It is Week 3 of the regular season, and the Broncos are back on the road and back in prime time. Will this team's offense finally show some cohesion? And (gasp!) some consistency? Can the defense keep up this incredible pace of game-winning turnovers?
We will most certainly find out come Sunday, but until then we have SaguaroBronco - who first became a serious fan when the 1977 Orange Crush defense pulled the Broncos into relevancy - to help us breakdown a matchup that on paper would seem easy.
But we all know these Broncos too well - and "easy" just never seems to be part of the equation (and if you feel it necessary to panic already, there's a place for you!)
Broncos' unbelievable win over the Chiefs
MHR - Broncos won last week thanks in part to an amazing offensive drive at the end of the game. Did you believe Manning had it in him?
SaguaroBronco: Unlike earlier in the game (while the Broncos were picking up multiple 15-yard penalties and a Pick-6 to go down by 14), I was unusually calm at that point. I didn't see Keith Bishop in the huddle, but I almost had a "we've got ‘em right where we want ‘em"-type feeling when Denver got the ball with the long field.
As Manning led them down the field with a relatively deliberate drive on the road to tie in a playoff-atmosphere game, it felt more and more like he was channeling another Bronco QB (now his boss). Then the defense had to blow the parallelism by forcing the Fumble-6 to win the game in regulation.
The defense is forgiven for that, though - but I'm not sure that the cats in the house have forgiven Mrs. Saguaro and me for freaking them out with all the screaming and cheering during and after that play.
MHR - Last week's game proved Manning is still more comfortable with the shotgun. Is that more a product of a leaky offensive line or Manning unable to change his comfort zone?
SaguaroBronco: I don't know that I'd expect Rogers, Wilson, Luck, Roethlisburger or even Br*dy to feel comfortable having to drop back behind the current line situation, where it seems like the defense is arriving at the launch point before the QB.
Starting out pre-dropped back lets Manning read the defense and the pass rush and step into a throw toward the best option. I don't believe Manning is incapable of developing a comfort level dropping back from under center - but he won't be comfortable until the line is able to maintain a clean pocket for longer than it has been. I do believe they have the capability to do so, however.
Peyton Manning is tied for our lowest QB grade in the NFL through two weeks: http://t.co/g3iMx8HVcu— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 21, 2015
MHR - Oh, that Offensive Line. Can it improve enough with current personnel to allow this Broncos team to be a contender this year?
SaguaroBronco: There is a common element to both run-blocking in the ZBS and pass-blocking that I see frequently being ignored in the discussion of the capabilities of Denver's OL - communication/teamwork. The line has one returning starter (Louis Vasquez) and he's playing a different position than he was at the end of last year and in a different offense. The left tackle (Ty Sambrailo) is a rookie and the center (Matt Paradis) has little more experience. The right tackle (Ryan Harris) is a free agent pickup, and the left guard (Evan Mathis) is a free agent pickup whose first game-action snap with the team was the first offensive snap of the Ravens game.
I'm not surprised they haven't worked out all the intricacies of the Broncos ZBS run-blocking, which is heavily dependent on the line-mates knowing who is going to single block and who is going to double on each play call and defensive front look they face. In pass protection, they need to know which of their line-mates has responsibilities for all the various line stunts, blitz pickups, and look shifts that they face.
I'm not an expert on line play (there are several here on MHR that I respect tremendously for their knowledge of it), but in what I have been able to see on the game coverage, most of the blown OL plays aren't due to the players' physical limitations. Mathis and Vasquez haven't suddenly forgotten basic blocking technique, and I'm not aware that any of the linemen are dealing with injuries that would limit their skills. I have seen missed assignments or two linemen taking on the same defender while a defender blows through the unattended gap.
The good news is those are coachable issues and just require playing time working together. If I were Kubiak, I'd be spending this mini-bye week between the TNF and SNF games working with the linemen (and the TEs and RBs who are also part of the teamwork of successful run and pass blocking) to continue developing that teamwork.
This group can support its role in making the Broncos a contender this year, but it will be a work-in-progress through the season. Right now, they seem to be trying to think their way through the plays - when it comes together they will read/react their way through the plays. Those extra milliseconds of thought-processing time may be the difference between making the play and blowing it.
MHR - The running game has struggled and neither C.J. Anderson nor Ronnie Hillman has shown anything to brag about. Is that more a testament to the defenses we've played, the O-Line, the shotgun or a combo?
SaguaroBronco: I'd say it's a combination of all three. As I mentioned above, the line hasn't developed the cohesive teamwork to make the ZBS click. We've been playing good (and well-coached) defenses that exploit the breakdowns in the line play, and (because the line play isn't working well) the offense has shown an easily identifiable binary look - sometimes the "Kubiak offense" and sometimes the "Manning offense."
We've debated endlessly on MHR which one is the right way to go. In my opinion, it's neither and both. This team is in a unique position with its current personnel (some of whom have very unique skills and some of whom have limitations - sometimes both in the same player), depth, and its home field setting with the thin Mile High air and stadium open to the November/December/January elements.
They will be most effective if they can shift from one look to another with the same personnel groupings, changing if they're going to operate from under center, pistol, or shotgun on any specific play and keeping the defense on its toes as to whether it's going to be a run or a pass. When it's not working, it's going to look ugly (but at least we've got the defense to keep it from getting out of hand). However, in the NFL, the differences between not working and stinking up the joint vs. clicking on all cylinders are small, and I expect to see it coming together sooner than later.
MHR - What offensive stat would you like to see be awesome for the Broncos?
SaguaroBronco: I'm no expert on the Lions, but they have lost or downgraded personnel in the offseason through FA losses (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley), injuries so far this year (DeAndre Levy, Haloti Ngata) and with age (James Ihedigbo, Rashean Mathis, Stephen Tulloch).
Along with the mini-bye week for Denver, there is some hope to establishing the run game earlier and more effectively. This would help to open up some more unpredictability throughout the offense and let the hybrid approach function like Elway, Kubiak and Manning have all hinted at. The stat that would most effectively indicate the offense is starting to click, though, is average gain on first downs, which would be a marker for the effectiveness of the run game and its ability to open up passing opportunities.
MHR - Which player do you expect to stand out from the Broncos offense this Sunday?
SaguaroBronco: I don't know that it's expectation as much as hope that this is a breakout game for Hillman. I'm concerned Anderson's toe injury may limit his effectiveness, but there may be opportunities for Hillman to break some runs against the Lions' defense.
MHR - This defense won the game for the Broncos again and in incredible fashion. How does Wade Phillips maintain this level of awesome-sauce throughout the season?
SaguaroBronco: Depth - one of the biggest things the Denver defense has going for it that I haven't seen in a while is quality depth. We've seen it in the games so far this season that Denver can bring a lot of fourth-quarter energy because they're able to rotate throughout the game without a significant drop off and keep fresh legs at the end. I think we'll see benefits of that as the season goes along too. As teams get weakened by injury or fatigue late in the season, Denver's depth should give it an energy boost relative to their opponents.
MHR - The biggest threat from the Detroit Lions is definitely Calvin Johnson, who had 10 catches for 83 yards and one touchdown last week. What will be the secret to the Denver secondary shutting down Megatron?
SaguaroBronco: Denver may have the best top-to-bottom CB group in the NFL right now. I expect to see Aqib Talib primarily on Johnson. However, it appears that Detroit's OL may be in worse shape than Denver's and Stafford is hurting. Whether Stafford plays or Dan Orlovsky (who?) is QB'ing Detroit, I expect the Broncos will cover all of Detroit's receivers tight and that the pass rush will get to the QB before the receivers can even break coverage.
MHR - Stellar defensive stat for the Broncos?
SaguaroBronco: I'd love to see the Broncos continue the low percentage of third-down conversions against them. Of course, this will only be good if they can force a lot of third downs as well. Building an early lead, shutting down the run game, keeping Ameer Abdullah's stats more like the Vikings game (9 yards) than the Chargers game (50 yards) and keeping Johnson and Golden Tate well controlled will be important for that.
MHR - Which defensive player will stand out for the Broncos this weekend?
SaguaroBronco: Instead of a player, I'll take a grouping. Detroit's OL, and especially its tackles, seem to be a weak spot on the team, according to what I've read on the Pride of Detroit GDTs and reaction boards. That should open up opportunities for our whole OLB rotation - Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray.
MHR - What overall team statistic would you like to see improved this weekend?
SaguaroBronco: Margin of victory - these close games aren't good for my heart (although they have been fun to watch).
MHR - The Lions are 0-2 and Broncos are 2-0. What do the Broncos need to do to not let up and get surprised on the road by an inferior Lions team?
SaguaroBronco: With as much grief as the offense has been getting on its performance these first two weeks, I wouldn't expect them to get cocky and overconfident. Hopefully, the defense will realize that, for how great they have played, they are only a couple of plays away from being 0-2 and will keep their intensity up on the road too.
At least they look like they are having fun in Phillips' attacking defense style, which helps keep the energy level up.
Stats for Manning? 22 of 28, 275 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT
Number of yards rushing? Anderson, 40; Hillman, 75; Thompson, 25
Receiver with most yards? Emmanuel Sanders, 8 for 117, 1 TD
Number of sacks to Manning? 2
Number of sacks on Stafford/Orlovsky? Miller & Co. should get 4 on whatever combo of QBs Detroit fields.
Bronco with the most sacks? DeMarcus Ware
Bronco with the most tackles? Brandon Marshall
Number of penalties on the Broncos? 4 offense, 4 defense
Number of field goals/longest? 1, 43
Final Score? 31-16 Broncos
- Favorite Broncos game EVER that you've watched? I've been a fan for 40 years, so I have several favorites (77 AFCC, The Drive, SB XXXII, John 3:16, Arrowhead Cried, etc.). If I had to pick a single favorite, though, it'd have to be SB XXXII as their first win on the biggest stage in an awesomely contested game.
- Worst loss ever to endure? 1996 playoff against Jacksonville
- Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Chris Harris Jr. To start, I like great secondary play, and he is among the best. I also appreciate his attitude, working his way up from CFA and still maintaining his humility and drive to improve even when he's reached the top levels of his profession.
- Favorite Broncos player of all time? Randy Gradishar and Rod Smith - two talented and hard-working, career-long Broncos who have stats that are equivalent to others in the HOF, but probably won't get there because of where they played and the distance from there to the coastal media centers.
- Favorite thing to eat/drink while watching a game? I don't really have a go-to food/beverage when I'm watching a game at home. When the Broncos aren't televised locally (4-5 times a season), I generally watch at a local sports bar/brew pub and drink the darkest beer they have on tap.
- Superstitions on game day? Generally not too superstitious - I usually wear a Broncos T-shirt or other team colors, but not one specific one.
- Mile High Magic is real - T/F? True - special team in a special place, although a lot of the "magic" is self-generated by a class organization from the owner on down.
How became a Broncos fan?
As a kid in Denver, I was a casual football fan but not really knowledgeable or passionate. Then the 1977 season happened, culminating in SB XII and featuring the Orange Crush defense. Broncomania engulfed Denver and I was caught up in it. I developed a passion for football as a sport, the NFL in general, and the Broncos in specific.
Then when I was in high school, the Broncos traded for Elway and solidified their status in the upper echelon of the league. Even though I moved to Arizona before the Super Bowl-winning years (3 Super Bowls while I was in Denver, 4 Super Bowls/2 Lombardis since I moved here), I've remained a fan.
I've now been here in Arizona more than a quarter century and longer than I lived in Denver, but the Broncos are still "MY" team (the Cardinals are the annoyance that keeps me from watching the Broncos several times a year). I've also passed along my Broncos fandom to my daughter, who follows the Broncos even though she's never lived in Denver.