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Dissecting Peyton Manning and the Broncos' first team offense vs. the Seahawks

The Broncos defeated the Seahawks 21-16 in Preseason Week 1, and a first quarter shutout was part of the reason. Let's break down how Peyton Manning and these Broncos were able to do what Peyton Manning and those Broncos weren't back in February - score against the Seahawks.

Dustin Bradford

This is an annual tradition of mine - breaking down the first team offense's series, every first preseason game. This year we got an extra-large sample set due to a quick first series and a handful of penalties in the second series.

First series

The Broncos' first series ended in a punt after five plays, with the Broncos keeping at least two tight ends on the field in every play but the last.

1st and 10. The Broncos open in a two-tight end set. Peyton Manning hands off to Ronnie Hillman, who cuts off left tackle. Hillman takes a cut inside of Virgil Green's block and into a host of Seahawks. One yard.

2nd and 9.

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Two tight ends, but Virgil Green motions into a fullback look. It's a play action max-protect, but the hounds still break through. This turns out to be a 15-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas. I love three things about this play:

  • The amount of trust Manning has in Demaryius Thomas. He throws this football before Thomas even begins his comeback. He knows Thomas, who is an exceptional route runner, will be exactly where he is supposed to be.
  • Manning's accuracy under pressure.
  • That this play seems to be muscle memory for Manning. Both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were coming crashing toward Manning, but, seemingly on instinct, he throws 15 yards to Thomas. That's a function of a level of comfort these two have gained over two seasons together. This isn't a play on which the two connect in 2012.

1st and 10. Broncos line up in a three tight end set, and Ronnie Hillman hits the B gap to the right. But this is a guard pull, and Orlando Franklin doesn't quite get to the right gap in time. Hillman nets two yards.

2nd and 8.  Three tight ends, with tackle Paul Cornick and Virgil Green on Clady's side. Clady hits two guys while Cornick and Green both allow Seattle LB Mike Morgan to blow right past them. It looked like Cornick's omission was by design, but that's just a guess, while Green didn't do enough to disrupt Morgan. Morgan consumes Hillman behind the L.O..S. No gain. No excuse. Hit somebody, guys.

3rd and 9. Denver's first snap in a three wide receiver set, getting Wes Welker on the field. A rare inaccurate throw from PFM. Absolutely stellar protection; this football just gets away from Manning.

Second series

The second series saw the Broncos execute a nine-minute, penalty-plagued drive that ended in a Ronnie Hillman touchdown. It also saw them drastically change their strategy from multi-tight end sets to several aggressive five-wide looks.

1st and 10. Five wide receivers, with Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker, Bubba Caldwell, and Julius Thomas out wide. Nice pocket for Manning, who takes the easy dump to Welker for six yards.

2nd and 4. Four wide receivers with Hillman in the backfield, and surprise, it's a run. Both Thomases execute nice downfield blocks that would have gotten Hillman the first down, but Tony Corrente calls a phantom hold call on Louis Vasquez.

2nd and 14. With aaallll day to the throw (dat pocket), Manning cuts down the Broncos' to-go distance with a five-yard pass to Hillman. Four wide receiver set again.

3rd and 9. Broncos line up in 11-personnel, my favorite lineup for these Broncos, which is identical to four-wide player-wise except Julius is lined up as a tight end instead of a wide receiver. Manning hard counts and gets the neutral zone infraction. Five yard penalty.

3rd and 4. When in DoubT, D.T. Manning hits Thomas for nine yards on an out route, with a perfect pocket thanks to a pancake block by Ryan Clady and a ready-and-willing Clark. Broncos were in my favorite formation again.

1st and 10. 11-personnel again, but this one's not my favorite formation, since it was illegal formation on Julius.

1st and 15.  11-personnel, and Peyton takes the deep shot. Byron Maxwell is running stride for stride with Caldwell, but it's single coverage, and Manning will take that. He could have had another second to make a more accurate throw if Clark hadn't been getting pushed back.

2nd and 15. 11-personnel, C.J. Anderson comes in, and it's a play action, and it's to him. Welker does a block in the back and gets flagged for it.

Immediately after Thomas falls forward, Ramirez motions 'first down' with his hands, knowing his human bulldozing made the difference. Man Ram indeed.

2nd and 20. When in DoubT, D.T. Quick strike to D.T. up the middle for 13 yards with Earl Thomas on the tackle. It's Denver's sixth straight play with three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back.

3rd and 7.  Four wide, and Manning hits Demaryius on a crossing route. Thomas is stopped just shy of the marker, but in runs center Manny Ramirez to push Thomas and three Seahawks forward. Immediately after Thomas falls forward, Ramirez motions 'first down' with his hands, knowing his human bulldozing made the difference. Man Ram indeed.

1st and 10. Four wide single back; I love the blocking on this play. Franklin and Ramirez utterly beast out, and Hillman shoots through the A gap, breaks a tackle, and gains nine yards.

2nd and 1. Offsetting penalties, with Chris Clark committing a hold. I can't tell the formation due to the TV coverage. Let's go again.

2nd and 1. 11 personnel. Manning hard count. Neutral zone infraction. New set of downs!

1st and 10. 11 personnel with C.J. Fine pocket, and Anderson releases, but Manning is off (or Anderson is not where he's supposed to be) on the dumpoff. Incomplete.

2nd and 10. Four wide, single back. Hillman has a nice hole, but it closes quick. This is all Earl Thomas, who John Lynch notes on this place deserved serious consideration for Defensive MVP last year. This play just exemplifies why. Four yards.

3rd and 6. Five wide, another comeback. Thomas comes down with a tough grab to move the chains.

1st and Goal (10). Five wide, and Manning finds Caldwell inside for eight yards.

2nd and Goal (2). 11 personnel. Fumbled snap - low and left by Ramirez, but Manning grabs it and rolls left. He hits Wes Welker at the goal line, who isn't able to get in thanks to a key hit by Byron Maxwell.

3rd and Goal (1).

Two tight ends, and the Broncos are able to move the pile to get Hillman into the end zone. Ryan Clady body slams Michael Bennett. "You're lucky I wasn't in the Super Bowl!," I imagine the All Pro shouting as Bennett (and an entangled Julius Thomas) come crashing down on the field.

Personnel breakdown

  • Five wide - Three plays, one third down
  • Four wide (one running back) - Four plays, one third down
  • 11-personnel (three wide, one tight end, one back) - Ten plays, two third downs
  • 21-personnel (two wide, two tight end, one back) - Three plays, one third down
  • 31-personnel (one wide, three tight ends, one back) - Two plays

What we learned

  • Peyton Manning looks as good as ever, and maybe even a tad stronger than 2013. You tell me.
  • It's really, really good to have Ryan Clady back.
  • Orlando Franklin displayed ups and downs at left guard, but mostly ups.
  • Chris Clark had a very sketchy game, especially in pass protection. He couldn't handle either Cliff Avril or O'Brien Schofield. Something to keep an eye on.
  • The Broncos know their personnel. Three wide gives them Demaryius, Emmanuel, Wes, Julius, and a running back. That presents a ton of options for Peyton Manning, and they know it, lining up in that formation more than double any other set.
  • Yet the Broncos are flexible on third downs. Four different personnel groupings in five third downs.

I'm pleased with where the Broncos are as an offense. Please share your observations, or feel free to ask a question, in the comments.