Before we review the first half of the Denver Broncos‘ 2013 season, I want to send out a prayer for Head Coach, John Fox. I am sure you are aware that per initial reports, Coach Fox suffered a bout of light-headedness while playing golf in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday. As it turns out coach is set to have surgery to repair a heart valve. He is expected to miss several weeks and as much as two months. As of the writing of this article, no interim head coach has been named. Although, it would stand to reason that Defensive Coordinator and former Jacksonville Jaguar Head Coach, Jack Del Rio would be tagged with head coaching duties in Foxy’s absence. Running Back’s Coach, Eric Studesville served as Broncos’ bench boss 2010 in the wake of Josh McDaniel‘s ouster. My money is still on Del Rio. Either way, God speed, Coach Fox and get well soon.
The 7-1 Broncos are on their much-needed bye week while unexpectedly looking up at the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. That said, here’s a summary of what we saw in the first 8 games of the season.
Quarterback, Peyton Manning and the offense have played at a record setting pace. They have set the NFL mark for points through eight games with 343. I’ll save your fingers and toes the workout, that is an average of 42.9 PPG. The next closest team is the Dallas Cowboys with 230/28.8. The Broncos also lead the NFL in YPG with 466.4 and passing YPG with 358.5. The running game is ranked 16th at 107.9 YPG but seriously, when you have PFM, the running game is just not used as much. That said, when Denver has needed to, it has been able to rely on it. In fact, 1/4 (11 of 44) of the Broncos scores have come as a result of the running game.
After struggling for the first four seasons of his career in performance and with injuries, RB, Knowshon Moreno has emerged as the featured back in the Broncos offense. While the running game is a smaller part of the offense, Moreno has gained important yards when needed. He has given the team a sustained rush when the Broncos have needed to run clock late in games, has legitimized play-action in the passing game, and has been a great check-down option for PFM when down the field options aren’t available. Moreno has accounted for 9 touchdowns; 8 rushing and 1 receiving. He will be an integral part of the offense for the remainder of the year as long as he stays healthy and holds onto the pigskin.
The receiving corps is what we thought they were (thanks, Denny Green). Eleven different players have caught passes from Manning. Eight of those eleven have caught at least one touchdown pass. No surprise to anybody, the bulk of the passes have been evenly spread out (rec/yds/TD) between Wes Welker (50/555/9), Demaryius Thomas (48/685/6), and Eric Decker (46/669/3). Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the production of TE, Julius Thomas (39/451/8). “Orange” Julius along with the three-headed receiving monster and Moreno have given Peyton five legitimate scoring options, especially in the red zone.
In light of a rash of injuries along the offensive line, especially the season-ending foot injury to arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, Ryan Clady in week two, they have been pretty effective. In fact, they are ranked 3rd in the league per nfl.com. Clady’s replacement, Chris Cooper has been pretty good even though he has already given more sacks from the blind side than Clady did all of last year. The offensive line as a whole has given up eleven sacks in the first eight games. While that is eleven more sacks then what they would prefer, the reality is you cannot keep your QB clean all year. That is more of a stark reality when your playing with a patchwork line.
As off the charts as the offensive numbers have been, the number with which the Broncos cannot win is turnovers. Denver has lost 11 of 18 fumbles and Manning has thrown 6 interceptions. Their TO ratio is -1. While not devistating, it is just bad enough to lose games in December, January, and February when the games get tighter and count the most.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos have been good. Not great, but good. Keep in mind that Denver’s D played without their most feared pass rusher, Von Miller for six games, hall of fame Cornerback, Champ Bailey for all but 5 quarters, and the heart and soul of the unit, Wesley Woodyard for the better part of 3 games. The secondary has done very well in light of the relative lack of pressure from the front seven. The best of the bunch has been second year Safety, Duke Ihenacho. Ihenacho has 50 tackles, 42 of which are of the solo variety. He has also forced two fumbles. Additionally, Chris Harris has 3 interceptions and Rahim Moore and Domnique Rodgers-Cromartie have 2 each. One of DRC’s two INTs was a 75 yard pick-6 in week 8 against the Washington REDSKINS; the only pick-6 for the Broncos to this point in the season. I bet Danny Trevathan wishes that number was 2, eh? (Sorry, Danny, I could not resist). Speaking of Trevathan, he also had 3 interceptions through the first 8 games. The biggest of which came late in the 4th quarter against Dallas that set the Broncos up perfectly for the game-winning field goal while keeping the ball away from an unstoppable Cowboys offense. Unfortunately there was more chatter about what Cowboys’ QB, Tony Romo didn’t do than there was about the great play Trevathan made. Well I’m here to tell you, that play was all #59!
Special teams have been good as well. Kicker, Matt Prater has been perfect so far. Prater is 12/12 in field goals, including 6/6 from 40-49 yards and 3/3 from 50+. Trindon Holliday has a touchdown on both a punt return and kick return. Between he and Welker, they have 22 punt returns for an average of 11.5 YPR. Holliday is also averaging 34.5 yards per kick return. I will refrain from referencing the kick return totals of Mitch Unrein and Malik Jackson on what I am sure has to be squibb kicks. Britton Colquitt has punted 28 times and has averaged 45.5 yards per punt. Conversely, Denver’s opposition has been forced to punt 44 times.
So all in all, it has been a great first half and if the Broncos can duplicate it in the second half, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC should go through (Sports Authority Field at) Mile High Stadium for a second consecutive year. That task, however, becomes more daunting as Denver faces the gauntlet part of its schedule. Out of this weekend’s bye, the orange and blue head to “The Murph” to face the San Diego Chargers. We remember that in this fixture last year, the Broncos trailed 24-0 at halftime only to score 35 unanswered points and come away with a 35-24 victory. From what we have seen to this point in 2013, the Chargers are a better squad than they were in 2012. So this game won’t be easy. In fact, Denver faces San Diego twice, the division leading, Chiefs twice, travel to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots, and host the Tennessee Titans in the next six games. So heading into the final two games of the season, both on the road (Houston and Oakland respectively) we should have pretty clear perspective of exactly how good our Broncos are.
By the way, in case you missed it, the November 17th home game against Kansas City, originally scheduled as a 4:25 PM EST/2:25 Elway Standard Time kickoff has been flexed to the 8:30 nationally televised game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. I’ll be waitin’ all day for Sunday night!!!
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In an unrelated note, Predominantly Oranges Senior Editor, Kim Constantinesco ran in the NYC Marathon today and finished with a time of 4:16:30. That is an average of 9:48 per mile. She ran 26.2 miles and I’m the one in need oxygen just writing and thinking about this feat. Congratulations, Kim!