We're 4 weeks into the season and that in my mind gives us enough football to look at and start getting a feeling about what direction they should be headed in for the rest of the season. This is the stuff I really dig as a fan: discussing trends, spotting problem areas, assessing the quality of our personnel. So allow me to provide some food for thought here and a lot of things for us as fans to chew on regarding the 2015 Denver Broncos.
All stats quoted from NFL GSIS...thank you good gentlemen and ladies at nflgsis.com!
Let's talk Quarterback play
THE biggest thing I wanted to talk about here is the one thing that has been setting the comment section of fire over the past couple of weeks: Peyton Manning's play on the field. Some love him. Some hate him. Some think he'll be the savior of our season. Some think we are doomed because of him.
Let's shovel the piles of bull aside and get real for a moment, shall we?
1) Peyton isn't playing well overall
For those of you who idolize Pey-pey (I'm looking at you, Laurie), let's pull our head out of the sand and take a look at the product we're seeing on the field:
This is not the stat line you see from a top-10 QB. A few things should jump out at you in a bad way: Yds/Att, INTs, and Sacks.
Manning isn't throwing down the field in the intermediate level very often successfully. The vast majority of his passes are short and defenses are keying off of that. No one takes him as a serious threat downfield because he has yet to be one other than a couple of drives (end of the KC drive) and a few plays here or there.
Anyone saying he looks the same as every year post-neck injury should go review some tape. The thing I see more now than at any time is him heaving his shoulder into throws much more heavily than he did just a year ago. He can still make the passes happen, but for him to get the velocity he needs to get them down the field (which isn't great for a NFL QB), he sacrifices accuracy from the throwing technique he's having to use.
2) The turnovers he's throwing are very bad
Manning is costing us points in almost every game with the turnovers he's throwing. We've seen 2 pick-6s. We've had a 10 point swing in the last game. Most of these interceptions are very uncharacteristic of him and our team is suffering for it.
A bunch of it in my opinion has to do with his loss of velocity. He's trying to lob passes into windows that are closing too quickly for how long it takes the ball to get there. To add to that, he's often times missing coverage reads. What I mean by this is he's only seeing the main guy covering the route he's throwing to and not seeing the other players in zones close by that are breaking on the passes and picking them off.
I will say we should all keep in mind that the sample size here is very small. Less than 10 interceptions may not necessarily show us a serious trend. That being said, I'm just going off what I see during that small sample. It is enough evidence in my mind to be worth talking about. And if Manning and his fanbois don't like it, then he can stop throwing them and the rest of us will shut up.
3) I'm still hopeful
All of these problems can and should be worked around by our team. Those of you chanting for Brock Osweiler should honestly just stop. Unless Manning truly starts costing us games (which let me remind you, hasn't happened yet...looking at you Pete), he's not going to get benched.
The main thing we need from Manning is to remove the turnovers from his game. He has to stop locking onto receivers and look at the coverage in a wider angle than he is. This is something he's fully capable of. I would hazard to guess that his lock-on problems have to do with him knowing that he has to put everything he has into the passes to get them there in time and he's focusing more on the throw than he is on reading coverages.
The other thing we can look forward to is the removal of things from the playbook that aren't working. This starts with bubble screens to the WRs. That play stopped working well in 2012. It has yet to do anything for us this year.
Finally, it hasn't ALL been bad. Manning has made some very nice throws down the field especially at the end of the half or game. I think the big problem that makes so many of us in Broncos Country get upset is that we have a very high expectation of what Peyton looks like in a game. He usually does have pin-point accuracy on the majority of his throws. He can throw it anywhere, not just short and really deep.
Either way, try to keep in mind that Peyton Manning is one of the best QBs of the modern era. It was a huge blessing to the Denver Broncos that he decided to sign with us. It is still to this day a huge blessing that he's our starting quarterback. We'll move on from him when it is time. That time is not now. Try to take a collective deep breath and just sit back and enjoy the season with him. It may be his last. And then you'll really miss him when we get a new guy learning how to do the things Manning has been doing well for more than a decade.
The Offensive Line
The one glaring weakness this team has is on the line and so far after 4 weeks we're still wondering about it. This next quarter is going to be a big key to our season from a line perspective. Evan Mathis is settled in and starting to play at pro-bowl level. Matt Paradis has been pretty decent compared to the others. We need Vasquez to get dialed in and take a step up.
The big worry here is at our tackles. I thought in the one game we saw him in, Schofield looked pretty decent and a slight upgrade at RT to Ryan Harris. He's surprisingly got some good game to him in both pass blocking and run blocking. I'm curious to see him get more opportunities on the field because it could have been a flash in the pan.
Left tackle to me is still completely up in the air. Ty Sambrailo is still hurt. Ryan Harris didn't look good in week 4, but that was with only one week to prepare on the left side. Switching sides is not some trivial thing, so look in the next few weeks to see how Harris plays and if we make strides on that side.
Be encouraged though: We have one very big play on film right now that our guys can hang their hats on with the 80+ yard TD by Hillman. That play was blocked to darn-near perfection. Two of the biggest contributors to it were our tight ends Owen Daniels and Virgil Green.
I like the production we got out of the last game. Yes, it was helped greatly by that one big run, but if we can get one big run in every game, don't you think that's enough to make teams worry? I do. If we can just start stringing some consistent 10+ yard runs in each game, it absolutely will open up things for our offense.
The running game
I really don't feel it is very fair to critique the running game so far because the line has not consistently been opening up lanes for our runners. I think as the season goes on, our run blocking will get more effective, though.
I do think C.J. Anderson's toe injury has hampered him more than we would like to think. He does not look like the same back we saw last year. He can run much better and I would guess that it was injury-related as that's the only thing that makes sense.
I am pretty stoked about what we are seeing from Ronnie Hillman. He's really started finding his niche in the run game and how best to use his talents. You can tell that this guy is really putting his work in to hone his craft and mature in that area. He's getting rewarded for it by our head coach and that has to just add fuel to his fire.
The Orange Surge Defense
"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
- Bruce Lee
- a sudden powerful forward or upward movement, especially by a crowd or by a natural force such as the waves or tide.
Here's my nickname for the new Broncos D. They aren't the Orange Crush. That moniker was and always will belong to a defense that was absolutely phenomenal and played in the 70's. This defense isn't like them in style or substance, mainly due to the different eras they played in.
They to me fit the philosophy Bruce Lee spoke about when he was discussing his martial arts philosophy. The Broncos Defense is a rush of warriors who will flow, crash, divert, and overwhelm opponents by whatever means they can employ in order to defeat their enemies. We've seen it in action: this isn't a one-trick pony.
We have pass rushers in abundance, but they don't just edge rush. We have power moves, pocket pushers, speed stunts, and blitzers galore. We have gotten sacks from 11 different guys so far this season. Take a second and let that soak in. ELEVEN different players have gotten a sack in only 4 games.
We stop the run at an elite level with again great play from our line and superb play from our linebackers with safety support.
Our cornerbacks have shown it all this year: off-man, press man, shallow zone, cover-3. You name it and we will use it if Wade Phillips thinks it is a play we can beat our opponents with.
The most encouraging thing about the defense to me was game 4. I mentioned this in my review, but our coaches changed the game plan on the fly three significant times in that one game. Why did that happen? Because we were no longer being poured into a cup, but a bottle. Then we were no longer being poured into a bottle, but a teacup.
If you aren't completely head over heels jazzed about this defense, then someone needs to give you a buzz with a cattle prod. These guys in 4 games have been amazing.
Please keep in mind that our defense may have some chinks show in the armor. As teams get more and more film on us, they will find ways to attack our defense that will show some weaknesses. We may even have a bad game from them. What will be interesting to see in my mind is how the team reacts to this and how quickly the defense adjusts to protect that weakness. Will it happen in game? Will it take a few weeks? I'd like to think that with Phillips at DC, we'll not tarry too long figuring things out.
Quiet on the Special Teams front
Part of me wants to see a more dynamic return game, but playing at Denver doesn't give us many opportunities to get that part of the game going. Even when we've been away, most of the kickers in today's game kick it so deep that you really can't return them. So this probably isn't worth worrying over.
What is worth talking about is our coverage units. They haven't had to cover many returns, but I've been impressed with the job being done on most of them. Even our kickers are putting themselves in good position to slow down returns when it doesn't go very well. For the most part, I'm seeing a huge improvement in the Special Teams units overall and that's a testament to Joe DeCamillis and our talented depth.
Also, I think you absolutely have to take your hats off to both Brandon McManus and Britton Colquitt.
McManus is looking like a kid who has figured out his game and is now just focused on being a consistent and reliable NFL kicker. Did I mention he's perfect in his 7 attempts so far this season?
Colquitt has really upped his game this year and I love it. I was one of his biggest critics last season as he finished the year as the 28th ranked punter in the league averaging a net of 37.6 yards per punt. This year he's the 9th best punter so far with an average of 42.3 yards per punt.
One final reminder
This is Gary Kubiak and Co.'s first year with our team. Keep that in mind. We as a society want bigger, better, faster, more and we want it NOW. Try to keep in mind the absolutely huge task these coaches have to take with the team. We have a whole new offensive system that has been installed. Our defense has changed in style, terminology, and scheme.
The offense especially isn't going to be as fluid as we might like. We all want to see trick plays, schemed match-ups, and more specialty plays, but that all takes time. The team has to learn how to do the basics first before we can start playing around with things. The encouraging thing is that 4th and 1 pass that went for a TD in week 1. Gary Kubiak said this after the game:
Actually, we rehearsed the situation yesterday at the practice field. I told [Offensive Coordinator] Rick [Dennison] and the guys, if we get in this situation, this is where I'm going. We rehearsed the play a couple times throughout the course of the week and found a way to make the play.
We're starting to see signs of some of this more intricate work being done. Stay patient, Broncos Country. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Our goal is a Super Bowl, not Star Wars numbers in the first half of the season.
We're 4-0. There is no possible way we could be in a better position as far as playoff seedings go. Speaking of which, we have 3 significant games coming up: at Oakland, at Cleveland, and at Indianapolis. All of these games look very winnable to me even being away. Our team is better than those teams. As luck would have it, even the toughest game for the next quarter of the 2015 season is looking good for us: 1) it is at home and 2) it is against an NFC opponent.
I think we're capable of going 4-0 over the next 4 games which include our bye week. I think if we go 3-1 we should be totally stoked.
Hit up the comments and tell us what your thoughts are on our first quarter of a season in the Denver Broncos quest for a 2015 championship.