Here’s what I figure John Fox wrote up on a whiteboard as the team gathered for its final pre-game motivation in Thursday night’s game against the Ravens:
“Embarrass the team that sent you home last year. This is OUR house.”
The Broncos got off to a slow start last night, even going into halftime with a three-point deficit, but that has long since been forgotten after a SEVEN touchdown, 462 yard historic performance by quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning threw two touchdowns in the first half, and then a pass that actually hit the ground and should have been challenged by Jim Harbaugh wound up propelling the Broncos to their first TD of the second half. Manning hit Andre Caldwell for his first touchdown as a Bronco, something that became sort of a theme for Denver on Thursday night.
Caldwell’s touchdown catch fired up the defense, and the Broncos rolled from there on out. Five touchdowns in the second half were spread out to Caldwell, Wes Welker, and Demaryius Thomas, and the Broncos absolutely rolled to a 49-27 victory. Here’s what we learned about this team on Thursday night.
1. Peyton Manning is more dominant than ever.
I mean goodness sakes. Manning threw SEVEN touchdown passes, and every time I type that out, it’s going to be in all-caps, so get over it!
This was a scintillating performance by Manning, who had a near flawless quarterback rating and was spreading the ball all over the field after struggling (seemingly) by locking into receivers early on.
I couldn’t figure out for the life of me whey Manning was forcing balls in the first half, nor could I figure out how he was being forced to throw the ball into double coverages on short patterns by the receivers. Manning forced a couple of throws to Demaryius, Julius, Decker, and Welker, and it resulted in eight first half incompletions and a couple of near picks.
But like I said, that was all but forgotten after Manning hit his new toy at TE Julius Thomas in stride for the first TD of the season, and then again to put the Broncos up 14-7.
Manning doesn’t always throw a tight spiral, but he didn’t last year either. That somehow came up as a topic of conversation when he did it all last season. The fact is, Manning’s arm looks stronger, he has better chemistry, and he put on a show Thursday night that has Broncos fans thinking a game with eight TD passes isn’t out of the question at some point this season.
What an incredible performance by Manning. You can’t say enough about it.
2. Emergence of two new stars.
And those two stars would be tight end Julius Thomas and safety Duke Ihenacho.
Thomas caught the first and second of Manning’s SEVEN touchdown passes, and had a breakout performance. He was targeted a total of seven times, and caught five passes for 110 yards (22.0 avg) and two scores. He will undoubtedly be the most picked up player in fantasy football leagues across the country, unless you’re playing in a league with wise Broncos fans.
Defensively, former undrafted free agent safety Duke Ihenacho was perhaps the most impressive player outside of Manning all night long. Ihenacho is still young, but he definitely knows what he’s doing out there.
He led the team with 12 tackles, and had a tackle for loss and a couple of big hits on players about to catch the ball. He would have none of it.
Nacho Libre finished with three passes defended, and looked every bit the part of a young, up and coming safety in the NFL. I made several comments throughout the game–as did those I was watching with–that Duke was constantly around the ball. He was in the frame of nearly every defensive play, and he made some big ones himself.
These are two welcome breakout additions for Denver, guys who have been impressive all offseason long.
3. Cornerbacks are as advertised.
Without Champ Bailey, the Broncos had virtually no problem. There were a couple of bigger plays given up, but Joe Flacco struggled through 62 passes and especially had trouble with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris.
That is not to slight Tony Carter’s performance, but Flacco literally couldn’t complete a pass thrown in the direction of DRC, and he didn’t even really attempt many.
The last graphic we saw was that Flacco attempted one pass DRC’s way, and it was incomplete. Jack Del Rio told him he could make him great when the Broncos signed him, and boy he sure made an impact in game one as a Bronco.
Can you imagine this group when Bailey gets back? Goodness sakes.
4. The good and bad of Wes Welker.
Welker is a dominant slot receiver who constantly finds ways to get open. He had two touchdowns in his Broncos debut and looked really good for the most part. However, he had that phantom dropped pass on a key third down that wound up actually being a reception, and he decided to catch a punt on the four yard line which was fumbled and gifted the Ravens with their 13th and 14th points.
Luckily, those mistakes didn’t end up hurting the Broncos, but Welker had an up-and-down performance in his first game with Manning. For the most part, I was impressed, but certainly there are some things to clean up.
5. Paging Mr. Eric Decker…
Decker had a night to forget, and he knows it.
In addition to a couple of key drops–including a pass that was placed right in the bread basket for six points–Decker had a fumble and a pass interference penalty.
I don’t expect that trend to continue, but for some reason, Decker lost his mojo last night. It’s no big deal in the long run, because we all know what ED is capable of, but still–it was a low note on an otherwise very positive night for the Broncos.
6. The pass rush wasn’t so bad after all.
Shaun Phillips was signed on Draft weekend on a very, very cheap deal. The Broncos picked up a guy getting a bit older for chump change at the bottom of the bargain bin, and he showed last night that he can still get heat on the QB.
Phillips had four tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two tackles for loss on the night for Denver, which had four sacks and eight QB hits on the night. The pass rush wasn’t as dominant as it could be/will be when Von Miller returns, but the Broncos’ stout run defense set up a solid pass rush that features a lot of big, strong, hungry dudes.
This unit will get better as the games go along.
7. Danny Trevathan…
Trevathan played a very, very good game. It was a darn shame he decided to pull a DeSean Jackson and flip the ball backward before he scored a touchdown.
Let that be a lesson learned.
The Broncos finished this game with an astounding 10 tackles for loss. A job well done by the defensive front seven, which is seriously banged up but they played a great game on Thursday night.
9. Running game needs work.
The Broncos rushed for 65 yards on 23 carries, and had a long run of nine yards (Montee Ball). The backs actually combined for 64 receiving yards on just five catches.
The Ravens have a very, very good front seven–perhaps the best the Broncos will see all year–but 65 rushing yards on 23 carries is hardly acceptable. Fully expect this unit to get better as the year progresses, but this wasn’t a great start for them.
10. Final Takeaway
The Broncos have the potential to be a dominant team. After what we saw in week one against the opponent that the Ravens are/can be, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Broncos put up 60 or more points at some point this year. The offense is so efficient, and the only thing preventing them from dominating like this every single game are turnovers.
This is a team that forced two turnovers all night last night, and both turnovers resulted in scores for the Ravens. One of the turnovers was actually a pick-six for the Broncos, which would have–in theory–added another 7 to the scoreboard.
That’s not even to mention the ability of Trindon Holliday to bust out a game-changing play on special teams.
This is the most explosive offensive I’ve seen in Denver, and they have a chance to be really special this season.