Note: DHF kinda sorta forgot to post this earlier in the week. Oops. Blame college basketball for distracting me. Better late than never. Happy Thanksgiving!
Now that the Denver Broncos’ latest victory has sunken in, here are a few more thoughts and observations on Sunday’s game against San Diego Chargers before we turn the focus to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Role reversal – Be honest, if someone had told you that ten games into the 2012 season, the most entertaining, dominant dimension of the Denver Broncos would be the team’s defense you probably wouldn’t have believed said soothsayer. Yet, this Broncos defense is making big plays so regularly it is starting to become exciting to see them get back onto the field. Peyton Manning throws a touchdown – great, now the defense gets another shot at a turnover. Broncos stall and punt – no big deal, the defense will either stonewall or take the ball away. I know the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt is having a dominant season at a position that often doesn’t impact the game, but at this point linebacker Von Miller has to at least give voters serious pause in the Defensive Player of the Year selection.
Burden of expectation – Can we appreciate how delightfully odd it is that we have a collective feeling the Denver offense is underperforming? The Broncos again put 30 points on the scoreboard on Sunday, and yet, did it in a way that seemed underwhelming. The criticism comes from the fact that the Broncos point production wasn’t so much the product of long, sustained drives, but rather the defense and special teams setting the offense up in excellent positions. It’s a valid critique, and we’d certainly like to see Manning and Company return to those 80-yard onslaughts soon, but hey, you take the field position your teammates give you, and the resulting points. With this defense, 30 points should be enough to win most any game.
Weak of the week – Or possibly the past few weeks. The Broncos’ running game remains the most concerning aspect of the team, despite a cumulative performance that went for more than 100 yards against the Chargers. For comparison sake, remember several weeks ago the talk was how Denver’s crop of linebackers was going to be a liability for this team. Even before the return of D.J. Williams, that position group evolved into a dynamic unit. The point is adjustments get made and schemes get adapted. The absence of Willis McGahee will have an impact on this unit. There’s still time for Denver to bring its ground game up to snuff, and if Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball, and maybe Knowshon Moreno make even measured improvements in yardage and ball security, the offense will be hard for anyone to contain.
Deep division - No, the AFC West is not in itself deep, but there appears to be a giant chasm between the Broncos and everyone else. Remember, Sunday’s game was an all-in, do or die, backs to the wall, playing for jobs affair for San Diego. The final score showed the Chargers came up a touchdown short, but San Diego delivered a vintage 2011 Broncos performance – absent for three quarters, manic for one. With all that motivation the Chargers still appeared unable to compete with Denver…and San Diego is the next best team in the division. This Sunday, Denver can mathematically eliminate the Chiefs from winning the division, and put Oakland on the brink of the same fate…all before December.
More McGahee – With the news that Willis McGahee is unavailable for the foreseeable future comes a few issues. Even more than ground production is McGahee’s blocking ability within the offense. It is crucial the backs called into service understand their roles in the passing game as protecting Peyton is job one. That said, this may allow Manning and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to revisit the playbook and develop some new schemes suited to the skill sets of Hillman – and possibly Moreno. Another tactic could be more two-back sets with tight end Virgil Green (who has lined up lately in the fullback position) or fullback Chris Gronkowski inserted for extra protection which can also be adapted to new passing concepts. McGahee’s injury is a setback, but one the Broncos can also hopefully turn into an opportunity.