik Jackson was still bringing a lot of nasty to the game (and I'm not just talking about his Raider-esque head but of a guy without a helmet). Von Miller was all over the place causing havoc as well, but it seems to me that most teams have a great handle on his spin move at this point (maybe he has a clear tell?).
It was good to see some effectiveness from our blitzers though. We had CBs, LBs, and Safeties cause many a busted play this game.
This section has to start with Chris Harris, Jr. The dude is our No.1 CB and needs to be paid this off-season. You can let Aqib Talib go to save money while you are at it if that's a concern... Harris had five tackles, one sack, and one beastly INT. That's a superb game any day by a cornerback.
Like Bronco Mike, I was really impressed also with the play of David Bruton. I've dogged his safety play for years and was blown away with how well he played in this game. He was attacking plays with great angles all game long and our nickel defense didn't miss a beat without Quentin Carter.
Bradley Roby started off the game in my notes on fire. He had a couple of really nice coverage plays early along with a big-time hit to force a fumble, but as the game wore on, he got worn out a bit in coverage. I have no idea why you would line up Roby on Sammy Watkins as a strategy unless you just really are wanting to get him solid work against the best talent in the NFL. Keep in mind what I said about Talib earlier...this may actually be the case for Roby. There are several plays we could talk about where Roby was less-than, but let's call attention to the 4th and 16 conversion by the Bills that drove Broncos Country nuts. Guess who!? Bradley Roby and my favorite mediocre safety Rahim "The Ordeal" Moore. Both of them blew it bad on what should have been an easy defense to kill a drive.
Another guy who should be lauded for coverage was Brandon Marshall. I was worried about his coverage coming into the season, but he was cash money this game, running on his guy's hip on two instances that I saw to defend a pass. It was pass coverage poetry from a linebacker.
I was one of the guys who was well-pleased with us bringing back Brandon McManus to handle kickoffs while Connor Barth handled the other place-kicking duties. The results were strong in both places...we didn't hand the Bills good field position, got a nice FG, and hit all of our extra points.
I will say that I'm very much against having Wes Welker back to return punts. His hands are far too inconsistent for my liking. Add to that his frequency of concussions, and I think this is just a horrible idea all around.
One thing I need to mention is the absolute head-scratching ref-ing we had this game. We didn't get called for penalties that should have (Malik Jackson's head butt comes to mind as unnecessary roughness), but then we got called for a bunch of phantom calls on the other hand (Manning's "False Start" is a good example). I also thought they let the Bills get away with an awful lot of pushing off on Bradley Roby (which is part of why his play didn't look so good).
Here's my worry list about our newly discovered run game:
- This style of play lends itself to lots of conservative coaching, which has cost us games in the past couple of years in the post season
- To be fair to Manning, his play is predicated on rhythm and accuracy. If you only throw it 20 times a game, he's not going to be the marksman he has been in the past.
- Louis Vasquez is key...if he gets dinged up, then our solidarity at the O-Line is in big trouble.