Good morning, Broncos Country!
Is this the week the Broncos' offense finally clicks and proves its doubters wrong?
I don't know, but I'm counting on it. Despite going into the very loud, rather obnoxious home-of-the-Dawg-Pound Cleveland Browns' stadium, our struggling offense will finally face a defense not considered particularly special in any area, except for maybe its lack of a run defense (which bodes well for our lack of a run offense).
Hopefully this gives our offense some room to test this week's "work in progress" in the run game, offensive line chemistry and Peyton Manning efficiency - all struggles through five weeks of regular season play that coach Gary Kubiak is taking responsibility for.
"I look at myself. We're out there battling and guys are playing hard. It's my job as a coach to see that everybody on this team is in the best position they can be to be successful," Kubiak said. "When that's not going on at one spot or another, you look at yourself and say, 'What can we do to help this guy?'"
Since most of the focus naturally falls on the quarterback when the offense isn't working, Manning has been taking a beating this week in Broncos Country for his zero-touchdown, two-interception performance against the Raiders.
"Some have just been poor decisions and a couple have been bad luck," Manning said of his INTs. "Regardless, I need to eliminate them. It would be a great week to do that this week."
That's most definitely an understatement, but as Kubiak notes, all the blame for this offense's woes cannot be placed solely on the quarterback's shoulders.
"I know as a group that we can play better. Manning is battling his tail off. Some of the plays that he's made have been tremendous and there are some plays that we can help him make," the coach said. "I'm always looking at the big picture. It's not about one guy. It's about the football team."
And that team's QB has a big defender in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders who told ESPN's NFL Live on Thursday to "lay off his quarterback. We're going to be fine. We're sitting here at 5-0."
But at 5-0, the offense will be limping into Cleveland as Demaryius Thomas, Bennie Fowler, Juwan Thompson and Ty Sambrailo all nursed injuries this week and had limited practices Wednesday and Thursday.
The good news for the Broncos offense however is it is facing the Browns' defense, which hasn't been good at stopping the run at all (allowing almost 150 yards per game on the ground) and hasn't been all that adept at breaking up the pass either (allowing 250 yards per game in the air).
Since the Broncos' running game has only broken 100 yards in a game once this season (and that was mainly thanks to a 72-yard breakaway by Ronnie Hillman against the Vikings), Cleveland may be the place for the running attack to actually attack. But Kubiak isn't saying that out loud, even if most of us are hoping he's thinking it.
"I think we've got to stay focused on ourselves. They're a talented football team," Kubiak said. "Regardless of who we play, we have to play better. That's our focus. Everybody is good in this league and having to go on the road makes it tougher. We've just got to concentrate on us."
#Browns DC O'Neil on Manning: "Like going against damn good player and damn good coordinator all at once..To me, he's undefeated.''— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) October 15, 2015
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was slightly more committal.
"Probably way too many to go into," Dennison said on reasons why the run game hasn't materialized, "but we have to be committed to the run - and we will be."
Aside from the obvious necessary improvements - running the ball well and eliminating turnovers - Kubiak and Dennison highlighted in practice this week the ability to finish drives, particularly in the end zone.
"If you're third-and-8-plus or third-and-10 in this league, chances are you're going to come off the field. We've got to keep them more manageable in what we're doing and find a way to stay on the field," Kubiak added.
Manning also thinks this will be a key improvement to a better offense this week.
"It's a difference of scoring touchdowns as opposed to settling for field goals, or certainly when you turn it over down there, you get no points," he said. "It'd be one thing if we weren't getting down there at all and had zero chance, but we are moving the ball down there and making some good plays. We're having more explosive plays and some bigger pass plays to get down there in chunks. ...You want to be able to capitalize on those big plays for touchdowns."
But as has been the case since Week 1, if the Broncos offense is unable to get those so far elusive touchdowns, the defense is already planning on making big plays.
And it will definitely be a challenge as the Broncos' defense faces a very hot offense behind an unlikely hero - quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for 457 yards last week against the Ravens, making it his third game in a row passing for more than 300 yards.
"We're always expecting a test every week. We've just got to pass it," said Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward, who will be playing against his former team in a city he still calls a second home. "We're expecting [McCown] to either do what they do or change what they do and try to conform to how we play defense. Either way, we're going to be ready."
"What they do" has been a lot of passing to some very fast receivers such as Travis Benjamin, a talented tight end in veteran Gary Barnidge and a prolific running back via Duke Johnson.
But this should be a good fit for this defense, says Ward.
"Like you said, a big tight end, small guys on the outside, fast guys on the outside and they like to throw the ball a lot," he said. "It kind of fits perfect to what we like to do, too, right? We'll see."
So who might we see as the hero for this week's game, T.J.?
"Man, put the names in the hat. Put the names in the hat. Who knows?" Ward said. "Somebody is going to make a play, though. I can guarantee that."
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