Sep 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib (21) pulls in a interception intended for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Due to technical difficulties, this week one review is a bit delayed.
Welcome to the 2015 NFL season, Broncoholics. While I’m sure we are all satisfied with the Denver Broncos‘ 19-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, it is evident that there are still some kinks yet to be worked out. So let’s take a look at week 1 of the Broncos 2015 season in a weekly segment I’m calling, “Good News, Bad News”.
I like to think I’m an optimistic sort, so let us look at the good news first, shall we?
First and foremost, a win is a win. This notch in the W column wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from a Peyton Manning led offense. This is not the high octane offense of the past three years. Rather, it is more of a hybrid of offensive styles. It’s a marriage of head coach, Gary Kubiak’s ground-and-pound, zone blocking, ball-control running scheme and Manning’s up tempo, sling the ball all over the field, score on sub 3-minute drives 4-5 times per game. However, we had plenty of advanced notice that this is what we are to expect. Thus, we got an old-fashioned slobber-knocker with very little offense and lots of grinding (no, not that kind of grinding. Minds out of the gutter, please).
There was much discussion about Wade Phillips‘ legendary 3-4 scheme, and that in the opinion of some, coupled with the personnel, this might be a defense for the ages. If Sunday’s performance is a sign of things to come, we could be looking at a unit that rivals the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1985 Chicago Bears, and 2000 Ravens. How good were they? If I told you at 4:25 P.M. MST that PFM was going to put up a line of 24/40, 175 yds, 0 TD, 1 pick-6 INT, and the running game was only going to produce 69 total yards, you would have said that we would have started the season 0-1.
Against a really good Ravens’ offensive line, returning all five starters from 2014, the Broncos’ front seven harassed Baltimore quarterback, Joe Flacco all day long. The new “Orange Crush” registered only 2 sacks but pressured the Ravens’ QB 65% of Baltimore’s offensive plays. They kept Flacco uncomfortable in the pocket all day and as a result, Flacco posted an anemic effort of 18/32 for 117 yds, 0 TD, ,and 2 Ints.
The 2 INTs thrown by Flacco were not two innocuous turnovers, either. The first, by AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Aqib Talib, was returned 51 yards, to the house, for the only Broncos’ TD of the game. The second was turned in by by former Ravens’ defensive back, Darian Stewart, in the end zone with 28 seconds left, with the Ravens driving for the winning score. That one sealed the game. The defense was not a one-trick bronco though, as they held the Ravens to 73 yards on the ground. And one of the things I have learned about the Ravens in my 12+ years of living in Maryland, they like to run the football and usually do it well.
Talib had a great game aside from the 51 yard pick 6. He allowed virtually no separation to Baltimore receivers and defended several passes. He also made an important tackle in the first half. Forgive me for not remembering all of the details, but it was a tackle of the open field variety, where a Ravens’ wide out caught a pass in the flat in a one-on-one battle with Talib. The receiver made a move and was about to run past when Talib reached out and got a hold of the receiver’s jersey. He was able to hold on long enough to allow help to arrive. If Talib loses control of that jersey, the play goes for a pretty good size gain and extends the Ravens’ drive. Instead, the tackle created 4th down and a Baltimore punt.
The defense was not the sole standout unit on Sunday. Special teams were just that, special. The brightest shining star of the game was quite possibly, kicker, Brandon McManus. There was much written and spoken about during last season about McManus after he was signed upon the release of Matt Prater, who was cut after issues off the field. McManus has a huge leg but was sketchy in the accuracy department. It was so inconsistent that he was cut in the middle of the season in favor of Connor Barth. However, Barth did not have a big leg and that led to problems on kickoffs. So they brought McManus back as a kickoff specialist. The problem there is that no team wants to use up a valuable roster spot on a second placekicker. The kicker competition in training camp took on greater importance than what it usually does.
With two weeks left in the preseason, the two other kickers in camp were cut and McManus was entrusted with the kicking duties. He wasted little time proving the Broncos’ front office that they made the right decision as Brandon hit all four of his field goal attempts, two of which exceeded 56 yards. Allow me to put this into some historical perspective: McManus became the first kicker in NFL history to make two field goals of 56+ yards in the same game.
It was plain to see that McManus was kicking with a lot of confidence today. The field goal department wasn’t the only area where Brandon shone. As I mentioned previously, he has a huge leg and it was that leg that booted every kickoff out of the end zone, denying the historically good special teams unit of Baltimore any opportunity to sway the game with a big kickoff return.
Other special teams’ notables: Britton Colquitt had a great game as he averaged 51.8 yards per kick and a net average of 45.4 on 5 punts. On the coverage end of the punts, Denver did not allow a stellar return game to get set up as the Ravens were only able to return 2 of the 5 kicks for 32 yards.
…all is not rosy in Broncos’ Country, however.
To quote WWE Superstar, Bad News (King) Barrett, “I got some bad news”. There are just way too many things to overcome this early in the season. A new hybrid system, a new coaching staff, and a completely revamped offensive line with a rookie at left tackle, a brand new signee at left guard, and a second year player at center who never saw a single snap in an NFL regular season game until Sunday made for some very difficult sledding against a very good Raven’s front seven. To be honest, it is going to take several weeks – perhaps on the other side of the week 7 bye – for everything to start clicking on offense.
More concerning for me is the arm of Peyton Manning. Peyton looks like a shell of his former self. I don’t want to take anything away from the Ravens’ defense because they were very good on Sunday also, but Manning was throwing balls behind receivers, overthrowing targets, and he seemed to not have enough zip on passes which require greater velocity. At 39, not a mobile QB to begin with, and with a young, relatively inexperienced offensive line to protect him, things may get worse before they get better. I’m not signalling the end of his career, but it seems that PFM is having some difficulties making throws that he usually makes with ease. I will admit, though, that the constant pressure he was under all day from the Raven’s defense probably had as much to do with it as any factor.
The running game didn’t fare much better. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 70 yards on 24 attempts and didn’t get anywhere near the end zone until they headed to the locker room after the game. That just ain’t gonna git ‘er done! Needless to say, a lot of work is needed to get the offense playing to the level of the defense. The good news is, once that happens, we’re going to be nearly impossible to beat. I do have to give credit to the running game for this: while spinning their wheels all game, the backs and offensive line seemed to hit their stride on the final offensive drive of the game. When they needed it most, the offense turned in a 17-play, 81-yard drive that ate up 10:56 of game clock.
What’s up next: As if throwing hay-makers with the Ravens on Sunday wasn’t enough, the Broncos turn right around and head to Arrowhead Stadium in 3 days to take on division rival, Kansas City Chiefs. The Thursday night tilt kicks off at 6:30 P.M, Elway Standard Time. That’s the bad news. The good news is, if we can find a way to win this tough match-up, at what is traditionally a house of horrors for us, we’ll be 2-0 and will have a 10 day rest; a mini bye week you might say.
The Chefs are coming off a 27-20 victory in Houston. Alex Smith had an impressive line of 22/33, 243 yds, 3 TDs, and no INTs. However, for those of who are keeping score, once again, no wide receiver was involved in the scoring. This is quite the problem for the Chiefs. They are going to need all of their weapons to have any hope of success against our defense. And I got bad news for Kansas City: if your wide receivers can’t score against Houston’s DBs, it is going to be nearly impossible to find them open against the best pair of cornerbacks in the NFL.
What to watch for:
There is one record that the Broncos can match on Thursday night. If Denver beats K.C., they will match the San Francisco 49ers for the number of consecutive road wins, 12, within their division. Winning in the NFL is tough. Winning on the road in the NFL is really hard. Winning 12 straight road games within your own division is almost impossible; supported by the fact that if the Broncos win tomorrow night, only two teams in the long history of the NFL will have accomplished this feat.
Well that is going to do it for this week. By the grace of God, I will be able to publish an article after tomorrow’s tilt against the Chiefs offering up much more good news than bad. Until then, God bless & GO BRONCOS!!!