Let me just express how much football weekends really stink when the Denver Broncos are not a part of it: A LOT! So thank goodness that the annual Broncos bye week is behind us. As I said previously, let’s hope that the next two are Wild Card Weekend and the week before Super Bowl XLVIII.
I am on record as saying that Sunday’s 28-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers is the one game on the schedule that concerned me the most when trying to predict their first loss of the season. Little did I know how flat they would play in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. San Diego still has some talented pieces. It’s head coach, Mike McCoy knows Denver’s blueprint, and I thought there might be some rust to shake off, as is often the case when you take these creatures of habit out of their collective routine. So lets go on our weekly summary of the day’s action.
The Good: Well simply put, the fact that Denver comes out of a road game in San Diego, a place that has had some nightmarish results over the years, with a victory is about as good as it gets. I, in no way thought that the Broncos looked past the Chargers to next week’s “Biggest Game of the Year” against Kansas City. Although a little out of sync in the early going, helped out by a successful drive-extending, fake punt on the Chargers opening drive, the Broncos were able to strike first on their first possession in three plays capped off by a 74-yard TD pass from Peyton Manning to Julius Thomas (my fantasy team thanks you, Orange Julius). Proving that some numbers don’t always tell the whole story, the Chargers dominated time of possession in the first half (SD: 23+ min, DEN: 6+ min), but trailed at intermission 21-6. As for Julius, he had 3 catches for 96 yards and the aforementioned score.
Demaryius Thomas had a very good game. Thomas caught 7 passes for 108 yards and 3 TDs. It’s performances like today’s that would put DT among the top three wide receivers in the NFL if he can do this on a consistent basis.
Peyton Manning had another PFM-esque game. He was 25-for-36, 330 yards and 4 TDs. The overall numbers would have been slightly better if not for a few dropped passes. We have been watching this guy play the most high profile position in the American sports landscape, at the professional level for 16 years now. I know I have totally taken him for granted. I write these articles every week and cannot write any of them without putting him in “The Good” category. I may have to change the name of the articles to, “The Great, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. I realize that this may be the best compliment of players Manning has had at his disposal in his career. However, we know that a player like Peyton makes everybody around him better and this (at age 37) is probably going to be the best year of his hall-of-fame career both individually and as a team…and there were some really great years which preceded 2013. I guess what I am really trying to explain is how much Manning’s brilliance stands out when you type out his statistical production week in and week out. It also made me think as the Broncos were navigating their way through Sunday’s victory with less than their normal dominance, that when Peyton and Co. are not rolling up 38 points or more every week, it seems like a big letdown. I almost feel disappointed when they are not winning by a lot and with style points. After all, the object of the game is to win. Period!
Knowshon Moreno had another solid game. He did not find pay dirt, but did give Denver 114 all-purpose yards and was the primary ball carrier again.
The defense again played well. They are not looking dominant either, but are effective. They are reminiscent of the Joe Collier‘s bend-but-don’t-break “Orange Crush” defenses. They will give you between the 20′s, but then get really stingy in the red zone. This was evident by how often San Diego possessed in the first half, only head to the locker room with six points to show for it. One of the two touchdowns scored by the Chargers was on a drive that started at Denver’s eleven yard line after Manning was blind-sided by linebacker, Tourek Williams, which resulted in a fumbled recovered by the Chargers. So in macro-analyzing the defense’s performance, they really only gave up one long, TD scoring drive in the game. Although they did not turn the Chargers over, the D did sack Phillip Rivers four times. Von Miller, Shaun Phillips, Derek Wolfe, and Terrence Knighton all added to their sack stats.
Lastly, congratulations to interim head coach and defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio on his first win as Broncos head coach in the absence of John Fox; who is still recovering from heart valve surgery. Work on getting well, Coach Fox…your charges are in good hands.
The Bad: The offensive line was a mixed bag. After all, you cannot put up the offensive numbers that the Broncos did today without having protection. However, Manning could have been in a ball cap on the sideline halfway through the fourth quarter if they would have been more consistent. PFM was sacked twice and was hit and hurried far too often. That kind of pressure really disrupts the timing needed for the offense to sustain its necessary rhythm. More importantly, they cannot let Mr. “No Plan B” get hit the way he did against San Diego, and frankly the way he has been hit over the past few games. I think somebody needs to remind these guys who their Super Bowl meal ticket is. And that brings me to…
The OHHHH NOOOOO!!!!!: There may have never been anything uglier in Broncos history than watching Peyton Manning limp around after getting hit on the final drive of the game (OK, 55-10 was pretty dang ugly). This is exactly what I was speaking of in the previous paragraph. With 1:55 remaining and one first down away from icing the game, Adam Gase and Manning drew up a nine yard curl route for Demaryius Thomas which was completed for the first down. Back behind the play though, center, Manny Ramirez lost his assignment, defensive end, Corey Liuget (who had moved to the interior of the defensive front) and just after Peyton released the ball, he was hit below the knees. Manning stayed down for longer than usual and when he got up, was limping noticeably. PFM has had some issues with his ankles and this either aggravated an existing injury or created a separate injury matter. According to Dan Patrick on Football Night in America, an MRI will be performed tomorrow.
For the record, I applaud the play call in that situation. The Broncos put the responsibility of salting the game away in the hands of their two best offensive players. So if anybody is going to pound the table, complaining about putting PFM in harms way, remember last January’s playoff game. You can’t have it both ways. You either go for the kill or you don’t.
If you don’t see an article from me from this point hence, it’s only because I am still holding my breath in hopes that PFM is alright. I am currently feeling a little light-headed. If he is not alright, it’s time to turn our attention to the Colorado Avalanche because the Broncos season is done (no offense, Brock).
Memo to the O-line, if you think you had your problems with the Chargers defense, you’ll really have your hands full next Sunday night.
Next Up: Speaking of next Sunday night, the Broncos are back home in the friendly confines of (Sports Authority Field at) Mile High Stadium for the highly anticipated showdown with division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs come in off of their bye week at 9-0 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC West. At 8-1 the Broncos look to climb into a first place tie with a win. This is a classic matchup of the irresistible force (Denver) vs. the immovable object (Kansas City) as each top the league in offense and defense respectively. As reported last week, this game has been flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC (queue Carrie Underwood). Of course, Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth have the call. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:20 PM Elway Standard Time. So pray that Peyton Manning is OK and the Chiefs are brought back down to earth.