The Denver Broncos' 26-23 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns was another ugly victory, the introductory clause to an inevitable "but." The Broncos are 6-0, but the offense has looked terrible. Peyton Manning did just enough to win at the end, but he threw three interceptions to put the Broncos in risk of losing in the first place.
When it comes to putting one's finger on the pulse of the offense's problems, it's difficult to find just one spot. Manning is getting up there in years, and his Laser Rocket Arm has lost some firepower. He's missing some key playmakers at tight end and slot receiver, and his star receiver had a bad bout of the dropsies. Finally, it seems his new head coach Gary Kubiak has a philosophically different approach to offense than Manning, and the player and scheme aren't gelling.
Kubiak talked to that last point in particular following Sunday's game.
"I think he made the plays that got us in position to win the game, and obviously, he has plays that he wants back," Kubiak said. "That's a continuing process of me working with him and getting him as comfortable as I possibly can."
"He knows that we have to get rid of some of these (mistakes), and I think he's trying to do too much at times," Kubiak continued. "He's also doing everything for us at times to help us win the football games. We have to find a medium there."
One area in which Manning is doing too much and can certainly lessen his focus is his tendency to rely on his pre-snap reads. Ostensibly born as a necessary counter to Denver's porous pass protection, the Broncos' offensive line had its best game yet against the Cleveland Browns, a sign that Manning can rely a bit more on his teammates and allow himself to go through his progressions.
Another area might be to trust more in his coaches. Manning's biggest success on Sunday came after Kubiak provided some simple, strong advice.
"I just got on the headset and told them to be aggressive," Kubiak said. "We went after them a couple of times and had a couple of great plays."
Kubiak's advice came immediately after Manning had thrown a pick-six to Karlos Dansby. On the next offensive play, Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders in stride for a 75-yard touchdown.
"It's something Kubiak and [offensive coordinator Rick Dennison] discussed via headsets on the sideline that we were going to come back after that with a play that had Emmanuel on a go route, and we talked about alerting Emmanuel," Manning said of the 4th-quarter play. "That's sort of the communication. You've got a good look to him and we can take a shot. We had a look and got him in a bump-and-run coverage with a single safety. We got the ball over in the corner, and anytime you can hit it in stride and you get him a chance to separate from the safety and the corner, he's as good as anybody in the league."
Manning admitted that the temptation to put it all on his shoulders is still there.
"Obviously, we've had a ton of breaks. I won't be going to Vegas for my bye weekend. I'm not feeling lucky now," deadpanned Manning. "Tipped balls seem to be going to them. There were a couple of plays that I couldn't quite connect. There are some times when obviously things aren't going so well. The challenge you have is trying to avoid the pressure to do too much."