Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) makes a touchdown catch from quarterback Peyton Manning (not pictured) in front of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock (26) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
You know you have a special team when games like this are “ho-hum.”
Since Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, 42-17 curb stomps such as the one Sunday night are common place. They are expected. And if Broncos Country doesn’t see them, the win by itself isn’t enough.
There’s no doubt it was great to see Denver play how it expects against a very good San Francisco 49ers team. For the first time this season, the Broncos played a compete game. The offense rolled through the air and on the ground. The defense took another step to becoming one of the best in the NFL.
Despite all that, there’s still areas for this team to get better; especially defensively. But when you have blowouts like this, it makes it harder for players to buy into that.
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In terms of the defense, the drive the Broncos (5-1) allowed at the end of the first half cannot happen. It happened against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the opening game of the season and ended up changing momentum.
Sunday’s game against San Francisco (4-3) had the potential to do the same. Denver was in complete control and had Colin Kaepernick backed up on his own side of the field with a third-and-long with a little over a minute left.
Broncos coach John Fox saw the potential to end the game if his defense got a stop so he took a timeout. Up to that point, the 49ers hadn’t done anything offensively. This was the chance for the defense to step up, get the ball back to Manning and that offense and end the game.
It not only allowed a huge pass play to keep the drive alive, Denver conceded a touchdown. It was now 21-10.
The Broncos got the ball out of halftime and proceeded to go three-and-out.
Uh-oh. Here we go again. Denver has allowed another good team to stay in it, and given what the Broncos defense allowed at the end of the first half, things were a skosh dicey.
To show the Denver defense is nothing like the one from last season, it made the play. In particular, cornerback Aqib Talib made the play with his second interception of the season.
Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) intercepts a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Add to that the six sacks, five of which came from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and it does seem like nitpicking. For the season, Miller (NFL-leading 8) and Ware (7) have combined for 15 sacks.
And once again, the Broncos held an opponent to 17 points or less. With Sunday’s game included, Manning is now 101-3 when his defense holds the opponent to 17 points or less. With Denver he’s 16-0.
As I’ve said since the season started, that’s the key stat for the Denver defense. Hold opponents to 17 points, and what we saw against the 49ers will become a trend.
What needs to stop is the touchdown drives the Broncos allow at the end of the first half. That is what defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can take to his defense as proof there’s still facets to improve. If Denver gets that stop on third-and-long the offense gets the ball back with great field position, gets at least a field goal and completely deflates San Francisco.
In terms of the offense, what is great to see is Ronnie Hillman running with confidence. He adds another element to this vaunted offense. And then Juwan Thompson with the power element to the run game adds another element on top of that. If that continues, this offense is better than the record-setting bunch of last season.
There is a lot to smile about after this game. When you flog a good opponent like the Broncos did, you should. They should. Manning should. With a short turn around for Thursday’s game against the rival San Diego Chargers, the fact most of the starters didn’t play in the fourth quarter is another reason to feel great.
But don’t let this all-too-familiar rout gloss over some of the areas they need to improve on and get better, even if it is expected.
For a team that is all-in for a Super Bowl win, that should be the expectation.
Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is sacked by Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) and cornerback Bradley Roby (29) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports