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HT: At 7-0 and starting to click, Broncos in good position midway through

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Being 7-0 is definitely something to celebrate (especially given how several of those wins could have gone the other way). But there's still a lot of football left, so it's a good time to take stock of what the Broncos have done - and what is still left to do.

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Good morning, Broncos Country!

In case you haven't heard, the Broncos are 7-0. The last time a Broncos team did that was John Elway's 1998-99 Broncos who cruised to a second Super Bowl win after a 14-2 regular season.

But here's the thing. We need to stop comparing this team to any other team - 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, 1998-99 Broncos...

I get the parallels, and I understand the coolness of being named among the historical greats, but we should recognize this team is a unique one in Broncos history - and likely one that other teams will be compared to in future years.

Also, there's a ton of football still to be played, so starting the "best in history" talk is a little premature (though exciting all the same).

So as we reach the midpoint of the regular season, it seems like a good time to revisit our early concerns (the ones before the "real games" got underway two months ago) and take stock. Remember in September when we were distraught over the state of our offensive line, cautiously but pessimistically optimistic about our old quarterback (is that possible?), nervous about our "only-as-strong-as-your-weakest-link" defensive line, and even (if ever-so-slightly) still worried about the defense itself?

Yeah, me too.

It's midterm grades time in my world, so it's time for some evaluation.

Defense

Don't pretend you were totally confident back in June, July, even August, that this defense was the real deal. I mean, the real No.1-ranked-in-every-category-imaginable deal. So good, in fact, that "scientists" apparently considered the dinosaurs could have been ended by the Denver Broncos (the best part is that it's Patriots fans noting this "discovery.")

Players were telling us all summer how much they loved the Wade Phillips' scheme, featuring disguise and aggression but also strategy with simplicity. Oh, and a lot of hitting. We wanted to believe it, but we were jaded. Too many recent games of prevent defense hell in which the only thing being prevented was the opportunity to see defenders actually make a play.

Phillips was telling us he had the best defensive squad to work with he'd ever seen, and we were watching quarterbacks fall like dominoes in the preseason. Yet even the diehard among us weren't willing to believe this defense was going to be the reincarnated Orange Crush until we saw it.

Well, now we're seeing it, and it is a thing of beauty.

There is still plenty of work to be done on defense, beginning with eliminating penalties and ending with preventing big pass plays. But it's definitely historic.

"I can't tell you how many times I sat down with John Elway and said, 'Boy, we're really good on defense and deep,'" Kubiak said. "I think they've played tremendous. We've got a long, long way to go, but [they are] obviously very, very capable and a group that works extremely hard at what they do."

Defensive line

As we allowed ourselves to get excited again about the No Fly Zone and started making our bets on number of sacks this season, concern shifted to the one area we thought would be the weak link - the defensive line, particularly Sylvester Williams at nose tackle.

Well, thanks to Williams, Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe (who won AFC Defensive Player of the Week this week for just manhandling the Packers' run game), this is no weak link.  Consider these under-achieving performances by top running backs when going up against the Broncos this year, thanks in huge part to that defensive line.

  • Eddie Lacy, 38 yards.
  • Justin Forsett, 42 yards
  • Latavius Murray, 39 yards
  • Adrian Peterson, 81 yards

Our d-linemen are also responsible for 44 QB hurries and 7 of the Broncos' cumulative 31 sacks so far. While it may still be the weakest link on this dinosaur-crushing defense, it is anything but weak.

The Wolfe Man. He's a beast in the run. I said before the season it was going to be a different Derek Wolfe. I don't think he's finished yet.   -Von Miller, linebacker

"The Wolfe Man. It's the attitude out there having Derek Wolfe back," said outside linebacker Von Miller. "He's a beast in the run. He's put his head down and just been grinding every single day. I'm proud of him. We've got our guy back. I said it before the season—it was going to be a different Derek Wolfe. I don't think he's finished yet."

Quarterback

Peyton Manning was a big question mark heading into and out of the offseason, given how the last half of 2014  went. Manning has been talked about so much, it's worthless to revisit that looping (and loopy) discussion.

What is not worthless is to highlight that while our quarterback and this offense are nowhere near the perfection they'd like nor the consistency we'd all feel better about, they are winning - and undefeated to boot. After last week's sharp offensive game, Gary Kubiak proved to Broncos Country what a little patience, trust and a damn fine defense can do for your offensive game plan.

Kubiak proved last week what a little patience, trust and a damn fine defense can do for your offensive game plan.

The offensive tools have always been there, and last week they showed up big time. Adding Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis this week will also help accelerate the "progress" being made each week.

"Some of the looks that you can get in nickel and stuff can get exotic," Kubiak noted about the benefit of more tight end involvement. "When you're able to play against some base defense, it kind of calms the game down sometimes for you, offensively."

As far as incorporating Davis into the game this weekend, Kubiak said the coaches are just trying to get him up to speed with what plays he can be used in right now. And it's all part of the plan to get more tight ends involved.

"[Davis] is doing real good. The biggest thing is we're trying to isolate on what we think gives us the best chance with him this weekend," Kubiak added. "We've just got to make sure we don't overload him where it has the opposite effect. We've got to know exactly what he can handle this weekend."

Obviously still plenty room for improvement with this unit, but it's on the right track and poised to steamroll through any defense's weakness.

"I think we should only get better, and that's the thing I'm excited about," Kubiak said Thursday about the offense. "A tough test for them this week in the noise and that type of that thing, but we should continue to improve."

Also, there are a couple of major milestones that our quarterback could reach this weekend too.

Offensive Line

Speaking of improvement, this offensive line was probably the biggest unknown (if not the assumed downfall of this team) this season with so many young players moving into starter roles while also adding some free agents just before or once the season was already beginning.

The growing pains were obvious, but so has been the progress. In the first three games, the offensive line gave up eight sacks on Manning, But in the last four games, the o-line has ranked tops in the NFL for allowing only five sacks since the Lions matchup.

Kubiak believes this turnaround is mostly due to comfort level between linemen as well as from their quarterback.

"I think it's a combination of Peyton getting comfortable with our guys up front a little bit. I think just getting the ball gone a little quicker, we run the ball better," Kubiak said. "Usually when you run the ball well, you're not giving up sacks. We've been really good for about four or five weeks. Hopefully we can continue that. [Indianapolis is a] tough place to protect your quarterback this week."

The key this week will be focusing on beating the Indianapolis Colts and not getting too caught up in the hype over the game. After all, the Broncos will be facing the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, and Manning will be going back to the stadium he called home for 14 seasons.

But getting caught up in the hype a little can also be a good thing.

I mean they beat us. They stopped us last year, but it's whole new year. We've got a whole different momentum.  -Von Miller, linebacker

"I mean they beat us. They stopped us last year, but it's a whole new year," Miller says. "We've got a whole different momentum this year. We just want to go out there and play the type of football that we've been used to playing."

This weekend will be another test, Miller says, to see how where the team is and improve on it.

"We're doing some great stuff, but I don't think we've hit the mark yet," Miller said. "It's not time to pat ourselves on the back or anything like that. That's what I'm saying right there."

OK, Broncos Country, your turn - what's been going better than you expected and what still needs the most improvement?

Horse Tracks

John Elway, Hall of Fame quarterback, has built the NFL's best defense | Shutdown Corner - Yahoo Sports
Broncos general manager John Elway put great thought and effort into assembling a defense that doesn't have a weak link among the starters.

Broncos defense has chance to be one of the best ever | Pro Football Focus
It's time to start appreciating that this Denver defense is something a little bit special. Coming into Sunday night's game I thought the Packers might be able to get the W because Aaron Rodgers would get enough done against the Broncos to top what Peyton Manning could achieve against Green Bay's defense, but boy was I wrong.

Denver Broncos hope Demaryius Thomas has another post-bye breakout - Denver Broncos Blog - ESPN
Demaryius Thomas, who burst out of the bye week with 168 yards receiving against the Packers, is shooting for a second-half resurgence.

Former Broncos coach wouldn't be scared of Manning's naked bootleg | Mile High Sports
If you felt the air get sucked out of the city of Denver a few times last Sunday night it’s because Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak rolled out Peyton Manning on the naked bootleg on more than one occasion against the Green Bay Packers. Thankfully for Broncos fans, Manning remained untouched on the plays and connected with receivers downfield.

Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller grab NFL midseason honors | Mile High Sports
As teams pass or reach the midpoint in the season, NFL.com has pinned some midseason awards on the league's top performers.

Dan Reeves: Broncos front seven as good as any team in the league | Mile High Sports
When the season started, one of the biggest questions in Denver was whether or not the Broncos font seven could stop the run – especially up the middle. Former Broncos head coach Dan Reeves joined Gil Whiteley on Mile High Sports AM 1340 Thursday and said from what he’s seen through seven games, Denver has "as good a front seven as any team in the league."

Ranking all 32 offensive lines this season | Pro Football Focus
We're almost at the halfway point of the year for all NFL teams, making now a perfect time to revisit our PFF offensive line rankings.

Broncos better hope they're getting 2013 version of Vernon Davis | Pro Football Focus
In what qualifies as a blockbuster trade in an NFL that doesn't see many player swaps at any time, much less during the season, the San Francisco 49ers have sent tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos. In exchange, the 49ers are getting back what amounts to a sixth-round pick.

How Broncos QB coach Greg Knapp helped Peyton Manning transition to new offense - The Denver Post
A middle man, a teacher, a manager, a sounding board — Greg Knapp is more than his title suggests. And this year especially he has perhaps the toughest job yet.

Andrew Luck, Colts coaches weigh in on Peyton Manning, Broncos
Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano and other Colts coaches offer their thoughts on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos ahead of their Week 9 matchup.

Broncos' Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson will split carries vs. Colts
Broncos RBs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are both starters in Gary Kubiak's mind and will share the load against the Colts on Sunday.

Which team does America want to win Super Bowl 50? | For The Win
Hint: It's not the Patriots. Extra hint: But you all should know that because ultimately no one likes a cheater.

Broncos' young trio is proving the doubters wrong | Mile High Sports
Not long ago, just a few months in fact, many people were calling Sylvester Williams and Derek Wolfe busts and wondering if Malik Jackson could play inside a 3-4 scheme with consistency. Those doubts were at the top of the list for possible reasons the Denver Broncos defense would fall short again.

After Further Review: Broncos' D on pace with '85 Bears and here's why - CBSSports.com
A look back at some of the great defenses since 1980 in the NFL shows several common threads with all of them, and a closer look at Denver's current unit shows they're following that same path to success.

Ranking top 25 NFL players from Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots
Who are the best players from the four 7-0 teams? Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski lead the list, but No. 3 might surprise you.

Denver, Indianapolis breweries collaborate on Peyton Manning-themed beer, 'Oatmaha'
"Oatmaha," a collaboration between Indianapolis' Tow Yard Brewing Co. and Denver's Factotum Brewhouse, is said to be a representation of Peyton Manning and his career.

Which team does America want to win Super Bowl 50? | For The Win
Hint: It's not the Patriots. Extra hint: But you all should know that because ultimately no one likes a cheater.

These Bengals May Be The Best In Franchise History | FiveThirtyEight
According to our NFL Elo ratings — FiveThirtyEight’s pet metric for determining an NFL team’s strength at any given moment — the best Cincinnati Bengals team …